Human resources – are they really that dispensable?

RainmanEvery manager that ever needed to let an employee go knows that it is one of the worst experiences that comes with the job. However, there is hardly a more profound manifestation of your managerial powers. There is something very basic and primeval in us exercising our right to decide who we want to work with and who is to look for a different place to work.

Among some managers, especially in today’s overcrowded job market, this association between being in charge and laying people off may create a general feeling that human resources are completely dispensable and that “anyone could be replaced”. Is that really so? Do we really live in an ideal world where the person who was found wanting would be immediately replaced by someone better? Do we make sure that the decision to send someone packing was made after realistic appraisal of his or her abilities? What can we do if we want to make sure?

In my next series of posts I’ll try to answer all these questions as well as many others, relevant to this subject, but for now I would like to tell you a real-life story, which may seem rare, but is nevertheless typical.

My friend works in a think-tank were they maintain a large database, which allows describing and predicting different phenomena based on specific factors, among them – the time of the event. Knowing the time of day, the day of the week and the season of the year may potentially explain why a specific event or series of events happened in a certain way.

Several years ago, the Director (a very knowledgeable and experienced Manager) hired a new analyst, who had all the academic credentials, including PhD and a long list of publications, to work on several projects running at that time within the organization. From the start, the Director had his reservations, as the new employee clearly seemed to have some psychological condition: he had no social skills to talk about and his ability to communicate his thoughts to others was also very limited. It seemed like a form of autism. Nevertheless, he was given the opportunity to study the database for some time as well as to adjust to the new social environment.

The new analyst began working very diligently, staying late hours and taking work home, but there was a small problem. No one was able to understand what he was working on. As his own communication abilities were limited, he was unable to explain it and because he had no social skills – he was working alone. After several months, the Director was completely frustrated – he had an employee who was working for him but no tangible results of his work had materialized. He began to doubt if this would ever happen. Several months later, the inevitable happened and the analyst was sent home.

When his password to the database was retrieved, the other analysts finally took a look at his files. They were left speechless. In several months, the analyst had matched every hour of the day of every day of the last ten years with the weather at the specific location! The amount of data he processed seemed unbelievable, but then the analysts remembered the obvious Hollywood connotation of the word “autism”. The toothpick-counting and the card-predicting connotation involving Dustin Hoffman, to be exact.

That’s right! They had the genuine bona fide Rainman in their midst and they sent him away! Regrettably, the prodigy didn’t finish his work; he needed several more weeks to finalize it. Of course, no one else was able to do it as he left no instructions or keys to his work. And the Rainman himself was nowhere to be found.

End of story.


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