Management Letter Featured

10:10am EDT July 22, 2002

Something's not right

By Kurt Schmitt

Serving our clients better and more efficiently is the goal that should guide all our business actions. But as I look back, I'm constantly amazed at how many of the decisions we've made at Lincoln Construction in the last 10 years that have, unfortunately, had to be measured from a legal perspective.

Ten years ago, I could have made a choice to help a good employee with his or her medical expenses without the threat of a lawsuit from another employee for discriminatory conduct. That flexibility in handling employee relations has been hampered by a "one size fits all" mentality influenced by the labor union movement. In an entrepreneurial-based company it is important to foster a productive work environment by tailoring recognition or rewards on an individual basis. The ability to say, "Take tomorrow off, you did a great job," runs headlong now into recordkeeping, vacation and sick leave, and equalitarian administration.

Each and every detail involving management's interaction with employees is being measured from a legal perspective in lieu of the effectiveness of client service by a motivated workforce. Today, in order to serve our clients, the compilation of services that we have to provide our workers includes substance-abuse plans, employee assistance and counseling, safety and hazard recognition-even to the point where we have signed receipts for instructing employees in hazard recognition in case of an accident. The quality of that training program, and many others, is reviewed with the idea of laying fault or placing blame. The resulting environment is one in which businesses consistently spend substantial amounts of time on areas other than providing specific client services.

As our society becomes more complex and our world more interdependent, many will look for solutions from the legislative process. Too many times, once the legislation has passed, the laws envisioned by their sponsors seem to take on new and different meanings. The state legislature and U.S. Congress have put business in a situation where we are constantly trying to interpret and comply with new regulations, failing which leaves us open to litigation.

This cycle of analyzing every situation-whether an accident, a hiring practice or the mere delivering of benefits to your employees-from a legal perspective needs to end if our society is to move forward on a competitive basis in a world economy.

Kurt Schmitt is president of Lincoln Construction Inc. in Columbus.