As I sit down to write this editorial, it is the morning after President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address. And, as expected, the president delivered a speech that touched on all of the hot-button issues of the day – economic stimulus, healthcare, Wall Street, education, national security, etc. Likewise, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union, issued a strong call for improvements on all of these fronts as well.
Nevertheless, on many of the issues, the two disagreed on the path to a successful end. So, I, like many Americans I’d imagine, am left feeling frustrated, looking for signs of hope that we can come together to solve the problems currently confronting our country. More importantly, I’m trying to figure out what I, personally, can do to help my country recover from its recent struggles. From a workplace perspective, I think I have a pretty simple answer – one that focuses on what I believe to be the core flaw in the American business mindset of today.
At the most basic level, the key sticking points Republicans and Democrats are currently wrangling over when it comes to the economy are that Democrats are in favor of regulating the financial sector more strictly and eliminating tax cuts for high-income individuals (those making more than $250,000 a year) to help pay down the deficit and provide what they see as necessary government-funded programs. Meanwhile, Republicans see regulation and higher taxes of any kind as a hindrance to economic growth and believe government should play a more limited role in funding social programs.
The differences here are clearly ideological, and both have arguments for and against. Still, I believe there is common ground to be found, primarily in the idea that we need to refocus on the American ideals of quality and integrity. You see, we as Americans, for the most part, cannot blame our political leaders for our problems in business. In my opinion, our economy is not struggling because of any regulation or taxation, or lack thereof; it is struggling because we as workers, white collar and blue collar, executives, managers, and nonmanagers alike, have lost sight of what is truly the key to a successful business model, i.e., quality and integrity.
For instance, if the folks working in the financial sector were more focused on developing and selling quality products based on sound, long-term economic principles, we wouldn’t all be so worried about the diminishing value of our homes or the stability of our jobs or the loss of our retirement savings. But instead of doing their jobs with quality and integrity in mind, our financial institutions only saw the dollar signs adding up, and, as a result, they failed.
The point of this editorial is not to pick on the financial sector per se, as this overwhelming focus on short-term profits without regard for long-term consequences is prevalent throughout American business today. Too often businesses look for shortcuts to financial gain without considering the long-term viability of the business model. As such, our system is flooded with businesses and business models that are not sustainable. This creates waste and inefficiency, which is the true culprit responsible for our struggles on so many fronts – whether it be healthcare, alternative energy, the economy as whole, etc. In my opinion, it really is that simple. Forget about all of those “facts and figures” you hear from politicians and political pundits. The bottom line is, if the business model is narrowly focused on operational integrity with an ongoing drive to produce the highest-quality product possible, then the business will be successful, financially and otherwise.
So, when it comes to the economy, we need not wait for our political leaders to find an ideological common ground to help our country recover; we need only to look in the mirror. Are we doing our jobs with integrity and the aim of producing the highest-quality product possible? Do we work for organizations that operate with integrity and the aim of producing quality products? If the answer to either of these questionss is no, now is the time to re-focus our efforts. Our country is depending on us.