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ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

The pneumonic—ROI—is generally understood for its universal application to investment analysis. Return On Investment is so common a term that most know it without thinking, or by association with idiomatic synonyms such as: the bottom line, the net return, the results, etc. A few, however, have written to ask what it means, thus; this brief discussion of what it means to me.

ROI has a traditional character; it measures the value of an investment, usually in a comparative analysis. That is, it is most often used to compare the value of one investment to another. The simple methodology reveals a number that aids a binary decision—shall I choose investment A or investment B?


The formula in its typical application is as follows:

ROI = (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment
                               Cost of Investment


Despite its obvious use in judging the worthiness of comparative investments, my interest in a focus on the term means to take a detour to another aspect of the term in the organizational vernacular. Perhaps, more than any other communication in the meeting rooms and hallways of organizations worldwide is the groaning over the lack of “necessary” resources to accomplish stated goals. In reviewing the usual rhetoric we find two fundamental forms of this complaint:

  • We’re not able to achieve the goal because “those in ______”, or the “technology in place” are not capable of getting the job done.
  • I need “__________, but it’s not in the budget.”

At the root of achievement is the desire to accomplish something in spite of the circumstances. We have all seen athletes, who when stripped of key players rise to a level of play that compensates for the loss of them. It is amazing to see how many goals a hockey team scores when down a man because of penalties. How is it possible for four players to outplay five? The first emotion when a team goes down a man is: “Oh no, we’re in trouble now, at least for the next four to five minutes.” Yet, those that do score under these circumstances, and regularly, do so for one underlying reason—they have recalculated the gain and not the loss.

Similarly, we hear from basketball players when confronted with a tough opponent, that individuals must “step up” their game if the team is to win the game. The postgame interviews usually hear the same statements: “Our guys just stepped up and gave us the boost we needed.” It is no less the model of achievement necessary to all organizations. Why then, do we continue to hear the grumblings listed above?

In our efforts to secure the market advantage we hope for, indeed, we have planned for, organizations suffer from a fundamental flaw; they do not consider the power in the ROI. Not only do people refuse to “step up,” they consider that doing so is at greater risk to them than the alternative—hiding. Consequently, a significant percentage of workers are hiding their talent and skill from others for fear of failure on some level. It is easier, and more common, to complain over the lack of resources.

Let’s consider a revolutionary statement: “The resources you seek are not only available to you, but free for the asking.” Do you believe it? I can guess that most do not; after all, it’s not in the budget, right? But an even greater force than the dreaded budget is the “will to win.” Organizations are formed to win, or succeed at achieving their goals. Why would they conspire against themselves by not applying the resources necessary to that end? The simple answer is that they wouldn’t, not if the path to achieving them is clear. Is the fog clearing a bit now?

In truth, no organization but those absent good sense would deny the resources necessary to achievement. If they are short the necessary capital one could conclude that this is a battle for another day. Or, alternatively, think creatively about how to get it. Perhaps, it requires more of all stakeholders, a partnership of sorts not unlike a hockey team that rises to meet the challenge of diminished resources.

The opportunity in the revolutionary statement above is the simple truth in it. All that you desire is available to you; it is hidden in plain sight. All that is required is that you present the ROI. If the gain from the investment in resources is greater than the cost, and not in violation of minimum revenue standards (most pharmaceutical companies will not pursue products of less than 500 million in revenues), then the door to those resources usually swings wide.

Imagine for a moment that you were to petition your technology manufacturing company to build a new cell phone, even though the company had no experience in the field. One can only imagine the guffaws that return to you. But after you tell them that the functionality and user friendliness of the new phone would far outstrip any on the market, that it will outperform all others in internet access speed and resolution, that it’s design would enable quick and easy use of it, that it would benefit from more applications from third party vendors than any other, and that its cool design would make it a fashion must. And finally, you outlined an ROI that demonstrated the new phone would outsell all others 10:1.

I wonder, just how did Apple decide to build the iPhone? They calculated the gain, I suspect.

