How times change. Before November, business leaders were dreading the report of President Clinton's Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations, the so-called Dunlop Commission, which was widely seen as a vehicle for paying off the administration's debts to organized labor. Now a draft of the report is circulating, and no one seems to care. After all, the new Congress is not likely to act on it in any case.
The draft's release brings back memories of the day I spent last spring testifying before a group of Dunlop Commissioners, including three former cabinet members, a former union president, and a professor of management from a leading university. I talked about the efforts of some companies to eliminate most of the traditional distinctions between workers and managers. I focused especially on open-book management, an approach to business based on the simple premise that making money is the responsibility of everyone in an organization -- worker and manager alike -- and that everyone ought to share in the risk and the rewards, both financial and psychic.
I could tell from their faces that the commissioners didn't have a clue what I was talking about. Not that they disagreed with me. Some of my best friends disagree with me about this stuff. I mean that, as far as the commissioners were concerned, I might as well have been speaking Esperanto that day.
But one member of the audience did understand. She cornered me after the hearing and started firing questions, smart questions, about the experiences of companies that had opened their books. I asked if she was thinking of doing the same in her organization. "Honey," she replied, handing me her business card, "if this stuff catches on, I won't have an organization, and I won't have a job, either." I looked at her card. She was an organizer for the American Federation of Teachers.
In fact, she has little to worry about. She understood, and there will always be jobs for people who understand the language of business. It's the commissioners I'm worried about.