Tag Archives: nixon

The Dark Side of Rapid Change

Global trade and investment have been great engines of progress for much of the world. Over the past two decades, poorer countries reduced the gap between themselves and their richer counterparts for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, in no small part because of the opportunities opened by global trade. Technology has the same transformative potential in industries as varied as energy, health care, transportation and education. Inventions that are imminent or already here could transform the lives of billions of people for the better.

Yet, as we see in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, and as we have seen in Europe and elsewhere, rapid change has a dark side. If too many people are unable to adapt quickly and successfully to these changes, they will push back – blaming trade or immigrants or the elites – and demand a reversion to a simpler time.

The task of governments is to help people manage these transformations so that they benefit many and do as little harm as possible. In the U.S., governments mostly failed at that task during the era of globalization; if the full benefits of the coming technologies are to be enjoyed, governments will have to do much better this time around.

See also: ‘Interactive Finance’: Meshing with Google  

The competitive pressures created by globalization should have been no surprise. About 45 years ago, President Richard Nixon’s top international economic adviser, Pete Peterson, warned him that rising competition from Japan and Germany, with much more on the way, “poses adjustment policy which simply cannot be ignored.”

Americans have unquestionably gained by the lower prices and higher quality that import competition enabled. Apple iPhones and the latest Boeing jets are the result of the collective input of tens of thousands of collaborators in dozens of countries around the world. But many lost well-paid manufacturing jobs to import competition or outsourcing, and the U.S. government has made little effort to mitigate those costs, even in worker retraining.

President John F. Kennedy promised in 1962 that the government would help American workers who lost out to trade competition as the U.S. lowered its barriers to imports. “When considerations of national policy make it desirable to avoid higher tariffs, those injured by the competition should not be required to bear the full brunt of the impact,” he said. But today, the U.S. spends a smaller proportion of its wealth on worker retraining than any of the other 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development except for Mexico and Chile.

Too often, the attitude of the U.S. government has been deeply irresponsible, assuming that markets would simply sort everything out for the best. In the long run, everybody may end up with work and income, but, in the short run, as Peterson told Nixon, the failure to help Americans adapt to the new reality will “leave long periods when the transition is painful beyond endurance.”

With technology change, too, we know well in advance exactly what is coming. Driverless technology, for example, will soon become the standard in the trucking industry. Driverless trucks can run 24 hours a day and won’t demand overtime pay. There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., and an additional 5.5 million jobs in related industries – roughly one in every 15 American workers. They could perhaps go to work for UPS or deliver pizzas, but many of those delivery jobs will be lost to drones.

Personal-care robots will increasingly replace home healthcare aides, and self-checkout machines are already replacing retail-store clerks; these are jobs that filled some of the gap left by the disappearance of manufacturing jobs to global competition, but they, too, will soon be under siege. Automation is even hitting law and education, two sectors long thought immune to technological substitution.

See also: How Technology Breaks Down Silos  

These vulnerabilities necessitate something that too often was absent in the era of globalization: good public policies. Artificial intelligence will transform teaching, for example, but, without access to the highest-speed broadband, students in poor and rural areas will fall further behind their urban counterparts. And unless we strengthen social safety nets and retraining schemes, there will be far too many losers in the labor market. There is no way to avoid the huge impact that technology will have on employment; we have to prepare for it and help those whose skills it antiquates.

Much more even than globalization, technology is going to create upheaval and destroy industries and jobs. This can be for the better, helping us create more interesting jobs or freeing up time for leisure and artistic pursuits. But unless we find ways to share the prosperity and help Americans adapt to the coming changes, many could be left worse off than they are. And, as we have seen this year, that is a recipe for an angry backlash—and political upheaval.

This article was written with Edward Alden.

Broader Approach to Workplace Violence

With the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, CA, fresh on people’s minds, workplace violence has received major media coverage, but little to no attention is paid to deaths by suicide even though rates in the U.S. have gone up considerably in recent years. Suicides claim an average of 36,000 lives annually, and, while most people take their lives in or near home, suicide on the job is also increasing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workplace suicides rose to 282 in 2013, the highest level since the numbers have been reported. In 2014, the suicide rate went down slightly to 271, but that is still the second highest level. The annual average number of suicides deaths that occurred at work during the time period 2003 – 2014 is 237, for a total of 2,848. Since 2007, the numbers have been above the average.

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Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

The rise in suicide rates at work is even more significant given that overall homicides in the workplace have been steadily decreasing since the mid-’90s.

The obvious question is: Why is this startling rise in suicide rates at work occurring?

“The reasons for suicide are complex, no matter where they take place,” said Christine Montier, CMO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Usually, many factors are at play.”

Many suicide prevention experts linked the increase in one way or another to the Great Recession. I believe the recession played a major role because it put a triple whammy on people. Housing, which has traditionally been the major investment and retirement source for Americans, was in the toilet. Foreclosures were at an all-time high. Companies were laying off people, and job prospects were slim.

I believe that many working people experienced daily stress about employment. Every day, they might be laid off. Many were severely overworked because they needed to pick up the slack caused by reductions in workforces. They faced continuous fear of taking time off for vacations or illness and had few options to leave because jobs elsewhere were scarce.