July 1, 2019 |

Public Trust


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

The idea of accepting what others do because we trust them is both an opportunity and a concern to most. Trust, as we know it, suggests as much. That is, that we accept what another may do or say because we believe his intentions are good, or in our best interest. It’s the basis for a marriage union; indeed, for all personal relationships, even those at work and with all stakeholders—co-workers, vendors, and customers alike. The view is so telling of the desire for our institutions and their leaders that none would admit an untrusting spirit, only the fault they find in others for their lack of it. But after all is said about trust and agreed to, few choose it over the skepticism that requires proof of another’s trustworthiness.

The recent deflating of the trust balloon at the hands of corporate America, no less government, recommits us to the skepticism that cautions trust—a fair conclusion. An equally sanguine approach—the commitment to trust in all its incarnations—establishing, growing, extending, and restoring trust, wrestles for share of mind and heart. We know that the vicissitudes of life can sap our faith in all things; even God’s own can waver. But if we are to build anything together it requires that we learn to trust, and that “societies” in pursuit of something must learn most how to restore trust, because people disappoint.

It is said that character is easier kept than recovered. For there to be the public trust we need to produce the best from our institutions—public and private—we must look first within. Expecting from others what we have not performed divides the heart in them. An old song says it best: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Just how does trust operate in our lives, at work? Not coincidentally, “… it begins with each of us, continues through our relationships, expands into our organizations, extends into the market, and ultimately affects an entire society. This is the essential nature of an “inside-out” approach to all things. It begins with us, and then—through trust—extends to others,” as told by Stephen Covey Jr.

Does anyone really believe that life is a function of what others, indeed the world, does? Perhaps, some do, like the principal character in the book Tropic of Capricorn. Who is this character (a little bit of us) and what is he searching after (identity and meaning)?

Our journey to the depths of trust begins with self-trust. It’s where we learn the foundational principle that informs trust at all levels–credibility or believability. It is where we ask ourselves: am I someone people can trust; am I credible?

To build such a foundation requires personal energy, simply the desire and discipline to act on our beliefs. But, sometimes we meet destiny on the road we take to avoid it. We all find ourselves in shoes that don’t fit. When we do, we must find the energy to recover, to form the character that overcomes our indiscretions, and propels us on the path to productivity and fulfillment. We start here, and then form a collective mind with others who value the same things. Virtually every organization, no less government in its constitutional principles, positions values and beliefs as key to the forming of this collective mind. This is not the “hocus-Pocus” of the cultish, nor is it the religiosity that trades reason for fealty. No, it is simply the gathering of like-minded peoples to accomplish the “greater good”—a society in some form; either business, charity and public works, or government.

After a speech by Mahatma Gandhi to a hostile audience (in the House of Commons) he received a standing ovation. “How could he have mesmerized his audience for such a long time with no notes,” reporters asked.

The response: What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes … you and I, we think one thing, feel another, say a third, and do a forth, so we need notes and files to keep track.

Gandhi was not only one with himself; he was one with his principles. And his principles were deeply rooted and governed his life.

My life, he said, is an indivisible whole, and all my activities run into one another … my life is my message.

In his impactful book, Life is Tremendous, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, set it out simply. He recommended that to really succeed at anything (in life) we must do just three things:

  1. Make a decision.
  2. Make it our own.
  3. And, die (live) by it.

Public trust is no mean task; it requires much of us. It requires not only that we become one with our principles, but also grow humility and courage.

In his research for the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins discovered two very surprising things to him. The first was that all the “good to great companies” had “level 5 leadership” during the transition. This is “… a rare blend of genuine personal humility and intense professional will.” The second was a “self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy demeanor; more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton and Caesar.”

Love is born in us, but courage is life’s greatest lesson. The integrity that fuels trust must contain an ample measure of courage … to do “what’s right” not just the right thing, when it’s hardest to do.

July 1, 2019 |

The Tyranny of Drive


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

Most would offer that little of value derives from doing nothing. In fact, we have learned by experience—our own and others—that hard work produces results. Few new ventures produce the expected market entrenchment before the requisite two years. Statistics have born this out, some studies concluding that individual proficiency requires an astonishing 10 years to achieve. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, is rife with examples.

