It would seem there is a steady erosion of excellence in America that is occurring under the guise of “practical business decisions.” More and more often we hear of corporations making the claim that they are in the position of having to make tough business decisions. But what is the true outcome of these decisions? Depending on how you calculate it, you will find that CEO salaries are between 250 and 500 times that of regular employees. And if you graph corporate profits vs. GDP since 1970 you will see that profits go marching upwards, while the graph for employee compensation goes steadily downward. There is the claim that this is in the name of being accountable to the shareholder. However, according to Salon, as much as 70% of stocks may be owned by the richest 5% of the population.
In short, the rich are getting richer, much richer. “Business” per se is doing great. But what are we producing, and what has become of the American dream? Most of us have a dream about doing work that is rewarding, feeds our souls and is fulfilling. But that is in short just simply dumb business sense. Most of the money in the world today belongs to those willing to implement lowest common denominator methods and/or tricks to make money based on paper shuffling and shell games created by financial institutions.
But it’s not just the upper levels of industry who use this excuse of doing things simply because it’s “good for business.” That phrase should really be replaced with “being lazy for the sake of a dollar.” We downsize and overload employees’ workload, then we give a sly nod and a wink and claim that productivity has increased. Workers know they are being legislated into doing less than their best, and then we try to guilt trip them into feeling it’s their fault they can’t do a good job.
It is wholly disingenuous and dishonest to label an employee as lazy when they are now doing the same set of tasks that used to be done by two or three people. If you are willing to label an average member of the workforce as lazy and needing to work harder to earn their salary, then how do you justify a CEO who makes $20,000,000? Do you really think the CEO of Exxon is doing 500 times more work than a farm laborer who works 10-12 hour shifts? Is Rex Tillerson working 6000 hours a day? Nope, he’s just got more advantage in “the game.”
We are proud when our children work hard and earn A’s in school. We admire professional athletes who train ferociously during the off-season. We fool ourselves with this ideal that the key to success is hard work. We should do things right, use the best materials, be willing to re-do something that is not up to our standards. Golly gee, we sure feel good talking that way. But that quite simply is not how the economic world works.
The lessons we are being taught by those who are “successful” are: You should find your materials in the cheapest way that is still technically legal. You should pay your help as little as possible while still maintaining a suitable level of production. And above all else, your bottom line is always the most important thing.
What would happen if we committed to excellence? Imagine a workplace where the primary goal is to create an environment where employees are encouraged to get a sense of pride and fulfillment out of their job. Where the true value comes from a corporate culture where the employees love and appreciate their work and feel they are making a larger contribution to the world in general. When you make the bottom line the most important thing, you are making human beings, society, and the planet an unimportant thing. In short, you’re being a cosmic jerk.