Why We Need to Hire Fewer and Fewer People

Dr. Ira S. Wolfe

Dr. Ira S. Wolfe

By Ira S Wolfe

With an election year approaching and unemployment still high, lots of lip service and media ink are being wasted on ways to fix the jobless recovery. What a crock of $#!%.

While it is unquestionably heart-breaking to see good, hard-working, well-intentioned people become victims of corporate greed and negligent governance, much of the responsibility for getting a job (and keeping it) should fall on the shoulders of the individual and that includes individual executives and business owners.

I’m not saying that government and communities shouldn’t facilitate and support job creating programs. But government shouldn’t be expected to provide the jobs – nor should they create and fund jobs that require low skills or mediocre performance. That’s a recipe for failure – creating jobs that don’t create value nor are competitive in a global economy.

Ultimately successful companies have realized that we need to hire fewer and fewer people at a higher and higher level. That is one reason why our economy is growing but unemployment remains high.

David Belden, in his Professional Outsider Blog, recommends three books are Daniel Pink’s Drive, Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, and Seth Godin’s Linchpin to support this argument. I wholeheartedly agree with his choices. I’ve been a fan of Pink and Godin for years. And Shirkey’s message is one that I’ve been writing and speaking about for over a decade.

Daniel Pink describes what’s happening. We’re witnessing the transition from Information Worker to Conceptual Worker. A critical lesson he offers for business as well as our bureaucrats is that we can’t keep throwing more and more mediocre workers at every challenge and expecting good results. (Isn’t that the street definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?)

I’d like to add a fourth book to the list by Ed Gordon, who has written over a dozen books on global workforce trends. I particularly like Winning the Global Talent Showdown, in which he describes how our society has moved from the agricultural era to cyber-mental era. The shift doesn’t only change the service and products that what we produce as a nation but it rewrites the definition of work.

Belden sums up the resulting jobless recovery conundrum nicely.

The fact is that production no longer requires significant numbers of no- or low-skilled worker. In good times, when money is flush, we tend to simply throw more and more people into the fray, hoping that somehow they will finally get the job done. No longer, says Daniel Pink. What we require are conceptual workers who can envision the larger issues, and devise (and implement) a plan to address them holistically. Pink encourages business owners to ask, “How do I motivate my employees to use their creative problem-solving skills to help this organization?”

One solution Pink recommends is what he calls ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. How cool is that? A workplace where individuals are responsible and accountable for their actions, decisions, and ultimately their results. Isn’t that the dream of every executive and business owner?


The problem is that ROWE isn’t just a mandate for human resources to recruit, select, and retain a particular type of employee. ROWE requires leadership to look at managing people and organizations differently. To work effectively, managers and executives must shift gears and begin to reward thinking and outcomes, not compliance and activity. Carrots and sticks might work for industrial age and non-thinking jobs, but hiring and recruiting Conceptual Workers in the Cyber-Mental Age requires so much more.

Therefore the solution for the jobless recovery lies not with government subsidizing new jobs but with business management, including Congress, the Executive Office, and all the other bureaucrats, taking responsibility and accountability for their own results (not just their actions.) Creating low-skill jobs that only serve to reduce unemployment stats and get re-elected is throwing money down the rabbit hole – a short term fix with long term negative consequences.

In other words, employers – stop looking for bailouts and subsidies. Learn to lead and manage in today’s world. Much of what worked in the past is a blueprint for failure in the future. Take responsibility for creating and implementing a strategy that differentiates your business and creates value for your customers. For jobseekers and employees – stop looking for just a paycheck. Take responsibility for your career. Learn new skills. Keep learning.

Finally, get comfortable with change. One thing is for sure – constant change isn’t going away.


About the Author

A prolific author, columnist, business blogger and sought-after-expert on hiring and workplace trends, Dr. Ira S. Wolfe has been aptly described as both a “Gen Y masquerading in a Baby Boomer body” and “Renaissance man.” Hiring expert, pre-employment tests, office skills tests, leadership assessment, sales assessment, management skills assessment, employment and staffing trends, human resource trends, leading a multi-generation workforce, employee motivation, hiring and retention solutions, social media in business, internet marketing advisor for small business.

His blog, The Perfect Labor Storm, addresses retiring baby boomers, rising health care costs, shortages of skilled workers, generational gaps, work ethics, and workforce demographic and socio-economic events.

4 Responses to “Why We Need to Hire Fewer and Fewer People”

  1. Charmony

    It sounds like only 10% of the workforce is fit for this new workforce. It’s probably best to only expect this mindset form senior management, because there are not enough of these people out there. In most cases these are the types of people quickly screened out of the application process anyway. So what you end up with is an organization that says its employees are “conceptual” thinkers (a.k.a. Creative), but the employees will be the usual suspects found in the middle of the bell curve trying to define the status quo of the ages as conceptual.


  2. Charmony

    With a conceptual manager, the affects will reverberate through the ranks, and less conceptual workers will be working in a conceptual machine. The resources will be used and directed is a conceptual setting. Otherwise it’s like using a carriage to pull 10 horses.


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