It would seem that our penchant for hard work has delivered the productivity Americans trade on; the drive to innovate and make something from very little. Drive, that natural tendency in the human condition and its toiling twin, hard work, combine to position America as the land of opportunity by its very nature. And, by this experience we have grown accustomed to the niggling, fidgeting, tapping impudence that makes present moments arduous and most people impatient with the next … and others. What price do we pay for such vainglorious results?

We are in the Information Age, as many call it. We have opted in for so much of it that it’s chocking us, reducing us to info junkies while stressing the natural acuities for processing, filtering, and gaining from the very same information. Life and work have reached such light speed that to keep up requires the cloning of oneself so popularized by Dolly and her brethren. But short of this, what’s a body to do?

Americans are driven; it’s in our blood. The delayed gratification of enjoying our labors’ fruit, however, has become more carrot than contentment. In fact, it is now so difficult to keep up with the world’s pace that we become distracted, disoriented, and dysfunctional. Not even our elected officials can keep up with the volumes written in support of critical legislation; witness how few read the stimulus plan before voting on it. It is much the same for the proposed national health plan.

The Signs

The signs are all around us. Max Kalehoff, editor of Online Spin, bemoans yet another of the automated, high-speed violators in our midst—remote control devices. There seems to be one for every unique gadget in the room, and most have unique features not found in the others. This makes it necessary to keep them around.

We relate to Max’s experience; there are no doubt numerous, if not a dozen, remotes strewn around the TV room of our homes. This, because it is never just one remote that is needed, as Max explains. “A music-listening session typically requires the remotes for the Internet radio receiver and the multimedia receiver. Conversely, a movie-watching session typically requires remotes for the multimedia receiver, the plasma screen and a video source device, which might include the Roku, DVD player, or PC. Few remotes are intuitive, so every usage and combination is akin to solving a new puzzle.”

Another encroachment is the incessant emailing that has become commonplace in our information overloaded world. We have become so obsessed with the inveigling communications at our fingertips that little else captures our attention with such compelling need. We “need” to communicate, and near all the time, or so it would seem. We text, email, search, blog, network, and now tweet, largely to the exclusion of most else. We write more than ever, but not letters or reports that form logically in the mind and on paper. Yet our obsession with new media connections is so compelling that we are driven eagerly to the lure of our various communications devices. But is it good?

John Freeman, editor and author of the published book, The Tyranny of E-Mail, concludes that email, in all its forms, has taken control of our lives, encouraging so much unnecessary palaver that it threatens to make more idiot of us than savant. He writes that constantly being ON causes emotional and physical burnout, workplace meltdowns, and unhappiness.” How many of our most joyful memories, he adds, have been created in front of a screen? How does something so “vital” to our existence, its quickening anxieties the irreverent fidgeting and tapping it elicits, risk disequilibrium?

Mr. Freeman contends that our drive to communicate changes the experience with words, their meaning, and the value of speed in our lives and business practice. We squeeze symbols from real words and the feelings that endow them, clipping along uneasily in an effort to keep up with all that is going on as though the constant ruffling of this streaming invasion were necessary and good. Is it?

We go to war hastily, he adds, go to meetings unprepared, and build relationships on the slimmest of foundations, spending what little attention we have till little is left when we really need it. How many of us find it impossible not to take a peek at a vibrating cell phone, even in the middle of a meeting or engaging conversation? A quick indulgence, a text message in reply, and hardly a blush over the interruption is a common scenario. When committed to little more than our urge to merge over the airwaves, we forego the friendly gatherings at the local watering hole, the convalescing serenity of the library, and the physical and emotional investment in community events, advancing the asceticism of a constant din and “making it more difficult to tell the signal from the noise, ultimately trading the complicated reality of friendship for its vacuum-packed idea.”

We are driven by many things; a slower existence less prominent among them. Perhaps, there is something to the phrase: “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Live slow, and prosper!

July 1, 2019 |

Killing Me Softly…


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

The discussion over local business growth and opportunity is a coffee break staple in America. In times of economic pressure the conversational pitch naturally rises. Notwithstanding the cyclical nature of business, the “flattening” of the so-called “world economy,” and the effect of creative (destructive) innovation, small business becomes the focal point of discussion when we break for America’s brew. But is it conversation or real commitment that motivates our spoken support for local business? Do we really care about the local bike shop or farm store selling American-made goods and home-grown produce, or does a quick check of the price determine where we shop?

