In this latest in my series on Sharing Information with Employees, the first book ever written on the subject of employee communication, we sit back and behold not a fantastical New Economy future of employee engagement, but homely old vision of how business used to feel to employees—and, in the opinion of author Alexander Heron in 1942 and blogger David Murray in 2009, the way they ought to feel again. —DM
In order to create an "image that will remain with us throughout our troubled study of the misunderstanding in industry today," Heron paints a realistic picture of "a time and place in which the realism of the worker's mind was in contact with the realities of industrial enterprise, in which his innocence of abstract economics did not involve a baffled attitude of misunderstanding."
The other seven know, quite closely, how much money the boss had saved up from his earnings as a journeyman before he started in business for himself; in other words, how much "capital" he had and how long it took him to save it up.
The shop or factory is on the same lot as the house where the boss lives; he owns it. The other seven know how much his taxes are each year. They helped to build the ten-by-thirty addition to the shop last year, and they know how much that cost. They were all in on the discussion before the new lathe was bought, and they remember the price and the freight. They remember how the boss borrowed some of the money from his wife's sister.
They know that the dining room "suit" on which they are working now is for Jane Winton, [who] used to be Jane Carey, the schoolteacher, before she married Bill Winton, the banker. They know it has to be as good as the furniture she saw in Buffalo, and that if it is good Bill's mother is going to give the boss an order for another lot which will keep them all busy through the winter.
They see the finished job emerging under their skilled hands, day by day. They know how difficult it was to get the seasoned walnut, and what it finally cost, what price is to be paid for the finished job, how much the boss will "make" on it, and how much of that will go to pay off the loan from the sister-in-law.
They know that the boss has gradually built a reputation for honest quality and skilled workmanship and that they are part of that reputation. They know why once in a while they have had to wait a little for their wages—when the taxes had to be paid before the money came in for the new counter and fixtures at the drugstore.
Above all, they know the boss. Their attachment to him is basically not sentimental but practical. He is the salesman who gets the orders which bring work to them. He collects the money which pays their wages. He managers to accumulate the working space and the equipment. They are realistic enough to know that they can get their full and fair share of the income of the business. They laugh at anyone who talks of the conflict between labor and capital, between them and the boss.
They know. Because they know, they understand. And in that full and simple understanding they "put themselves" into every job.
Heron does not hope to break down big organizations and return to the idylic picture he paints. But he insists that "the essential elements" of the dynamic "must be restored to American industry if the free-enterprise system, or even the American level of living, is to survive. ... True, this group in modern industry will not be the whole establishment. But within every establishment, such a group relationship, multiplied or repeated many times, will be the channel of the needed knowledge, the area of the needed understanding."
Join us next week, as Heron explains why companies don't communicate. He acknowledges, "There are honest objections to sharing information with employees ...."