posted 16 May 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 8
In defence of double-dipping
To the editor, St. Petersburg Times,
‘Double-dipping’ is a great term to use in launching an editorial campaign or starting a debate. At once it makes an accusation and passes judgment – akin to ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ If it happened in a courtroom, a lawyer would object and a judge would sustain the objection because it would be prejudicial.
The St. Petersburg Times is an award-winning newspaper and one I admire; yet, its writers have launched a prejudicial campaign against the perceived injustice of double dipping. I am certain there will be interest in viewing this issue in the context of a worldwide concern over lost knowledge due to retirement.
Knowledge has come front and centre as the single most important driver of the world economy. It is no longer just the domain of academic institutions but the critical success factor for most of the business world.
This phenomenon has dramatically changed the way organisations think. People have been moved from the liability side to the asset side of the organisation. Pass or fail no longer depends on an organisation’s financial assets as much as on its intellectual assets. Those reside primarily in the human brain.
That’s right. People really do represent the majority of an organisation’s critical assets. The more knowledge-dependant an organisation is, the greater its dependency on its intellectual power.
While the Knowledge Age has been advancing for 50 years, organisations have been slow to respond to this environmental change. They have remained stranded in the Industrial Age and even government and non-profit organisations have stayed with the industrial model – managing money, not know-how.
In the Industrial Age, people were hired for what they did, not what they thought. Their work was prescribed by job descriptions. Retirement policies were based on the idea that the human ‘machine’ wore out at age 65 and needed to be replaced by newer models. Those policies are now set in contractual cement.
In this disposable-replaceable mindset, the
Soon organisations discovered the folly of their ways and began strategies to replace, rehire, retrain, reorganise and retain their knowledge assets. It is a slow and arduous process that is far from complete.
On top of it all comes the exodus of the baby boomer generation and the fear of a corresponding loss of intellectual capital. Organisations – now knowledge poor and struggling to recover – are frantically looking for solutions, the most prominent of them to rehire retirees.
In a perfect world, that would have not been necessary. Organisations would have seen the future and planned for it by establishing knowledge management processes and practices that would have supported knowledge sharing, creation, retention and planned recruitment. If knowledge had been viewed as the critical asset it is now, it would have been managed just as financial assets are.
You would think management in higher education would have had such processes in place, but even educational systems have had only one management model to follow – the industrial model.
I don’t presume to know why 8,000 public employees and elected officials – including 475 employees at state universities – are ‘double-dipping’ or ‘triple-dipping’ as the newspaper termed it. But I am concerned that the issue not be resolved by mindlessly dismissing a class of employees solely on the basis of passion, politics or price.
According to lost knowledge expert David W. DeLong, not all departing senior employees are leaving with critical knowledge, but some are. In the industrial mind-set, no one was irreplaceable. But in the Knowledge Era – at least for now – some people are harder to replace than others.
In the Times’ story, As colleges cut, some double-dip, April 6, the reporter cited a dean at the University of South Florida’s College of Business who received so many going away parties that the university president joked “I don’t need to go to the grocery; I’ll just go to a Bob Anderson party”. Funny.
The dean took all the retirement benefits he had earned and then two months later returned to the payroll as a professor and associate dean at the University’s Sarasota campus. According to the story Anderson was widely known in the Tampa Bay area for his expertise on business ethics and once accused his business students of being too interested in money. Not so funny.
But how about the rest of the story? Universities are businesses. They rely on reputation to attract students and philanthropy. This Professor Anderson sounds like a ‘hot intellectual property’. He probably could get a job anywhere. He already has his earned retirement. The question should be whether or not the rehire is a good investment – not whether he’s a dreaded double-dipper.
My message is to the public and to policymakers: If the double-dipping issue moves you, please think carefully. Resist a wholesale slaying of ‘double-dippers’ until you determine the reason for each rehire.
Meanwhile, support a movement to change the way knowledge assets are managed.
In recent years whole countries and geographic regions have organised knowledge zones to help organisations learn to manage knowledge better. As a result, those organisations will have less reason to rehire departing employees – retiring or otherwise – under duress. ?
1. Inside Knowledge magazine http://www.ikmagazine.com/
2. Lost Knowledge, David W. DeLong http://www.lostknowledge.com/