The giddiness in the market of late—usually the first roar of recovery—has market watchers gushing over the numbers: the Dow (industrials), the NASDAQ (technology), the auto industry, housing starts, employment, big oil, big banks, and big retail. Main Street businesses, long the bell weather of sustained growth, are typically left out of the discussion. Why?

They are less endowed of resources, the integration sophistication of larger companies, the technology of the day, and the predatory marketing ethic that so often drives large companies, from big banks to multi-unit tire stores. What they do have is the desire to make a difference in their community, and they put their money where their heart is. Not so for big banks and big box stores. But a closer look reveals the oddity in the fabric of the American psyche that belies the best intentions of local townspeople.

Americans speak about their communities with pride in their schools, town traditions, culture, and the spirit of town enthusiasts, the vocal few who give them personality. However, under the guise of “community making” we are too often in the process of “community breaking,” and in the process we feed our compulsions more easily than our compassion.

The Browning of America
The Wal-Mart’s, Costco’s, and Best Buy’s on the edge of towns across America may be fitful for local businesses (in place) when they arrive, but the long-term affect on local business may have proven to be a net naught. This, largely because of the energy and enthusiasm in Americans’ desire to make better lives for themselves and a better community in which to live through local enterprise—service and commercial. It is the will to create opportunity in each that not only mirrors the American DNA but also acts out the extraordinary drive that makes America an arcade of shop owners across the land. Americans have a greater impact on the health of the U.S. economy than could any stimulus package. Local spending recycles American dollars and keeps town economies strong while securing a vital national economy.

In “so-called” efforts to preserve the natural beauty of local landscapes, towns across America enforce predatory regulations on local business, often to the point of open hostility between the business community and local government. Local planning and building boards are legendary for “opinion judgments” instead of invoking the ordinance that applies; often heard telling store owner applicants, “The town doesn’t need another deli,” or pinning beautification costs on new business or buildings while holding CO’s hostage.

Local chambers, despite charters that commonly read: “… to promote a business environment that sustains economic vitality, promotes economic development and enhances the appeal to locate, conduct, and grow businesses in the area,” routinely accept money and promote “distant local” companies in favor of locals that have similar products and have made a local commitment often spanning generations. Their view is often that everyone’s money is painted green; while failing to recognize that local business is colored of the sweat, blood, and tears of the hope in community building by local citizens. This is the “browning of America.”

Local banks that rely on local citizens and businesses for their financial health seldom advertise locally or fund local initiatives. Their employees may live in town and spend their wages locally, but the bank would sooner send direct mail to homes and commit fortunes to national advertising than sponsor a community event or advertise in a community paper. I have been banking with a small community bank for 31 years, which has never had to offer $150 to open a new account, and has grown consistently over the years, even through the “great recession.” I can accomplish any banking transaction via telephone, email, or its online banking system, from anyplace on earth. Can you say that about your bank?

A recent study by the Online Publishers Association found that consumers trust online advertising on local newspaper, magazine, and electronic media websites, and are more likely to take action after viewing ads on them.

Newspaper websites have a slight lead with 46 percent of consumers responding to local ads by either purchasing the product, visiting a store, or conducting more research. Electronic media websites came in second with 44 percent and magazine sites followed closely with 42 percent. Media sites are also outperforming portals (single function websites) and all other online media.

Restaurants topped the list with 38 percent consumer response, followed by 28 percent for grocery stores, 25 percent for banks and financial services and 19 percent for doctors and health facilities.

Why are Americans turning to local produce and American made goods and services? Because they realize that growth—personal and community—comes from individual initiative for a cause. “Cause marketing” is America’s new battle cry, and it’s likely to make a deafening sound in the years to come. The cause is the re-greening of America, but will local governments, chambers, and national chains hear it? Trade imbalances will eventually drive us to a “no tariff economic model” or bankruptcy. Despite the popular rhetoric, no nation will win a trade war with the US, even though many will suffer some, the result will be fewer tariffs and richer economies.

