I've just been invited to the White House to represent my company and the innovation and work of our employees toward altruistic ends. And as I prepare for my first trip to our nation's capital, I can't help but ponder our country's employment situation and what I can do as a leader in the greater business community to help our country regain its trajectory.
While the unemployment crisis in America isn't one of altruism, I can't help but contemplate our ability as capitalists to simultaneously contribute and prosper. After all, isn't this the Land of Opportunity? Isn't America's greatest achievement showing the world how to beat the zero-sum thinking -- that for every winner, there's a loser -- that existed before our great nation became the face of capitalism around the globe?
Amid the Occupy Wall Street movement, we have a Congress that can't be left in charge of ordering lunch and an economic meltdown with repercussions that are far from over. But there are at least two schools of thought on who and, I'm sure, millions of opinions on how to fix the economic indicator that matters most to Americans -- jobs. And the two points of view that seem most widely held and often presented in opposition are whether it's the role of the government or of businesses and its leaders to solve.
I believe that the combination of government and business will ultimately lead us forward, but want to take a minute and debunk some of the myths preventing capitalism from healing our country that could instead enable it to drive job growth!
It's natural that cost-cutting through restructuring and downsizing is warranted, especially after a downturn that's been as significant as the one we've experienced. However, cost cutting and downsizing alone do not make stronger, more sustainable businesses. It's the leaders of those businesses who can dispel myths that prevent job creation and pave the way ahead to economic prosperity.
Myth No. 1: The politicians made me not do it!
No doubt policy has influence over our businesses -- financially and otherwise. However, job creation and Capitol Hill are all too often mentioned in the same breath, as if politicians review our corporate hiring plans. Next time you hear a business leader speak as if policy and the fear of it are what drive their reluctance to hire, challenge the connection. Ask the business leader, "Are you a victim or a creator?"
Myth No. 2: It's all about the battles and not the war
Businesses have lost track of the fact that short-term business results do not create long-term success, resilience and sustainability. Leaders who believe in (or consider) taking the long-term approach with your loyalty, admiration and great work should be rewarded. Inquire leadership about the company's long-term vision, and understand the role that great people and talent play in achieving that vision. Talk about it, write about it, and put it in your plans at work.
Myth No. 3: Management vs. employees ... a zero-sum game
Employees are the most intelligent investment a company can make. Right now, business leaders have a unique opportunity to fuel the success and competitiveness of their business through job creation. At this moment, an abundant talent pool exists that is more capable, has more potential, more openness to change and is more appreciative of the opportunity to be with your company than ever before. In the Harvard Business Review article "Creating Shared Value" (Jan. 2011), Harvard business strategists Michael Porter and Mark Kramer coin "shared value" and explain that the mentality of lower benefits, outsourcing and generally, viewing employees as a line item creates a psychology where employees are in a zero-sum game, one with a winner and a loser. To solve for this, leaders need to adopt a management view that embraces Porter's and Kramer's findings.
In closing, I want to share a recent interaction with a colleague who asked if I'd been successful in business over the past 15-plus years. This question sparked a number of measuring sticks in my mind, including the challenges that our business -- and many others -- have wrestled with since the onset of the recession. I provided him with examples of our work, financial performance and our contributions to the industry as signals for success. And in reply, he said, "You've created jobs for hundreds of people for more than 15 years ... I'd consider that a success, wouldn't you?"