Saturday, January 7, 2012

JoeAm's Lonely, Rich Vigil

I have on a number of occasions recommended a Fair Employment Act to build more competitive zeal and aspiration into the Philippine job market. The idea is to build a concept of careers so that workers don't get dead-ended by the favorites brought in above them. And to energize the entire country by pointing workers toward excellence in work result.

I can't get much traction with the idea because hiring favorites is a way of life in the Philippines. Trying to break through that is virtually impossible. No government official, legislator, business leader or citizen's group advocates this. My readers say simply "good idea, Joe; lots of luck; it will never happen".

That is fine by me, as I'm retired. But if I were a young person, I would be frustrated and angry that my nation doesn't give me the same kind of opportunity to excel that Americans have. I can't invest personal equity in a career, grow, and get rich without some unqualified favorite cutting short my dreams. I have to leave the Philippines to realize my dreams. To get a straight shot at being rewarded for my skill.

This is the basis for that vaunted Filipino pride? To make top-skill people leave? To drain the brains, export the talent, eradicate the foundations of achievement?

Let me share with you how American employment practices work, and why they motivate workers to excel.

First of all, a well-run corporation has a written job description for each position in the company. The description cites the work to be done and the skills needed to perform it. It is the analytical basis for evaluating prospective hires. It is also the basis for performance reviews: informal counseling during the year and a formal year-end meeting to convey the merit raise, any bonuses earned and discuss the next year's goals.

Almost all employees get a cost-of-living increase. Added to that is a merit increase to a higher pay scale if they are doing particularly well. And many firms pay out bonuses keyed to specific achievements. For capable, hard-working people, the ladder up is right in front of them. The company takes care of them because it knows they take care of the company's future.

The goal in establishing such discipline is to achieve complete clarity between employee and supervisor as to what is needed. This forms a contract, a statement of specific responsibilities and expectations.

Indeed, well-run corporations are a tightly woven interlacing of corporate, unit and individual aspirations, all pointed the same direction, all measurable, all rewarded or punished based on the results. Well, alas, humans are not so perfect, sometimes screwing up the understanding or the communication or even the results. So things are never perfect. The best a CEO can hope for is a strong combined effort that drives the company to achieve its goals with a minimum of humanesque blow-back.

It is this structured drive for success that underpins the generation of profits that ensures investors remain willing to put their money behind the company. It also says to employees, "perform well and you will be rewarded." It binds employees to performance.

When President Aquino seeks to get rating agency upgrades to "investment" status for the Philippines, he wants investors to put their money into the product he and his government are producing.  That product is the wealth being created by the economy.

However, I rather sense that he wants the upgrade as a gift to reward effort. But effort is different than result. The Philippines needs to EARN the upgrade, not expect to receive it as a favor.

That is my point in advocating a Fair Employment Act. The Philippines only creates value if its workers are committed to hard, disciplined work that generates more wealth.

This historically what is missing in the Philippines. Rating agencies understand that output can only be mediocre, at best, as long as the cultural environment does not promote the competition that builds quality and productivity into commercial processes.

Play the game of favorites and you get a consistent result. Poor product. In the Philippines, you get it across the economic spectrum, from tourism to management of forests to Manila traffic to ferries that tip over to mines that rape the landscape and seas that are barren wastelands, bombed to sand. You get a level of poverty that ought to shame someone, but apparently does not.

As long as no one advocates a change, I am quite confident the Philippines will shuffle along in mediocrity, reluctant to own up to certain truths. The biggest truth is that the trade of favors does not reward excellence. It only rewards the privileged few.

As long as the masses understand it, and accept it, I have absolutely no problem with it. It keeps the peso cheap and I, too, can realize great personal gain, at the expense of the complacent.


  1. Joe,

    I think the attitude your seeing towards some of your ideas, are based on ground reality on how things really work in the country. Give it a couple of years maybe?

    A Fair Employment Act is a good idea, but so are Littering, Firearms, Traffic, Zoning and a myriad of other laws already in place.


  2. A Fair Employent Act would be great.
    The bureaucracy needs it badly.

    Honestly, I haven't really experienced being screwed over by my boss for the sake of some unqualified/underachieving coworker, just because the latter is a friend of the former.

    I've been lucky enough to work for companies (multinationals) where your only competition is yourself, and working hard and achieving results is the only thing that would get you up the career ladder.

    The only thing urging me to go overseas is to avoid the bureaucrats screwing me with unnecessary import fees, required paperwork, and overall bad service.

  3. Anon, makes sense.

    AJ, "Where the only competition is yourself" That is the ideal. And government processes indeed are maddening, and contribute to the overall lack of value-creation.


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