Zero-based thinking

Someone has coined a new bit of management jargon – zero-based budgeting – that its claimed reverse productivity’s dire decline. We wish!

Mickey-taking workforce.

The classic device used to "downsize" a firm is to make the employees apply anew for their existing jobs. "Zero-based budgeting" is the same except that it requires every budgetary item in the firm to be justified – to apply for its job back if you like.

Productivity has declined in most developed countries since the 2008 crash as investment shrank as a result of increased employment in low-productivity jobs.

Bean counter's wet dream

The proposed solution is ZBB - a bean counter's wet dream. Acres of spreadsheets and light years of tax-deductible accountant and consultant time will be devoted to whether money can be saved by staff using one sheet less of lavatory paper on each shift or by shrinking the size of a flange on the widget.

The fate of the tea trolley is writ large. That surely will be sent to the scrap heap or sold to a third world country without any consideration of the unquantifiable productivity gains of staff refreshed by a cuppa, engaging with the tea lady (man) or simply chatting about how they have found a better way of honing the flange on the widget.

Human-based productivity

If we are going to engage in jargon-based management strategies may I propose a new bit of management jargon HBP - human-based productivity? The Quakers who built some of the great businesses in the UK like Cadbury's, Lloyds and Barclays Bank, Clarks shoes and Rowntree knew about it. And not just the British, Sony was founded by a Quaker.

It is based on treating your employees with kindness, respect and loyalty instead of as zero-hours contract, zero-based productivity commodities that are infinitely interchangeable and fungible. It is based on the premise that the overwhelming majority of people want to work and that they want to take pride in their work and not only seek to earn money, but also to earn respect and have the desire to return to the same job tomorrow and the next day.

Mickey-taking workforce

The conjuring up of a concept like ZBB is based on the historic failure of management to extract from their employees the minimum beyond the basic work-a-day from a clock-watching, mickey-taking workforce because that workforce is underpaid, undervalued and uncommitted to their overpaid, disloyal and incompetent managers. Reversing the jargon and adopting "Zero-budgeting businesses" in which employers trust their employees by giving them responsibility, rather than focusing on cost cutting and illusory targets, is likely to be more successful than those likely to embrace the zero-based budgeting fad.

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