In the song by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, Killing Me Softly, the lyrics decry the pain of despair for a lost love. The haunting strain of words and music seems to find what aches in us as we listen to it, a fringe relationship with a similar experience. Perhaps, it is also the song of small business in America, struggling against the good news of financial markets, big banks, and even bigger government as though the talk of it would gather Main Street in its draft. The plight of local business may be understood as much by its smallness and limited resources as the contradiction that local government, chambers, and citizens alike have adopted a bicameral nature in saying one thing and doing another.

June 3, 2019 |

The Three Rs of Enterprise


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

Fewer than 40 percent of graduating high school seniors have mastered reading and math, making the majority of graduating classes poorly equipped for college and real-world life.  This group of students (generally) passes to the next grade—regardless of performance—and is at a serious disadvantage with a higher chance of falling behind and dropping out of college. (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] 2015).

Programs such as STEM that encourage girls—who usually do better than boys in most subjects—in the study of science, math, and technology helps, but the majority of U.S. graduates are disadvantaged in the workplace in comparison to many other industrialized nations.

The fallout is evident to most business and NFP (Not For Profit) organizations that must routinely choose among candidates that show promise, if not the skills already in place that are necessary to job performance. While poor language skills are among the most obvious deficiencies in job candidates, most lack the discipline of an everyday job, the resourcefulness that fuels growth and opportunity, and the basic nature in risk taking.

Perhaps, as it relates to our educational system, we are asking the wrong questions. A focus on literacy and basic academic skills fails to identify key elements of success in the marketplace, which also encourage the personal growth and development that lead to ultimate fulfillment—the highest level of personal achievement.

1. Resourcefulness
2. Respect
3. Risk

The three Rs of Enterprise may be a reasonable place to start. Simply, Resourcefulness, Respect, and Risk may offer the opportunity to address the educational deficit noted above and present a more achievable goal for lazy students, encouraging academic participation. Clearly, 60 percent of high school graduates may be unable to outline the elements of international balance of power today in light of the Monroe Doctrine that defined an era of isolationism in America for 100 years. They would more easily be able to describe the ways they repaired a separated doorknob for mom while dad was at work, or the discovery of ingredients for a first omelet when the fridge offered limited options, or the mental calculation used to judge a skateboard stunt, or the deference paid to a disabled person in helping them. On these foundations—common to all—most any could find their way to greater understanding through an informed approach to learning. I think we call this education.

What’s taught in school? Coursework is the answer, for its focus on academics. Missing is the method common to all learning that resourcefulness, respect for the subject matter (in practical terms) and the risk that raises hands with questions, subordinating natural fears, engenders.

Also missing are the business calisthenics so vital to self-achievement. R1 is first among skills. In the end, some part of all things must be done alone—critical thinking, ideation, planning, “what if” analyses, funding, market analysis, pricing models, competitive analysis, facilities plan, staffing, training and personnel development (leadership), and growth modeling. All come into play for household management; something we all need to learn so as not to model the error in governments that practice deficit spending. If we are successful in raising a nation of people better able to find self-fulfillment, we do well to teach and practice resourcefulness. There is no substitute for this ability to find solutions when none are seemingly available.

Respect calms the process, answers the “why” in what we do and in choosing our life’s path. Significantly, R2 models the organizational attitude in whatever place we find ourselves. Respect for the work, the staff, the process, the customer, the community, the industry, end goals, and individual choice, put all peoples, created equal under God, on an even plane to compete cooperatively. If we are better able to see another through the eyes of hope in us, we reveal the path to the most spoken urging of politics and people—coming together.

Risk Management must become an internal model, wholly respected and resource specific for the incomplete logic in all initiatives that finds optimal outcomes. It’s everyone’s job.

1. Assessing coverage risks—cross-functional flow and cross training. What a 3rd baseman does when the shortstop attempts to field a hard grounder; or a friend does in comforting another after tragedy; or a parent does when their fledgling child rents her first apartment with the fear she won’t be able to manage the financial burden of it.

2. Raising the quality of customers to serve efficiency and best outcomes, driving prices down, and quality product and service up, which delivers greater profits.

3. Staff attrition risk management—A measure of organizational reward (liking where we work and what we do), and opportunity assessments.

