Earmarks, Art Centers, and Employee Loyalty

The big subject this week in Washington is earmarks: to ban them or not.  The proponents of continuing them, IMO, don’t “get” their real significance.  To wit: taxpayers can legitimately ask “how dare you cut essential programs while there’s so much as a single dollar of waste in the budget?”  Taxpayers are understandably upset at the prospect.

Another example comes from my home state of Massachusetts.  There was a binding question on the ballot this last election to cut the state sales tax in half.  The Governor and all sorts of TV commercials warned of dire consequences if the measure passed: widows going homeless, and the like.  Yet ironically (to use the polite word), the Governor was in my home town the week before the election to announce an $800,000 grant to fund a local arts center.  He manifestly did not “get” the message he was sending.

In this downturn, ask yourself if your behavior (assuming you’re top management), or your budgets are sending similar messages to the troops.  An employee is justifiably upset when he/she sees a friend laid off or has to take a pay cut if there’s so much as a single dollar in obvious waste in the corporation.  They are right: there’s no reason for the waste not to be cut–completely–first.

One of my earliest lesson in effective management comes from my first employer, HP (before the break-up).  During the downturn at the time, instead of laying off employees, everyone at HP went on a 4-day work-week, and drew 4/5th of their normal pay.  That is, everyone from the CEO to the janitor took on the same pain (except that you can bet that upper management still worked 6.5 days a week).

You can bet that that gesture was remembered for a long time.


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