It's about time. The recession is over, things are looking up, companies are hiring, executives are coming out from hiding in their offices and cubicles. For all intents and purposes, many of us have held our collective breaths for the past 2 years for this moment. It's now time to take stock of who we currently are, where we are in our career, and where we want to go.
I read LOTS of books. And it's funny - a lot of people are amazed at the number of books I read. I don't think I read a lot - but many people I meet think I'm crazy about spending time reading books. Candidly, I feel that it's a clear sign of the 'dumbing down' of America. People are 'shamed' into not reading - you should see the faces of people when I mention I read 3-5 books at a time and finish 100-150 books a year. "Don't you have better things to do with your time?"
Newton's First Law of Motion: An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by a sum of physical forces. This is the typical employee at work today. As long as they have a job, they won't take any risks, butt any heads, or raise their hand at a meeting. In essence, they are an "object at rest". And this employee/object will remain at rest (meaning - no movement - no raises, no promotions, no new projects, no GROWTH) until "a sum of physical forces" are acted upon it.
Of all the insulting labels lobbed at Wall Street over the past two years, you wouldn't expect "overconfident" to be the one that hurt. But it has. This week's New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell on Wall Street's "psychology of overconfidence" struck a nerve.
The U.S. economy is not only shedding jobs at a record rate; it is shedding more jobs than it is supposed to. It’s bad enough that the unemployment rate has doubled in only a year and a half and one out of six construction workers is out of work.
I'm tired. And angry. And I'm not alone. For too long, the stewards of our most cherished institutions have been acting less than ethical. I call it "short term thinking for short term gain" — get in, make a quick buck, and move on to the next sucker. Not the best behavior for supposedly the best executives in this nation.
Presenting Part Nine of a Ten-Part Series on The Future of Work from Time Magazine. By David Von Drehle at Time.
The death of American manufacturing has been greatly exaggerated. According to U.N. statistics, the U.S. remains by far the world's largest manufacturer, producing nearly twice as much value as No. 2 China. Since 1990, U.S. manufacturing output has grown by nearly $800 billion — an amount larger than the entire manufacturing economy of Germany, a global powerhouse.
But growth does not mean jobs. While sales soared (at least until the recession), manufacturing employment sank. Using constantly improving technology to make more-valuable goods, American workers doubled their productivity in less than a generation — which, paradoxically, rendered millions of them obsolete. (See pictures of retailers which have gone out of business.)
This new manufacturing workforce can be seen in the gleaming and antiseptic room in Southern California where Edwards Lifesciences produces artificial-heart valves. You could say the small group of workers at the Edwards plant, most of them Asian women, are seamstresses. Unlike the thousands of U.S. textile workers whose jobs have migrated to low-wage countries, however, these highly skilled women occupy a niche in which U.S. firms are dominant and growing. Each replacement valve requires eight to 12 hours of meticulous hand-sewing — some 1,800 stitches so tiny that the work is done under a microscope. Up to a year of training goes into preparing a new hire to join the operation.
Highly skilled workers creating high-value products in high-stakes industries — that's the sweet spot for manufacturing workers in coming years. After an initial surge of enthusiasm for shipping jobs of all kinds to low-wage countries, many U.S. companies are making a distinction between exportable jobs and jobs that should stay home. Edwards, for example, has moved its rote assembly work — building electronic monitoring machines — to such lower-wage and -tax locales as Puerto Rico. But when quality is a matter of life or death and production processes involve trade secrets worth billions, the U.S. wins, says the company's head of global operations, Corinne Lyle. "We like to keep close tabs on our processes."
Recent corner-cutting scandals in China — lead-paint-tainted children's toys, melamine-laced milk — have underlined the advantages of manufacturing at home. A botched toy is one thing; a botched batch of heparin or a faulty aircraft component is quite another. According to Clemson University's Aleda Roth, who studies quality control in global supply chains, the successful companies of coming years will be the ones that make product safety — not just price — a "big factor in their decisions about where to locate jobs."
Innovative companies will also stay home thanks to America's superior network of universities and its relatively stringent intellectual-property laws. Consider, for instance, the secretive and successful South Carolina textilemaker Milliken & Co. While the rest of the region's low-tech, backward-looking textile industry was fading away, Milliken pushed ahead, investing heavily in research and becoming a hive of new patents.