May 17, 2019 |

Same story, different time …


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

In a world of instant information and growing automation, are we likely to see personal customer service disappear? Retail has moved online, without a doubt, though meteoric growth of its share of the $5 trillion dollar pie benefits significantly from the arithmetic magic of small numbers. Online purchases are roughly 10-12 percent; though most asked the question guess the number to be between 50-90 percent. Clearly, Amazon has taken the lead, making retail the facile mechanism that serves a needy consumer with the convenience that the information age encourages, but they have succeeded at something fundamentally more important than the listing of “everything under the sun.” Even when selecting the “fav” of the American craze for quick burgers, one company revealed the essential philter in the success model by telling customers they can “ … have it your way.” No less cleverly, Amazon did the same; making the answer to every customer’s question—“Yes!”

A WSJ report that Apple Stores have lost their luster, suggests a refocus from customer services to retail tricks, that lure customers now spurned by the absence of creative and effective “help” with Apple products, to “niceness” in the form of less capable technical problem solvers and hard-to-access solutions. Lighter traffic and sales are the result. When Best Buy announced some years ago that it would focus its attention on the top 10 percent of its customer base, and leave the rest to fend for themselves, it was no surprise to see customers find alternatives while sales fell.

The essential truth in competition is that its purest form is the “alternative use of the same resources.” Challenge the customer to reconsider your products, and they inevitably will do just that. The wisdom that informs sales is customer service; not sweet temperaments and seeming helpfulness, but real help. While Amazon may be testing its stellar “returns policy” by accepting more product from sketchy suppliers, it continues the march to “having it your way” by its move to “next day delivery” for Prime members. Whatever your brand of it, losing sight of the value in customer service is to forgo the golden goose. The magic for retailers begins when they get the attention of buyers. It is this moment they have the opportunity to capture their loyalty on the way to a successful “retention revenue model.” It’s what secures the future more than anything else.

Before Apple found gold in its music and mobile products, it relied on its loyal base to tout the uniqueness that distinguished it from others—“the computer for the rest of us.” The loyalty of its customers ( a cultural pennant) sustained the company through decades of so-so sales until the genius in bold product moves was revealed, along with a customer service juggernaut; the Apple Store, that even surprised success models, where others had failed. Though it is at risk at the moment, the solution remains the same—simple, better than good customer service.

After a recent fender bender, I called my insurance company (on the spot) to provide all the information needed to begin the repair of the damage, including a pre-selected local body shop. Days later, despite email confirmation of the exchange and promises to move quickly to restore the car’s use to me, nothing had been done. A funneled connection to a single claims agent revealed confusion on her part about the insurance coverage on the vehicle. She claimed first that it did not include collision, and next that no policy for that vehicle had been purchased in the renewal that occurred two months earlier. In telephone conversation with the claims agent I insisted that she review the five policies we had with the company and get back to me with a solution to the problem, in lieu of my proving to her that we actually had insurance policies in place. Begrudgingly, she accepted, certain that her records correctly positioned me as she described. I immediately went to their site and retrieved the details on all policies, confirming the renewals and coverages in each, including full collision for the damaged vehicle; then waited for her promised call following the weekend. It didn’t come, so I called her at 3:56PM and left a message. She works to 4:15PM of each weekday. The message explained that if I didn’t hear from her by the next day I’d only be talking to our local agent and headquarters people of her company, but not with her again. The next day she called to apologize and confirm that all was well, policies in place, and a promise to move things along immediately. And one more thing: she blamed the confusion on another—the clerk that took the information; strangely, whose confirming email to me contained every bit of information I gave her, including the body shop that would do the repair. If customer service meant anything to this employee, it was not evident in her pronouncement that I had no coverage for the damaged vehicle; neither in the lack of compensation for the 12-day delay in beginning the process of repair. You can guess what this might mean for Progressive, whom I have been using since 1993. if it happened to me, it is happening to others.

We are a creative people, whose desire for “the better” in things drives new models of enterprise. A good thing! In the end, some things remain the same. People are the object of all things, which recommends that we see them first, before revenue, profit, and so called opportunities to charge what the market will bear. Once gained, the trust of people is the most powerful asset an organization can claim. We do well to give this player, in the model of organizational achievement, our undivided attention.

