Failure is usually management’s fault

Today, Consumers Reports published a study that listed the top ten cars … None of them were American owned.

Some have concluded that the lack of quality in American cars is the reason for the current disfavor of American manufacturers. And that lack of quality is directly laid at the doorstep of unions.

That view has been expressed by a friend of mine, Terry Brock, in his blog post today. If you want a different perspective, read on.

The question, however, for our readers is how does this apply to law firms? The answer, I believe, is simple: You must provide a quality product/service to your clients. They must understand what you do and how you do it. They get this understanding only because of the way in which you AND your staff conduct yourselves. There is no management and staff … there is only a team that creates quality service and work product for the benefit of our clients.

I love the phrase, “No man is an island unto himself.” And that is particularly true in delivering legal services to appreciative clients who pay their bills on time and refer their colleagues to you for more services.

Terry, I read your post about Consumer Reports today ranking the top 10 automobiles, and no American product being in the list. I would offer a contrarian (a bit) view.

You said that you grew up in Michigan and worked in union companies. You further said: “I never heard anyone in the union talking about how to make better quality or improve the company. The company was viewed as the enemy. All they seemed to want was more and more from the company. Well, that mentality will eventually come back to bite you — big time.”

I suspect you mean that the current Consumer Reports listing is the result of the union mentality and hostility toward the company.

My conclusions from the same report are a bit different. I remember when Nissan (then Datsun) and the other Japanese companies first entered the market, they asked us as drivers what kind of car we wanted. We told them. And they listened. And they listened. And they began to include the features we wanted. American car makers, on the other hand, got fat and sassy. The Justice Department was considering charging General Motors with monopolistic practices because it had a 52% share of the market. The American car makers no longer listened to its public, no longer made cars with quality (and you can’t blame workers for this), and no longer cared about their legacy and long term reputation.

The Japanese did.

I’m old enough to have lived through some of this history. Let me come at your issue from a different perspective: At the time unions organized, are you aware that the company viewed its workers as the enemy? Was there any paternalism? Did the companies care about its workers, the health of its workers, the well-being of the children of its workers? History tells us that the answers are clearly and loudly NO!

When you start from an adversary mentality, one need not go very far to understand that the other side will likewise adopt an adversary mentality to survive.

And it takes a great deal of statesmanship to create a team approach to correcting and building a healthy working environment. Where was management in this process? Taking home big bucks – still! The differential between management and workers compensation used to be in the neighborhood of 7:1, as best as I recall. Today, it is in excess of 30:1 according to the latest statistics I saw.

The problem that I see is that every management error is blamed on the worker. Where is management in this process? Why are they exempt from blame, since they make the decisions?

If you recall the Los Angeles grocery industry wage conflict a few years ago, management took a bold stand and lock-out the workers in 3 of 4 supermarkets. Only one of the 4 was actually on strike. The others were left alone. That was management’s decision and they lost millions of dollars. The blame was placed on the workers, though, with the allegation that the supermarkets needed to have lower wages and health care benefits in order to compete with Wal-Mart!

What was lost in this diatribe was the Safeway’s chairman, who led the lock-out, and who is still CEO of the company, had just recently made a $1 bil (approximately) mistake in buying Dominick’s Supermarket in Illinois, admitted the mistake and sold the division at an incredible loss! This loss more than off-set the increment in benefits the workers were requesting. Yet, his compensation was not reduced. He was not fired. He was not blamed. Somehow, he still sees the workers as the cause of his company’s problems.

Terry, from a friend, whose soft spot was touched by your blog … and who apologizes to you for the length of this response. 🙂


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