Sep 9, 2010

BMW Gets It Right: Listening

I was pleased to discover this article today from the Autoblog about BMW's efforts into planning for their aging workforce. If you've ever worked in the manufacturing sector you know that it's tough to find skilled labor. Most of those jobs have been outsourced to India, China, and an array of other developing countries. I've always liked the German approach and I was surprised to find that they are also facing the same challenges that the US is.

The video in the accompanying article is also worth a view. I don't quite believe that it's all candy and rainbows but regardless of motivation, one thing is clear: being respectful of you employee's wishes is a good bet. You can check out the video and article here.

Now in software you don't have to install wooden floors so what does that mean for budding developers? We all have heard stories about the famous Google campus with the foosball tables and more. Is that the same thing? No, I don't believe it is.

Google is in a high stakes battle with Microsoft, Apple and about 10 million small developers. The Googleplex is a pawn in that battle to attract employees and startups alike who have the skill to choose their employer. It's a different issue though and leads to a trap that I think too many small to medium sized companies fall into:

Run your company the same way in good times as you would in bad times.

The why should be obvious. First, you're wasting money on something you don't need. If you've attracted your employee they probably have other motivation for working there besides the foosball table. Second, when the company inevitably hits a down note you'll need to cut out the free sodas and sandwiches which will lead to a problem with morale.

But BMW did it right. Their changes were aimed at improving the quality of life for their employees at a fixed cost. The 7% increase in productivity is pretty stunning by my estimation and really warrants praise for the management team.

Of course the larger issue of the aging western manufacturing population remains unsolved.. but that's a topic for another day.

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