The Fable of the Ant

Everyday, A small ant arrives at work very early and starts work immediately. She produces a lot and she is very happy.  The chief, a lion, thought that the ant can produce so much without a supervisor; wouldn’t she produce even more if she had a supervisor? So, he recruited a cockroach who has extensive experience as a supervisor.

The cockroach’s first decision was to set up a clocking in attendance system.  He also needed a secretary to help him write and type his reports. He recruited a spider that managed the archives and monitored all phone calls.


The lion was delighted with the cockroach’s reports and asked him to produce graphs to describe production rates and to analyze trends so that the lion could use them for presentation at board meetings. The cockroach had to buy a new computer and a laser printer and recruited a fly to manage the IT department.

The lion came to the conclusion that it was high time to nominate a person in charge of the department where the ant worked.  The position was given to the cicada whose first decision was to buy a carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office.


The cicada also needed a computer and a personal assistant whom he brought from his previous department to help him prepare a Work and Budget Control Strategic Optimization Plan.

The department where the ant works is now a sad place where nobody laughs anymore and everybody has become upset.  The cicada convinced the boss, the lion, of the absolute necessity to start a climate study of the environment.  Production was less than before.

So, he recruited the owl, a prestigious and renowned consultant to carry an audit and suggest solutions.  The owl spent 3 months in the department and came up with an enormous report in several volumes that concluded: “The Department is overstaffed.”  Guess who the lion fires first?  The ant, of course, because she showed ‘lack of motivation and had a negative attitude.”

The characters in this fable are fictitious.  The fable is not original.  But the allegory aptly describes what is ailing in many organizations today and more so in the government structure. The rate job seekers are visiting the biggest “job fair” in Davao city these days, it may be fair warning to the incoming administration of President Duterte to look at this fable. He may tell these jobseekers, “Hey, I don’t need these many. I only need a few who are competent, capable and honest.”

It seems that the growth of the bureaucracy is inversely proportional to the growth of the population which should not be.  For every problem that the government is faced with, instead of doing a systemic analysis, the answer is, create another layer of bureaucracy to oversee that problem. Undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and directors grew by leaps and bounds but has the service improved?  Not on your life.

If you think that only in the government bloated bureaucracy can you find many ‘lions,’ ‘cockroaches,’ ‘flies,’ ‘cicadas,’ and ‘owls,’  you got another think coming.  Why else are there lots of downsizing in the private corporate world?  While it is true that the private sector is not as notorious as the government, there are a lot of corporations that are shedding off their excess fats under the guise of streamlining or re-engineering, due to inordinate hiring of employees without proper human resource planning.

Human Resource Planning


HR planning is the process by which management ensures that it has the right people for the right job at the right time.  It is the development of strategies for matching the size and skills of the workforce to organizational needs.  The process involves carrying out a skills analysis of the existing workforce, carrying out manpower forecasting, and taking action to ensure that supply meets demand.

The plan can be applied in the government bureaucracy. The problem is, the government is always looked up to as an employment agency instead of as a service agency. That’s where the “ant syndrome” begins.  Will our incoming President stop this syndrome? Let’s see.

(The author is Chairman of Change Management International, Inc., a management consultancy firm. He is past president of PMAP, past president of Society of Fellows in Personnel Management. He is currently Vice-President of ECOP and Vice-President of ECOP Institute of Productivity and Competitiveness. He is a member of the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (TIPC), Tripartite Executive Committee (TEC), representing the employer sector. He is a Commissioner of the Tripartite Voluntary Arbitration Advisory Council (TVAAC). He is co-author of the revised book of the late Perfecto Sison now entitled: “Personnel Management in the 21st Century” and author of the book, “Human Resources Management – From the Practitioner’s Point of View.” His email address is: [email protected])


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