Put all these issues in the pot together, and some people could not see their way out of their dilemma except through suicide.

Researchers in a study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suspect that suicides occur at work because the perpetrators wanted to protect family and friends from discovering their bodies.

In the midst of the fear of terrorist attacks and active shooting incidents, organizations are significantly challenged in how to deal with the spectrum of violence they may face. However, it is critical that organizations not shy away from addressing these issues and muster the resources to engage their employees.

Managers need clear guidelines on healthy approaches to manage and prevent violence in the multiple forms it can take. Two industries that have taken the issue of suicides at work head-on are construction and law enforcement.

What can management do?

Promote awareness

Stop thinking and acting like “it couldn’t happen at your company.Provide regular communications through the channels that are most effective in your company regarding the potential warning signs that employees or others are at risk of acting in a violent manner. See a list of the classic early warning signs of workplace violence here. Many of the signs are also telltale signs symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior.

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., co-founder of Working Minds, a Colorado-based workplace-suicide-prevention organization, described a giveaway that’s more obvious than one might suspect: The employee will tell you.

When contemplating suicide, a person can be entirely consumed by the thought, she said. The problem may be coded in conversation—the individual may talk about death often, for instance.

As uncomfortable as it may seem, it’s important to bite the bullet and ask the awkward questions. “It is very hard to resist a human who is coming at you with compassion,” Spencer-Thomas observed. She suggests that HR professionals frame their questions in an understanding manner, giving the employee the opportunity to explain his or her condition. Statements such as, “I’ve noticed that …,” “It’s understandable given …,” and “I’m wondering if it’s true for you…” should be followed by a nonjudgmental statement.

Promote resources available to help employees

If your firm has an employee assistance program (EAP) or your healthcare provider offers counseling service, make sure that managers are trained about the program and skilled in how to make an effective employee referral. If your employee usage rates are below your industry average, you need to assess why and take action to increase usage. Talking to a professional counselor can make a big difference to a troubled employee.

If your firm does not offer an EAP, then identify community resources that can assist your employees and keep the list current.

HR should also have a strategy to deal with the devastating impact of a homicide or suicide at work.

I believe the time has come for executives to take a comprehensive approach to violence that occurs in the workplace and especially to bring mental health and suicide issues out of the closet into mainstream workplace conversations. We are past the point where organizations can think of suicide as a dirty little secret and hope it will go away. The time has come for meaningful action.

Don’t wait until something happens and people lose their lives. If you really mean that your employees are your most important asset, now is the time to step up.

4 Things a Leader Must Do in a Crisis

Ray Rice hit his fiancé in an elevator. The video is shocking, and the response by the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell has been infuriating to many. How this will all play out, no one knows at this point. It feels as if we are only in Act One.

As a leader, you will almost certainly face at least one crisis during your career. In business, “stuff rolls uphill.” Knowing how to effectively handle a crisis may mean the difference between survival and devastation. The keys are:

  • be truthful
  • be pessimistic
  • be definitive

In one of my previous companies, we created and ran a program for future Fortune 500 CEOs. Our faculty consisted of the most respected chief executives of a generation: Anne Mulcahy, A.G. Lafley, Jim Kilts, Carlos Gutiérrez, Jack Welch and more than two dozen others. One topic that would consistently come up in discussion was what should a senior leader do when confronted with a crisis. While their individual approaches were as personal as their leadership styles, here are four things that top CEOs stressed any leader should do in a crisis.

1. Get the facts. Quick. Ask your direct reports to get every detail of the facts out on the table. Then ask again. During a crisis, those who work for you at all levels of the organization will be reticent to bring you more bad news. But finding out later will often lead to a far worse outcome. Be relentless in your pursuit of what really happened. The good, the bad and the ugly.

2. Come clean with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You must act as though all of the facts you have now discovered will eventually be public — and they almost always will be. Isolated crises turn into full-blown organizational meltdowns not typically from the initial act, but from the response to those acts. Heed the lessons of Nixon and Clinton. It’s the cover-up that leads to impeachment.

3. Estimate the broadest possible fallout from the crisis. Then triple it. I remember a specific discussion with Welch and a small group of CEOs about this topic. Jack said that, in nearly every single public crisis he was confronted with in a five-decade career, the final damage was far worse than anyone had estimated at the onset. By being aggressively pessimistic about the outcome from the beginning, he found his leadership teams were much better prepared to deal with the ultimate reality of the situation.

4. Realize that someone big is going to fall. “I wasn’t aware of it!” “It was the act of a rogue employee.” As a leader, it is impossible to keep your eye on everything. You can’t control the actions of everyone you lead. So, when a crisis occurs, it is tempting to rationalize that it wasn’t your fault. How can you or senior people on your team reasonably be blamed? But, in the end, the organization and the public will demand definitive action, and someone senior will ultimately take the hit, including potentially you. The more you resist, the angrier the villagers will get, and the more heads they will go after. Make the difficult decisions earlier than later, or your options will quickly turn from bad to worse.

Here’s hoping you navigate your entire career without ever having to face a crisis. But the odds are against you. Be prepared to act truthfully and decisively, and you may just make your way through the storm.