Management Matters: Asking for Answers

It's high time we begin to rethink how we do business in America. Enough of trying to do more with less, "managing" others, or motivating people to perform above their limits—all so that companies can consistently meet their profit projections. What with gigantic ethical lapses all around, leaders and followers stressed way too far out, and America's place in the global business firmament up for serious recalculation, our business model (yes, the vaunted capitalist one) simply isn't serving us the way it should. Or to put it another way, there is a crisis of meaning in the workplace and no one is talking about it at all.

According to Rabbi Michael Lerner (a lone voice in the wilderness), American business is all about money, power, and fame. Your behaviors therefore should be organized to increase any or all of these values. Not to support this ethic is grounds for termination. Which means of course that any other values (like love, respect, caring, kindness, or generosity), which don't measurably contribute to the goal, are seen as irrelevant at best and destructive at worst. So you'd better keep this subjective side of yourself out of the place where you spend more than half of your waking hours. Moreover, since so much of your time and energy is spent making money, power, and fame happen, it's just about impossible to turn this dynamic off when you go back home. So the last bastion of relief you have—your family and friends—becomes affected along the way.

What we need, as I mentioned, is a major rethinking of how we do business. Something along the lines of the huge mental shift that took place when we realized that the sun, not the Earth, is the center of our small section of the universe—a grand but not grandiose revolution in thinking.

We need to ask some pretty powerful questions, like who is more valuable to a business' success, financiers who invest money or stakeholders (like workers) who invest their time and energy to make that business successful?

We need to ask how we effectively go about organizing these human assets, now that the old command-and-control philosophy no longer works. What form of working together does work best?

We need to ask how we should share the wealth that is generated by the efforts of stake- and shareholders. Does anyone really deserve a $100-million severance package when they leave our work community for whatever reason, when so many of our workers have to survive on a minimum wage?

Questions like these (and many others) will now be the focus of this column. The discussion of solutions will not be timid, I can assure you. More important, the direction taken will be based on facts, not myths—something that is sorely missing in the debate about what makes American business really work. And rest assured that the solutions will be new and innovative too, and designed to stretch your imagination. As we enter a new year, I promise you a stimulating column about rethinking our workplace. As always, your thoughts are very welcome too.

Dr. Tom McDonald, a Ph.D. in psychology, speaks on "People Skills" needed for "Business Results." Reach him in San Diego at (858) 523-0883, [email protected], or visit

Originally published January 01, 2008

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