The Spirit of America is what drives the desire for continuous improvement in our companies.

A few days before I wrote this column my wife and I attended an Armed Forces Day/Memorial Day concert by our local community orchestra. The title of the concert was “The Spirit of America” and many patriotic pieces were played including the Battle Hymn of the Republic. At the end of the performance a chorus sang while the orchestra played a medley of the songs of our armed services. As each song was performed, veterans from the Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Air Force and Navy stood at attention while their respective branches of service were honored. I must admit that goose bumps appeared and tears blurred my vision as I felt the spirit that has made our country so great.

Walking back to the car that Sunday afternoon, we discussed how the Spirit of America was indeed demonstrated before our very eyes that day. You are correct in thinking that I am referring to the sacrifice that our brave men and women have made fighting for freedom around the world — often giving their lives in the process. But it is more than that, and as I reflected on the experience of that day, it was apparent to me that the ‘freedom’ we are willing to fight and die for is made manifest in the Spirit of America (SOA).

Defining the Spirit

Trying to describe this spirit is difficult at best. Part of the SOA is realizing that being a part of this great country is a blessing. If you question that, all you need to do is travel anywhere in the world and pay attention to the people and the political, social and economic conditions in which they live.

As a free people, we and our forefathers have strived to do everything with the highest degree of excellence and integrity. It is true that there are a few exceptions, but these are a small part of the whole and have (at least to date) not shaped the SOA. Maybe the days of a contract being no more than a handshake are long gone, but the men and women I refer to would honor such a commitment today and do all they could to right a wrong.

Those of us in the wood products industry and other businesses have a keen desire to be self-sufficient — without excessive interference of federal, state or local governments. We recognize that a supportive government is essential to maintain our security and the freedoms that our Constitution and Bill of Rights promise. We realize that we, the people, are the ones who make the greatest economic system in the world work — and not the government.

Finally, caring about humanity and recognizing the intrinsic value of every human being, and helping others achieve their dreams and desires when the opportunity presents itself, are all part of the SOA. To summarize, the Spirit of America is one of thanksgiving, excellence, honesty and integrity, support for — but not dependence on — government, of entrepreneurship and of love for our fellow man.

If you are a frequent reader of this column, you know that I have often discussed the core spirit or culture in your company and how important it is to your success. As I have pondered the patriotic values that the May concert awakened within me, I realized that the SOA is this same spirit that makes a company like yours or mine great. Any company with employees that embrace the elements above will succeed. These traits are the roots that nourish continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, green, profitability and being an employer of choice.

If pressured to define the Spirit of ‘Corporate America’ in one word, I would choose productivity. Since the early settlement of this country, improving the productivity of any enterprise through creativity and innovation has been the driving force that has propelled this nation forward.

A Reality Check

Contrary to what you may think or what you see on the television, the world marvels at the productivity of this country. As I have traveled around the world in my work, it is evident that there is a huge gap in the productivity of the United States and most countries. In Western Europe, nothing can be found comparable to the Spirit of America. The governments have assumed so much control of the people and taxed them so heavily that they have little motive to improve their lives or even to raise a family.

I have had long discussions with businessmen and women in Italy who have shared how the zest for life has been lost in that country — and with it the ambitions of the young and old. Indeed, they are correct when they say their country is dying as there are less than 1.5 children being born into each family. The focus of many workers today is the short work-week and long holidays.

In Eastern Europe, they are still struggling to overcome years of Communist and Socialist control. The productivity of the workers in these areas is typically 25-30 percent of norm. (Norm is 100 percent and is the work pace and amount of physical and mental energy that is sustainable and healthy for the human body and mind.) The reason for this very low productivity is that the state-owned companies gave no incentives and offered no motivation for creativity, innovation or productivity, and thus the people are used to expending the minimum effort — just to get by. If you depend on your government to supply everything you need, there is no incentive to work hard or to become more productive.

Today as state-owned companies overseas are being privatized in an attempt to make them globally competitive, the people do not have the values needed to drive a quick turnaround. They just do not understand the spirit that we are known for around the world.

You may ask, “What relevance does all of this have here in this country?”

Don’t Lose It

The most relevant question right now is, “Does your company have the values of the SOA?” Review the short list again in the box on page 23. Are these values part of the core spirit of your company? If they are not, you are at a distinct disadvantage in your industry segment and your future is at risk. You may not have all of the values, but if you are successful you will have most.

It behooves you as an owner or manager of your company to get involved in creating or reviving this spirit within your company. If you feel you do not have the influence or position in your company to drive such an effort, share this column with someone who can. The Spirit of America is what really drives the desire for continuous improvement in your company.

On a broader scope, we have seen much to be concerned about recently, as our government has gotten deeply involved in interfering with private enterprise and is actually beginning to change the Spirit of America that has made us a great industrial nation. The incentives for a productive society as we have known it are fast eroding right before our eyes, and the very values I have presented here are at risk of being lost forever. Failed and failing economies around the world are trying to reverse the results of the very thing that is happening here today. Without the SOA I have written about in this column, the future of our economy will be highly vulnerable.

The orchestra did more than bring out patriotism in me; it reminded me of the spirit of excellence within all of us, the spirit of speaking up for what is right in our country and in our companies. One thing we can do is send people who understand this (carpenters, retailers, plumbers, hairdressers and ordinary business people like you and me) to Washington to revive the Spirit of America inside the beltway, where it is needed most.

Tom Dossenbach is the president of Dossenbach Associates Inc., a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail tfd@dossenbach.com.

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