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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:00:36
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Push Responsibilityand AuthorityDownThe bigger we get as a company, the more important it becomes for us to shift responsibility andauthority toward the front lines, toward that department manager who's stocking the shelves and talkingto the customer. When we were much smaller, I probably wasn't as quick to catch on to this idea as Ishould have been. But as an avid student of management theory, back in the mid-seventies I startedreading the work of W. Edwards Deming, the famous statistician who taught so much to the Japaneseabout improving their productivity and competitiveness. Then Helen and I took a trip to Japan andKorea, which got me thinking about a whole bunch of different things we could do to improve ourcompany. That's probably when I first began thinking about some of the very real ways that we couldimprove our teamwork and put more authority in the hands of our people in the stores.

"He asks me if I'm Abe Marks and I say, 'Yes, I am.'

"He grilled them. 'What are you seeing at the stores' 'Have you been to that store lately' 'How do thepeople act there' 'Is it getting better' It makes sense. The drivers see more stores every week thananybody else in this company. And I think what Sam likes about them is that they're not like a lot ofmanagers. They don't care who you are. They'll tell you what they really think."Of course, the only thing that makes the whole distribution system work so well is the dedication of thepeople all across it. The technology and hardware are just tools. The people in the system believe, just asfirmly as the associates in the stores, that their primary job is to take care of the customer. Except in theircase, the customer is the Wal-Mart store or Sam's Club they're supplying.

I understand that this industry has all kinds of problems we haven't seen in ours. I know that U.S. autoworkers make an hour versus in Japan, and that Mexican auto workers earn much less. I'm notsaying I could solve all these problems, but I'd love to have the fun of trying to take a unionized companytoday and sell its people on the idea of having to be competitive globallywhether it was in autos, or steel,or electronics. I'd love a chance at that, the pleasure of seeing if they could be motivated into a team thatwould share in all the company's successand still have a union. It would take a powerful lot ofpersuading to pull this off, but I guarantee it could be accomplished by somebody obsessed andpersistent enough. But if American management is going to say to their workers that we're all in thistogether, they're going to have to stop this foolishness of paying themselves million and millionbonuses every year and riding around everywhere in limos and corporate jets like they're so much betterthan everybody else.


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