Elephant In The Room

“Freedom” has long been a rally cry to further political and social agendas. Today “free will” is a mainstay in commercialism especially on the part of producers. We are constantly bombarded by the notion that government regulation is bad, strangling businesses with red tape that will ultimately increase costs to consumers and limit their choices. The idea is that business will regulate themselves and look out for consumers after all, they need them to stay in business. Laissez-faire capitalism will always right itself and prove a better protector of consumerism than government. Do you believe that? Well maybe a review of the tobacco industry would be in order. I won’t be doing that in this article but suffice it to say they have no qualms about killing off  customers. Why? Maybe its because millions more are being born every year and/or there is no real immediacy to a customers demise. It takes years to die from the health issues associated with smoking so you’ve always got time to stop. Are you in the camp that the only social responsibility a company has is to make a profit? Maybe you reason that very little can be given back to the community until that goal is realized. The mom and pop stores of my generation have yielded to companies that appear to provide more for less. While there are real advantages to consumers with this approach there are also real dangers that need to be seriously addressed. For instance, what does Enron, Tyco, Goldman Sachs, Massey Energy, Del Monte, Tyson Foods, Cargill, Dole Food Company have in common? Their self-regulation has been guilty of  jeopardizing the welfare of their customer’s in search of  ever increasing profits. There is no such thing as benevolent capitalism. The genes of a capitalistic enterprise almost force it to take profits over everything else. About now you’re probably thinking I must be some left wing socialist. You’d be wrong. I’m just looking for a real solution!

Increasing the size of government or requiring 3rd party firms to police companies has proven to be as ineffective as self-regulation. Just look at the billions of dollars in corporate and investor losses due to the accounting scandals at Price Waterhouse Coopers and Arthur Anderson. Tighter government regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, also known as SOX, is typical in that it requires IT departments to monitor and control all aspects of information storage and recall. What does that mean in a practical sense? Well even if it works, it will supposedly be easier to determine who should go to jail. Small consolation after you’ve lost your lifes savings or a loved one was hurt or maimed or even killed. It’s sobering to realize that SOX would have had no effect on Bernard Madoff’s antics. So what is the real solution?

Technology has advanced to the price point that real solutions to these problems are available and affordable. Just down the street is an intersection that automatically monitors speeders and red light runners. Anyone making a right turn without coming to a complete stop will be fined for willfully breaking the law. I’m not proposing stop lights for every business rule or government requirement placed upon companies. I am proposing that the car be given the intelligence to know when it has come to a complete stop before making that right turn! And if necessary safely force the stop before continuing. The local governments are making a killing on penalizing people for making judgment calls about when it’s safe to turn when there is no judgement to it. Even if no one is on the road, making a complete stop is mandatory. It’s become obvious that municipalities would rather catch red light runners than prevent them. Why some lights generate over half a million dollars per year in fines. This highlights an age old problem with regulations. Someone be it government or industry will take advantage of it. Companies may find it less costly to run the risk of fines and governmental authorities may actually prefer it over compliance!  Can you imagine the negative impact on municipalities if all traffic violations were solved?  To prevent all runners and eliminate the possibility of a violation would require taking some control away from the driver, “FREEDOM”.

You may be thinking that this will never happen when actually it has and very successfully. Today airlines have taken more and more control away from the pilots. Planes are being equipped with computer systems that successfully fly a complete, pre-programmed flight plan – hands off! This has increased efficiency and accuracy while reducing fuel and other costs. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for a self-driven car in May 2012. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driver-less technology. A real solution is in the making! However my focus with this article is on real solutions associated with the production of goods and services which, when you think about it, is much simpler to accomplish. You can imagine the number of variables that must be taken into consideration when driving or flying in this universe  from Dallas to Seattle. However navigating around most shop floors where variables are planned, created and implemented by a staff of associates would be much less daunting.

Coming up with a standard way to navigate these company “universes” is just a matter of understanding the elements involved and producing a GPS like system that knows how to traverse the business map without violating any business rules or regulations. Easier said than done? Well in the BNS (Business Navigation System) some advantages exist that aren’t in a typical GPS. But hold on!

Let’s digress for a moment in case you may have missed a very important point. “Judgement calls,” as in deciding to make a right on red turn is more than a decision. It’s power, prestige, self-worth…and a whole slue of other terms that validate our and in this case a managers existence. There must be good reason to give that decision and a million others away to someone or thing unknown to us. Some will say it stifles creativity or lets “Big Brother” take over. I would point out that as long as the majority agrees with the judgement calls being taken and 3rd parties (minorities) are not disadvantaged in the decision what’s the problem? Nothing really has changed except consistency! That’s right. Applying the “LAWs” consistently to all regardless of race, color, creed, personal preference, mom & pop or conglomerate, etc. Today some will say that “Laws” are there to protect us. However, being a nation of laws we know some laws are not enforced or are there to promote some personal agenda. What would happen if we were forced to adhere to those laws? Would they not be changed if found to be outdated, prejudiced or self serving to an individual or group?

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Just think of the number of people who profit from crime. Police, Attorneys, Judges, bail bondsmen, stenographers, ect, the worst thing that can happen is for crime to cease!  It’s the same in business. If you are being paid to manage an operation, what’s going to happen when there are no more errors, mistakes or omissions? You find out very quickly that about 40 to 50% of the operations activities are centered around problem evaluation, investigation and correction. Will you get paid as much to manage or work in an operation that  is viewed as non-problematic? I have seen individuals manufacture problems just to keep busy and justify their jobs.

We are at a defining point in history, solutions are available to “FREE” us from mistakes, omissions and errors but who has the courage to implement them!