Already, businesses in Canada are closing – not because they cannot get customers but because they cannot get employees. Meanwhile, the employees inside of corporate America are characteristically bright, articulate, and capable. The US has yet to experience a drought of able employees or figure out how to create – rather than simply employ – productive employees. The projected shortage of employees as baby boomers retire may help to trigger a necessary transformation of the corporation.
A couple of months ago, a friend from Canada told me about the employment problem where he lives – a community about 200 km east of Vancouver, BC. He said that three businesses had recently closed there. Not because of a shortage of customers but because of a shortage of employees. He claimed that throughout all of Canada it is becoming a huge problem to find good employees – or any employees. They appear to be ahead of us on the baby boomer retirement pipeline that is scheduled to reduce the US workforce by millions.
I often get to work inside of large multinationals. What I find most remarkable about the companies is the quality of the people there: organized, smart, personal, and articulate seems to define the norm within these organizations and the longer I work with them, the less surprised I am that organizations able to hire and retain such people are able to generate billions in sales and profits. These are the people who did their homework and took the time to properly format footnotes. It seems to me that these multinationals rely more on the quality of their people than the quality of their systems. But what happens when the supply of quality people begins to drop off?
It may be that companies will succeed by begin to focus on creating great jobs for people who, in turn, can create goods and services. Issues like the design of work to engage people (like the design of video games to draw in players) will become a focus of the companies that succeed in an economy where the supply of employees is shrinking faster than the supply of customers.
To date, the corporation has largely built its success on pleasing customers and putting demands on employees. To turn the corporation into a vehicle for pleasing employees will require massive changes. This will be one element of the transformation of the corporation.
It still baffles me that organizational innovation – the particulars of how to create this new corporation – does not get more attention. This is – like product creation – a design issue, but one that is generally addressed only by exception, and rarely. The transformation of the corporation seems to me necessary: sadly, necessary does not mean inevitable.