Area Economy

Diverse society results in many different needs, desires

December 1, 2012
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Perhaps we can all breathe a little sigh of relief — not because of who won or lost the presidential election, but because we don’t have to be bombarded with ads, phone calls and news anchors giving us the blow-by-blow account of the same speech as yesterday.

Of course, there is speculation on who did or didn’t do something, but I think the biggest reflection should be on how we may need to look at the people who voted and what we can expect going forward — not only on the national level but within the spheres of influence where we all operate.

New challenges

First of all, business needs to buckle down and figure out what the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act is really going to do, and what strategy will be best for the organization and its employees. Secondly, women’s voices are only getting stronger, so how do you make sure they are considered properly and build on the strengths they bring? Don’t forget about the impact of minority groups: They, too, bring a certain perspective and will continue to evolve as a critical element in our society. Finally, all the traditional folks who have had a tremendous impact on our society and business practices are still out there and looking for positive change. They’re concerned that we must have regulations that don’t give away the ship to all those who “don’t seem to bring much to the table.”

The underlying theme is that we have a diverse society with many different needs and desires, starting from different points but all wanting a “better” life for themselves and their families.

Making decisions

The discussions about how we get there often lead to divisive actions and substandard results. When everyone is concerned about protecting their “piece of the pie,” we have too few people trying to figure out how to increase the size of the pie.

Instead of those in power acting as if they have all the answers and can make the decisions for the “others,” maybe we ought to invite the others into the decision-making process. We seem to forget that there are a lot of smart people who can contribute to the process but who may have another idea about how to get there. People realize change doesn’t happen overnight and that all parts of the change don’t happen equally, but they do expect gains on their goals and targets. Integration of diverse goals is a tough process, but it can be done.

For example, in business it is necessary for the good of the business to integrate sales, marketing, operations, finance, human resources and IT. Each component contributes to the mission, the specific targets and the sustainability of the organization, but each part does not get equal resources, and the percent of those resources changes from time to time, based on new conditions. Sometimes those conditions are new competitors, new technology, upheavals in the financial markets, or new laws that affect how employees are treated.

The effective business analyzes, assesses, decides and takes action. These actions are usually the result of all the key components being considered, leaders of the business providing input and, finally, joint support for the actions to be taken.

It needs to be the same with society. Yes, we have laws of equality, but all you have to do is look at the foolishness that happened in Lansing when women spoke out about their own health care, and you know that laws are only part of the picture. We can’t ignore women’s needs and wants, nor should we take the position that men can always make the right decisions for women. We can’t take the position that government is always wrong and should stay out of our lives, but allow it back in when we need it to address abortion, gay rights or any of the other social hot buttons.

Leading the way

Business can be a strong contributor to getting the right balance in shaping the social environment. By doing so, it can also be an important factor in shaping the economy. These two aspects of our lives are intertwined. Balance also comes from government. It has a role. It ensures that we have rules that watch out for those who are not in a position to do so for themselves. It should look long term, and it should protect its citizens. These roles cost money. Trying to handicap one aspect of the balancing components for the gain of another undermines progress. Everyone fights the process.

Business should utilize all the resources at its disposal for both internal and external development, demand performance of its governmental leaders in thoughtful cooperative efforts, but recognize that all control does not come through finance. Control and progress come through many tools. The key is to utilize all the pieces, integrate and balance the parts, and recognize that there have to be priorities — but not all-or-nothing hard positions.

In setting priorities, I believe there is a guiding principle that needs strong consideration: Social progress has to come through individual progress and individual progress cannot be set aside for short-term gain.

Once gone for the short-term objective, getting back what you’ve lost is far more difficult. History shows us this result time after time. When the extreme positions are allowed to gain traction, the middle group had best beware.

Ardon Schambers is principal and president of P3HR Consutling & Services in Grand Rapids.

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