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Skills Depreciate

(October 04, 2002) - Any company wrestling with Human Capital is forced to acknowledge the fact that, like any investment, there is a maintenance cost associated with staying even. Today's insight, understanding and skill set is tomorrow's horrid baggage. While the analogy is easier to understand when you think of the maintenance required to keep a house in shape, the penalties of depreciated human capital are far more severe than a leaky roof.

As the downturn stretches on interminably, we wonder what the workers in various vendors and HR Departments are learning these days. Certainly, the geriatric skill of job defense-reduced risk profile is being taught by the environment. The question is, what's happening to the culture?

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with very cold high-pressure water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result -- all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted. 

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. None of the monkeys that are beating him have any idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.
(Special Thanks to Kevin Plunkett)

As HR Departments continue to shrink and recruiters are left with the task of replacing a subset of total attrition, we're left wondering how difficult the 'post-recovery' retraining program will actually be.

 -John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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         © TwoColorHat.
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