After today’s announcement that the Boeing Company has been awarded the military contract for tankers, I thought about a paper I recently completed. I started the discussion by citing a dated article by Willard Scott discussing the state of the aerospace industry.
In Aviation Week and Space Technology, William B. Scott argues that there are systemic problems within large aerospace companies in the U.S. that “are unseen cancers that could spread quickly, triggering a loss of profitability and a decrease in the quality of air transports, rockets, satellites and myriad defense systems.” He goes on to further identify these problems as a lack of vision, survival management, and ten years of downsizing. Actually these activities are part of a two-pronged attempt to create value and maintain double-digit profit margins in highly competitive market. Through an application of lean manufacturing that does not take into consideration differences in culture, human creativity is being replaced by highly defined process steps. One result of this activity is new talent, younger workers, are either going into different fields, smaller companies where their skills can be more broadly developed, or work from the beach.
What this lack of leadership has done is undermine trust between management and labor. This discussion only uses the aerospace industry as an exemplar of the condition of the relationship of labor and management throughout the US. Students in my graduate classes tell me how bad their leadership is, and how they want to do things differently. This is all anecdotal but still gives an indication that there is trouble in paradise.
In the context of global economic struggle commerce in the United States of America is a wounded warrior, and it must heal itself to better compete. The wound occurred over a period of years where management recreated an environment of distrust. The mimetic forces resulting from a changing environment resulting in outsourcing, offsetting, and rightsizing has forged an environment of distrust and alienation between management and worker. This is counter productive and incongruent with the human need to find fulfillment within the work one does.
Gary Shapiro writes of an experience he had in China where a Chinese official stated that America was going down and China was going up. I appreciate his thoughtful response to the event. It is good that China is going up, but it is imperative that America go up too. The only way this will happen is by a collaborative effort. Management and labor working together for the good of all.