By Frank J. Rich
The Dow has surged above 15,000, an all-time record. Profits for major corporations are high and getting higher. The efficiencies that recession caution forced on America’s finest and biggest companies delivered high productivity results and extraordinary profits. Big business is doing well. What about small business America?
Apparently, others are wondering over the same question, not least, The Wall Street Journal. A recent poll drew the same conclusion many have had for, well, all the years of The Great Recession. Small business is still counting the days before recovery and greater fortunes.
Curiously, the WSJ looked at the data – empty Main Street shops, no or slow growth of revenues, local buyers now in the habit of spending less, and unemployment and underemployment that trumps pent-up demand for goods and services – then concluded that small business America is suffering from a ” jobs skills gap.” Simply translated it means that small businesses are doing better but have not been able to take growth initiatives because of a shortage of qualified labor. So far so good, but what followed may be the real reason for the slow recovery of Main Street businesses. In far too typical fashion the mainstream media identified the problem and found a convenient solution and washed their hands of it in favor of the next news sensation.
The reasons the WSJ gave for this “gap” included a skills-mismatch, lack of employer investment in training, and poorly prepared job descriptions. Really? I may be seeing the ghosts of an era gone by but the evidence for what gives business a bellyache is quite clear. I’ll buy “skills-mismatch” but in different terms.
Today’s worker is without many of the skills needed to fill functional roles, but he is missing something more vital to organizations of any size; namely, a sense of the enterprise and a willingness to work at preparing his unique contribution. Why, because she/he is poorly educated and loosely connected to the enterprise.
B-Schools across the land encourage their students to “take the president’s view” in preparing the contribution that uniquely qualifies them as helpful to the organization. Minus this key attitude, workers have one thing in common more than any other – a sense of accomplishment merely for the fact that they have a job. This is the good sense of an age we all hope will never succeed at directing America’s vital enterprises.
Job seekers come to interviews as likeable and with a resume in hand, a “slight of hand” too common in today’s workplace. We hear from interviewers: “I liked her, what do you think?” People are made that way, likeable. When most necessary they can effect this element of their personality well. The rest of the package is likely pure exaggeration. Most tell of their experience as though they worked alone to accomplish all that’s listed on their CV. Their view: you’re going to hire me for what I’ve done before. Wrong! At least, it ought to be. People are hired for what they will do for you; not what they did for someone else, even if some of it was true.
Most new hires spend their time in Phase 2 of the Organizational Change Model – “storming.” When confronted with the fact that things are done differently at the new place they make regular trips to HR to register their confusion and hurt over what is being asked of them. And if the things and people around them don’t change, it’s off to the next stop, something that happens annually for most workers, and while they’re collecting a paycheck from you. Sound a little jaded; read worker surveys to see how consistently high workers hate their jobs – still roughly 85 percent of them.
Oddly, it has always been the easiest job to distinguish oneself from the pack. All it takes is to work (actually work) at the thing we were hired to do. No excuses, no family crises, and no Fridays and Mondays sick from work. And finally, see the organization for the market enterprise it must become in order to succeed. When it comes to work make “Yes” the answer to every question – early or late meetings, strategic sessions on Saturday morning, next-day deadlines, filling in where needed no matter how comfortable your franchise position, and serving others to grow your value to the organization and to co-workers. That’s it! And by the way, should America’s workers take up this staff, Main Street recovery and workers fortunes will soar in record time. It’s simply what works.