May 17, 2019 |

Attitude…the real opportunity


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich

Few things wear commitment as a tree. John Muir, environmentalist, naturalist, adventurer, and thinker excited the notion in his famous words, “It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!” Were these well-limned words to qualify the yaw of fellow travelers—men—the workplace and the world would produce a different math than the cacophony of avarice, misrepresentation, and malingering that refreshes pixel-like as we look around. Indeed: taking measure of us John Muir chose defense of the tree.

At a time when employers, private and government, and the employment engine, struggled as typical “America first and foremost” fealty vanished, a dissuaded populace moaned of joblessness and the economic uncertainty that sours the palette. If we pause to give promise a history lesson, visions of the “Greatest Generation” come into focus, even though most seeking employment (during The Great Recession), our youth, then 72 percent un-contracted in the marketplace, and little charged of its principles, and near absent knowledge of Tom Brokaw, chronicler of the now famous label on America’s most productive, ethically rooted, and committed by principle, were feeling vexed and uncommitted to the navigational star in a stormy sea of fainting hopes. If a bleak and forlorn sentence, consider that employees, not employers, were more lost in the turbulence of the cultural sea change that painted their present and their future.

Born of nothing but promise, Americans from every land found harmony in ethic that joined all in the belief that just about anybody “could,” in a society aching and achieving by its diversity of imagination, approach, and vision. Brokaw’s “generation,” if indeed the greatest generation society ever produced, fought the Great War not for “fame and recognition” but because “it was the right thing to do.” Extraordinary! Drawn together in common cause and hardened to a softness that respected the right to be and to contribute by one’s labor’s, they found unity and strength in the resolve to build a better life, and fashioned America as the greatest economic engine ever known to man and a worldwide superpower. They landed on our shores with nothing but a great work ethic and a great attitude. As Martin Klinzing put it, “Essentially (the) discussion boils down to the fact that you can teach someone anything except to care.”

So where is the harmonic connection to what is “right and true,” to the “Greatest Generation,” its chords ringing with the opportunity in work, the promise of a brighter future, lost after the making, or so Brokaw and those before who lamenting its decline decried, switching psyches as though horses to position leverage, entitlement, greed, and the pursuit of individual rights as idols? The disequilibrium in this math, confounding the symmetry atavistic of good beginnings, is the confusion in the workplace that delivers poor attitudes, habits, the god in spurious resumes, and ultimately uncommitted human assets. Few workers take to their daily bread winning as “settlers,” in the words of E. B. White of The New Yorker Magazine, with the unbridled passion that mirrors the productivity of an earlier age and a magnetism that collects those around them as they sail into the wind and by a star. Sadly, those that don’t fit onto this boat are the disenfranchised “commuters” of an economic engine now wagged by its tail.

As the economy returns to growth, on all planes, the demand for labor will change positions with the supply of it as workers take the bully pulpit. Employers will feel the pressure to increase their profiles—better wages, benefits, and perks. It’s the way of free market models, ultimately directed by supply and demand. Don’t give in to it!

There is little disagreement with the premise that attitude trumps skills in the selection of new employees. And though foundation stones in the model of quality employees, attitude and work ethic have complements, not least, “segment knowledge, soft skills like leadership and managerial quality, creativity, and the ability to learn and adapt to the changing environment,” as Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School James Heskett has noted by the measure of thirty years of study. Driven to discover the route to excellence in organizations, he went beyond the conventional wisdom: “hire for attitude and train for skills. “Attitude” took on new meaning, in summary, “ … the ability to identify with and “live” core values of the organization such as respect for others, being customer-driven, etc. Management has concluded that it is too difficult and costly to try to change the attitudes of adults. As a result, they release those unable to work and manage according to the organization’s values and replace them with those who can.”

Not coincidentally, the work revealed that capital flows follow quality labor, a conclusion of considerable study by Gregory Clark, summarized in his 2006 book, A Farewell to Alms, minimizing the long-term threat of outsourcing to developed economies. The image of this favored son of the Greatest Generation is not only worth the effort necessary to good employee selections, but also worth waiting for, if Clark is right. As C. J. Cullinane, commented: “Attitude is all … if employees are the (corporate) brain cells, then long-term employees are the long-term memory of the corporate brain.”

March 29, 2019 |
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