The Mathematics of Human Resource – The Anorexic Organization

I work in a manufacturing plant. I’ve been working in the manufacturing environment for the last 7 years.

In the manufacturing environment, there is a fundamental concept of “capacity”.

I’m not a guru in this field, but what I find interesting is that:
1) the output is directly proportional to the input
2) the throughput is somewhat a constant, unless:
2.a) the line is setup differently, resulting in a more optimized setting, or
2.b) there is an increase in equipment/ station, which increases the capacity
3) last but not least, if a production line has a 1000 units output, than 2 production lines would have a 2000 units output

What a simple concept. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. I thought I knew this when I was in primary school! I was made to write lines for not doing my homework. I had to write 500 lines of “you know what”. If I can do 2 lines a minute, that would take me 250 minutes to complete. That is a whopping 4 hours of writing!

I figured that if I want to catch my favorite cartoon on the TV, I would either have to:
1) Write faster, or
2) Get my brother to help

In the end, I got to watch my cartoon and I’m sure you knew what I did.

That’s the basic, that’s Manufacturing 101.

Let’s move one to Advanced Manufacturing 201.

In a manufacturing line, it is essential to have periodic “preemptive maintenance” (PM). This is to ensure that the line is calibrated and the constants are maintained. Or rather, to ensure that there is no mistakes. We also know that equipment has a certain tolerance level, by which would require servicing.

How could we not know that? Even the car we drive needs an oil change. Ok, I’m guilty of squeezing another 20% more mileage before sending my car in for servicing. But, the fact remains. The servicing is essential.

We also know that the wear and tear for our “high-performance” and “highly-utilized” parts is generally higher which requires more frequent servicing. For example, a car which has run more miles daily would require a servicing at shorter intervals, and a turbo engine breaks down easier than a normal engine.

Hold that thought.

Now, let’s take a look at how organizations plan their human resources. I’m not taking about how the HR team is setup. I’m referring to how organizations setup its department and the people in these departments.

It is safe to assume that with the technology advancement we’ve seen in these 2 decades, the pace and volume of work had increased many fold. The expectations of the employees had increased accordingly.

I was just talking to a someone who’s been putting in many nights’ of work and his complain was that he’s been made to work at 120% of his capacity from the day he joined the organization. And recently, he’s been working much harder as there’s an urgent project he’s been put in charged of.

He’s burned out.

He felt that in the real world, the volume of work can never be at a constant level, there should be a high period and a low one. However, why can’t he be operating at 80% for most of the time and 120% at the high period?

Maybe he’s not that hardworking, and he deserved to be replaced. Maybe.

Have we gone over board with cost cutting measures as such that it really cuts to the bone? Try losing weight to the point that you become anorexic. I bet it isn’t fun. Not to mention that it is not very healthy.

Fat helps regulate body temperature, store energy, and cushion and insulate organs.

According to an article from, the American Dietetic Association recommends that men have 15-18% body fat and women have 20-25% body fat. Healthy male athletes might be as low as 5-12% body fat, and healthy female athletes could be as low as 10-20%.

With that in mind, shouldn’t an organization stop being anorexic and start putting on some healthy fats?

Where are the “PM”s and where are the “servicing”? Have we gone from preventive maintenance and servicing to just replacing?

Last I checked, “Size 0” is so passé.

By Eric Wong – 22 Apr 2010

Where have all the retail superstars gone?

For the last couple of day, having to burn some time at the retail stores, I made an interesting observation.

A large part of our retail workforce comprises of very “fresh” inexperienced personnels.

This may had been the effects of having a lower entry requirement, coupled with the fact that the salami-like profit margin.

Are excellent retail experience only limited to luxury brands?

A close friend of mine had a retail store selling some fashion accessories and stuff. It wasn’t something that’s got a huge margin. It was a small time business with a monthly revenue of just about 30 to 40 thousand.

Having to hire someone to be put in charge of that particular store, my friend decided to go with a young, energetic and innovative chap. The decision was made for a very different reason, but it did pay off. She practically picked the cheapest of the lot.

He cost about 20% cheaper than the rest of the applicants!

However, it was a right decision. He was different. Having no previous experience, he practically tried numerous “interesting”concepts and the revenue improved by 40%.

The first thing this chap did was to connect with his customers. It helps that he had a chatty personality. He practically asked his customers for their preference, and the contact info. In no time, he had a small database of customers and their likes/ dislikes.

This allowed him to place varied the orders according to his customer’s preference. In that first few months, he’s successfully dropped a couple of ill performing products and added a range of new ones.

Further to that, his free time were filled with informing customers of new stock and arrivals via the phone.

To top it off, his customers liked him. They thought of him as a friend and enjoyed chatting and catching up with him.

The story didn’t end well. He’s left for a much better job, and eventually moved out of the retail industry. The revenue growth wasn’t sustainable as the replacement wasn’t like him. She was an experience cashier, but that’s all there was to it. Eventually, my friend closed down her shop.

For every successful retail business, we do need smart chap like him. Not one that just tend the store. However, we often find ourself not willing to pay to retain such talents!

Or, is it because that the retail assistance ranks at the bottom of the food chain? Thus, they were never important or critical to the business?

Either way, this chap did made a difference to the business. It wasn’t a great deal of money that he’s made. But from an operational and business performance point of view, he’s world-class. Immense amount of potential to be groomed as a very strong retail manager. But the retail industry lost him.

I believe that the retail industry is a challenging one. Not only does it face a talent drain issue with talented people choosing other industry over the retail business. Also in its justification of putting someone really good at the job, which in turn will cost more.

So, my question to you today is – Where have all the retail superstars gone?

Ps. Do drop me the contacts for any retail superstars you’ve came across and let’s see how many we can identify!

Eric Wong

Where do you want to go today? – Part 1

I know it is an old Microsoft slogan, but it is indeed the most important question that everyone of us should ask ourselves.

So, where do we want to go today?

How many of us are in our career of choice? And, how many of us eventually grew to love our jobs?

Think back to the days when you were five, did you have an ambition? – How has that changed?

I wanted to be a rice farmer. I picked that up from a storybook and I thought planting rice was fun!

What about when you were 12? – Did that childhood ambition changed? How did it change?

And, when you were 18? – Did you get more realistic? Or, did your dream get bigger?

Did you give up on what you had always wanted to do? Or, did you grow out of it?

The permutation of questions are aplenty, but the point I am driving at is – “Every one of us, at one point or another had a dream on how we wanted our life to be”.

Notice that I did not use the words “Dream Job”, “Dream Career”, and whatsoever. That is because, it is not important at that point of time when we began dreaming. What we had dreamt of is the actual feeling of what we wanted to do.

It could had been the feeling of “greatness” as a scientist discovering the next breakthrough, or the feeling of “nobleness” as a doctor saving lives, or even the feeling of “bravery” as a fireman putting out fires.

What had we lost? Or, what had we gained?

Some says, we had lost our ability to dream, some says we’ve gain a perception of reality.

I had interviewed my fair share of fresh graduates and I felt sad to hear that many had not looked at their lives carefully and plan their career seriously.

Many choices were made basing on the basis of stereotyping expectations, and many were by peer pressures. Others were on the basis of short termed vision and the rest on chance.

To have invested all those years of their life studying, only to jump onto the wrong bus when the time has come to do what they’ve always dreamt of is a case of poor planning and terrible decision making.

Which brings us back to our question – “Where do you want to go today?”

Eric Wong