‘We’ Are The Key

Jun 18, 2004

By Al McClain

In a talk at the just-concluded GMA Executive Conference, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said he often uses a “pronoun test” to evaluate businesses. When he hears workers saying “we,” “our,” and “us”, he has a much more positive future pegged for their companies than when he hears “they,” “their,” and “them.”

Mr. Reich said collaboration is the key to business growth and a necessity as we’re fast approaching an economic reality where almost everything can come from somewhere else. Technology is taking over almost every routine task, in effect turning many functions and even some technologies into commodities.

The key ability companies need to develop to differentiate themselves, he maintained, now lies in “relational capital” — the relationships developed between suppliers and their customers, both internal and external.

Rather than globalization taking away American jobs, he sees a changing market with low-wage positions such as gas station attendant, checkout clerk, bank tellers, etc. becoming automated functions. Correspondingly, Mr. Reich sees major growth in the personal service worker field — e.g. childcare, service-oriented retailing, geriatric care, etc. — where personal attention must be given on-site.

The former secretary maintains companies can “do better by doing good.” By improving their relationships with suppliers and their own workforce, organizations build a better future for themselves. As suppliers and retailers develop better relationships, for example, they are able to improve the level of trust, count on each other and ultimately collaborate more effectively.

Companies can strengthen their bottom line performance by improving the work experiences of their staff. By giving them a sense of responsibility and demonstrating individual work fates are tied to that of the overall business, employees develop a sense of ownership.

Moderator’s Comment: Much has been written about the need for collaboration between suppliers and retailers. What
about the state of collaboration within organizations? Does the American emphasis on individual achievement, sometimes, act as a barrier to improving group performance? How can
companies improve internal collaboration?

Robert Reich gave an outstanding speech at the GMA Conference and received a warm response from a traditionally politically conservative crowd.

Rather than pushing for legislation to retain American jobs, he really seemed to be saying low-end jobs would travel the path of least cost and we as a
country and as an industry need to focus on knowledge, relationships and ultimately service.

Afterwards, we had the opportunity to ask Reich some additional questions. In that interview, we voiced concern that as more jobs become automated or are outsourced overseas,
the American workers who formerly did them could be in dire straits.

Mr. Reich said the keys to avoiding this were upgrading our schools and even adult education opportunities. We need to help these workers migrate into the
personal service market and other areas.

He voiced support for “best in class” unions who are enlightened enough to see they need to bring value to the work process, not just take a defensive posture
to try to maintain the status quo.

Al McClain – Moderator

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