Employ the homeless – they’re your customers

All companies have as the same problem: not enough people to buy their products


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This past winter, I got an email from Lazarus House Ministries, a local organization for the homeless. At the time, they were expecting single-digit temperatures, too cold to survive on the street. As a result, Lazarus House opened additional facilities to accommodate the expected demand, and they needed extra help. Thankfully, many generous people responded.

Unfortunately, that’s only a temporary, emergency solution. What these people really need is jobs. No doubt some are unemployable, but many are skilled, even highly skilled, and would make dedicated employees. Their jobs went offshore or got automated, and they simply can’t find work.

It’s too easy to call them lazy and forget about it. If someone had been paying a mortgage for 10 or 20 years and lost their house and everything they owned in a foreclosure, believe me, they were trying hard to find a job.

The sad truth is there are many more capable workers than there are jobs available. We call it the “new normal” to make it sound OK. A jobless recovery has been proclaimed, and people believe it, even though there’s no such thing.

You see, every company has the same problem: not enough customers, and the ones they do have aren’t buying enough. Unemployed people can’t buy things.

The new normal is actually a graveyard spiral, where we lay employee-customers off to accommodate reduced demand, which reduces demand even further, causing another layoff. It’s an endless cycle. We used to have a growth cycle, and still do in some niches, but we’re shrinking in far too many others.

Some of this is certainly deserved, as some unions have priced their workers out of the market. Even without unions, many U.S. workers are far more highly paid than their counterparts in other countries.

On top of that, we have the highest corporate tax rates in the world. You can move your operations anywhere on the planet and get a better deal. If you haven’t noticed, some companies are moving a lot more than their operations offshore. They’re moving their headquarters as well.

Finally, we’re drowning in regulations of all kinds. Many other countries are far easier to do business in than our country is. No doubt, these are the three most powerful motivators driving so many of our jobs offshore.

Even so, we need some new management thinking. CEOs are often criticized for their elaborate pay. In my opinion, they could be worth seven figures when they find ways to grow their businesses without laying people off.

Two ways to lean up

Anyone can lay people off. That takes no talent at all, and that kind of CEO might not even be worth six figures. Improvements happen all the time, and the CEO who creates new products and services with the people who have become unnecessary in their old jobs could be worth the money.

Where will it end if we just keep laying off each others’ customers? I can remember when CEOs used to brag about how many workers they had and how many families their businesses supported. Now the bragging often talks about how many people they got rid of.

Absolutely, bloated operations can’t survive any more, but there are two ways to lean up: reduce people or add profitable work. The CEO with the imagination and vision to effectively utilize all the resources, instead of just easily jettisoning surpluses that become available, is worth the money.

When a company maintains and grows its customer base, its stockholders are accommodated not just now, but in the future as well. I don’t know that any business schools are teaching this sort of thinking. But anyone with half a brain can see the futility of making a business temporarily more profitable while turning our country into downtown Mogadishu.

Even if you have lots of money, this won’t be a great place to live. Where would you go? A lot of other countries – the garden spots of the world – are destroying themselves using the same formula that is afflicting us.

The government can’t solve this problem. When governments create jobs, they have to increase taxes to pay for those new jobs, driving more private-sector jobs offshore. We need a healthy, prosperous private sector to help pay for our government.

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