U.S. manufacturing will also be buoyed by a third source of power: the American consumer. Even in our current battered condition, the U.S. is the world's most prosperous marketplace. As global economic activity rebounds, so will energy prices. The cost of shipping foreign-made goods to the U.S. market will begin to offset overseas wage advantages. We saw that last year when oil prices zoomed toward $200 per barrel.
Thus, even if fewer cars are built by America's wounded automakers, there will still be plenty of car factories in the U.S. They will be owned by Japanese and Chinese and Korean and German and Italian firms, but they will employ American workers. It just makes sense to build the cars near the people you expect to buy them.
Raised on images of Carnegie and Ford, we rue the loss of once smoky, now silent megaplants but are blind to the small and midsize companies replacing them. Ultimately, what's endangered is not U.S. manufacturing. It is our deeply ingrained cultural image of the factory and its workers.
It's a lot like losing your job. The first time it happens, people are pretty shell-shocked. They do a lot of soul searching (why me?), denial, hatred of their company, boss, etc. — you know the drill. Ultimately, when the adrenaline dissipates, they get down to business and look for a new job. The second time someone loses a job (and this happens more often that you realize in this economy), they tend to almost laugh about it, pick themselves up quickly, and go after that next job.
Does the recession with its rampant layoffs and cutbacks make your job look better all the time? Believe it or not, donning a pair of "recession goggles" can be good for your career and your mental health. Research shows that an attitude of gratitude in trying times can not only help you keep your job, but get you the job you want.
Time to get on my soapbox for a minute. Paul Volker, covered in the NY Times, said, "Even the experts don't quite know what's going on." That's a very scary statement.
The house of cards has fallen people. Oz has been discovered behind the curtain. Unfortunately, we are also the enemy. Let me explain.
I've worked in corporate for the last 20 years and have coached for the past 10. During that time, I've seen it all - especially the seven deadly sins sloth, greed, you know what I mean.
We've let the lowest of the low run our corporations. We've worked for them and watched them corrupt the time-honored practice of delivering high-quality products to customers who buy them for a reasonable price and focus TOTALLY on profit. They will do ANYTHING to make a profit, hit their quarterly targets, get the EBITDA just right to make their Wall Street projections. ANYTHING.
It doesn't matter that the product suffers. Or the employees. Or the brand. Just hit the numbers. And they've been doing it for YEARS. It's just a matter of time until everything comes apart at the seams. I used to believe that real companies operated on the theory that if they keep their employees happy and motivated, then their employees would develop and deliver quality products that the market would buy, then the company would make a reasonable profit, making it a strong company. Stockholders would recognize a strong company and invest heavily in the future of that company.
Unfortunately, this theory has been turned upside down. We now focus on what Wall Street demands, deliver unrealistic quarter-to-quarter returns, put pressure on the company to deliver more profit with less spending, and put increased pressure on all the employees to deliver — or fire them. Is this the shining example of a healthy company? I know that it is the standard for many companies today. The majority of companies (not all, mind you) have this upside-down behavior, trying to spin the numbers and forget about who delivers them - customers and employees.
So why do I have a picture of the CEO of Bank of America? He's just one of the many who thought they could spin the market, deliver better and better numbers from highly risky investments, and ultimately be one of the causes of our current economic predicament.
Our trust in the markets is gone, people. Until President Obama and Congress take radical steps to change this behavior, trust will never return. Not for a LONG time.
To help me (and a lot of other people) trust the markets, you need to do two things:
1. You need to get rid of the people that caused the problem. All of the culprits that took unwarranted risks with the trust of the public must be banned from employment. I know this is harsh, but frankly, they have money, so they won't starve. But to kill a cancer, you have to cut deep. And also send a message - you continue this behavior, it will happen to you too. Unfortunately, you see that they are still up to their hijinks as the TARP money flows in. So can them (prison would be better, but unemployment is just fine for me).
2. Develop regulations, laws and standards to ensure that this will never happen again. By the way, there will be some really smart people out there that will try to work around these new rules - can them too. They used to have stocks and pillories many years ago - maybe we should build a few in front of each stock exchange. We need a little more shame.
Only when our government, our companies, and our markets acknowledge that they have been rigging the game for the past decade or two, the public will begin to trust them again. Until then, I will keep my money out of the market. And I think I have a lot of friends that feel that way too.
Now I will get off my soapbox.