Now that the dust is clearing on the blow-out holiday sales season that retailers enjoyed last month, tales are emerging about the extraordinary steps that their supply chain managers took to meet customer demand.
What tales? Consider, for instance, the global delivery firm UPS. It received so many packages in the days leading up to Christmas that it was forced to ask hundreds of its accountants, marketers, and other office workers to join their colleagues in sorting and delivering packages.
Some were actually met at the doors of their office buildings and told to go home, change clothes, and report to operations facilities. Others were instructed to deliver packages with their own automobiles.
Pretty unusual, huh? Even more noteworthy is that the office workers completed these tasks responsibly. Apparently, their lack of training and personal unfamiliarity with delivery tasks failed to impede their performance.
That raises a few interesting questions. If accountants and marketers were able to succeed at these operating tasks, is human capital more flexible than we expected? If so, is the principle of work specialization overblown? And if true, are we spending too much time, effort, and resources on specialty training, and not enough on cross-training?
After all, cross-training was the fundamental Human Resource Management philosophy for centuries before Henry Ford and others developed modern Operations Management theory during the early 1900s. Business managers previously believed that it made more sense for craftsmen to learn all of the functions of producing a product or service, instead of specializing in a single function or two.
We now live in an era when many long-accepted assumptions about workers are falling by the wayside. For instance, riders now trust part-time Uber drivers as much as they ever trusted part-time taxi drivers. And travelers now trust part-time Airbnb hosts as much as full-time hoteliers.
Indeed, the UPS experience may simply represent another case of Human Capital being more flexible than we ever expected. And that very flexibility may be the harbinger of a human labor revolution.