The Roemer Report June 1986

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The Road Ahead

The near-term outlook for truckers remains reasonably bright. The consensus forecast of 51 economists recently polled by Blue Chip Economic Indicators suggests overall economic growth of 2.8% this year. That's not great, but it is respectable. Consumer spending is steady, not explosive. Housing is really moving and this sector remains the bright spot in the current economic constellation. Inter­ est rates have edged up slightly. But, now there is talk that the Fed may ease them slightly again. The Conference Board predicts that business investment will be from 2% to 4% above last year. The National Association of Purchasing Managers says that new orders in May were the highest level in two years. Oil prices are no lead pipe cinch. But they are still hovering around the $15 per barrel range-­ cheap by the standards of recent years. Lurking over the horizon is an expected new tax bill. This looms as a huge plus for business and the economy. Hence, we see few potholes in the coming months.

CALIFORNIA VOTES FOR TORT REFORM: Two months ago we suggested a June 3 vote on tort reform in California could be a "shot heard round the country" in addressing the doctrine of "joint-and-several liability." Some 63% of the state's voters agreed with tort reformers, voting to limit damages paid to victims for pain and suffering. Under the existing doctrine of joint-and-several liability, defendants with 1% of the liability for an injury could be forced to pay 100% of the damages. Under the new rule a proved by California voters, defendants will pay only for the s are of pain and suffering that they directly cause. The action obviously won't end the insur­ance crisis. But it does signal a high degree of public resolve to clear up the legal thickets that have helped pump up insurance rates. We look for the vote in this pivotal state to be duplicated in others. In our judgment, the inability of local govern­ments to get insurance is a key factor behind the turnaround of public consciousness on this issue. Now that individual communities are feel­ ing the same economic pressures as businesses, the necessary political resolution to this economic nightmare may well be at hand.

INSURANCE LEGISLATION UPDATE: As we go to press some 32 states have enacted bills to deal with the liability insurance crunch. At least 15 of these states have acted to place ceilings on lawsuit damages or lawyers' fees. Indiana has taken the unusual step of creating penal­ ties for people who file suits which a judge finds to be without merit. The flurry of action around the country varies in intent. A measure expected to pass in Florida would legislatively reduce liability pre­ miums by an estimated 40% by the year's end. It obviously has potential appeal, but the net effect will probably be that insurers simply avoid writing coverage in areas where the rates are set by government. Most of the other states are focusing on tort reform as opposed to rate control. This explosion in new state insurance laws merely points out the need for some uniform national legislation. Without such an umbrella measure, we could see the insurance market further confused and fragmented by differing state regulations.

LITTLE SIZZLE SEEN IN STEEL HAULING: Over the past 5 years the nation's biggest steel producers have suffered losses of $7 billion. This was the year many analysts were picking for a strong steel rebound. Yet, the numbers don't seem to point that way. Individual company efforts to increase prices have been beat down by sluggish demand and an aggressive price cut by the industry's largest player, U.S. Steel. Nego­tiations with them are always tough. United Steel workers aren't expected to produce the breathing room required to rebuild company balance sheets. Moreover, the industry's biggest customer--the U.S. auto industry--is scaling back production based on some relatively high inventory.

ACTIVATING THE SEARCH FOR EXCELLENCE: Nancy K. Austin admits that the strategies she and Tom Peters set forth in A Passion for Excellence are easier said than done. Striv­ ing companies have to do more than talk in order to promote quality. They must commit money, time and attention to the search for excellence. In a recent issue of Success! magazine, Austin summarized some key corporate challenges: (1) From lip service to leg work. Convert your company's pursuit of excellence from a catchy platitude to a living policy. Back it up...or give it up. (2) Face the sacrifice. Revamping corporate cul­ ture is a team effort from the board room to the mail room. This implies a willingness to share responsibilities and shed old ideas about systems and entitlements. (3) Say more with less. Most organizations are long on memos and short on real communication. Think before you dictate: Who really needs to know this, and what's the best way to say it? (4) Go where the action is. You can't stay on top of your business from behind your desk. Commit yourself to spending up to a quarter of each week in the field, learning firsthand what works and what doesn't. (5) Enter the marathon, not the dash. Instead of gambling on managerial gimmicks, invest in the slow, surer road to success. Train, trust and treasure people.

INSIDE-OUT PROBLEM SOLVING: Jacquelyn Wonder and Priscilla Donovan, business consul­ tants and co-authors of Whole-Brain Thinking (Morrow, 1984), recommend an "inside-out" approach to on-the-job problem solving. In this type of internal brainstorming, you begin by analyzing the situation with your rational left brain hemisphere. Define it on paper, in as much detail as possible. Then tap your creative inner resources by tackling the problem from one or more of these "inside-out" right brain perspectives…

  1. Reverse your objective. If, for instance, your real goal is to reduce personnel turnover, imagine that you're trying to increase it. Think of all the ways you might accomplish that--and all the reasons why you might want to. Doing so will not only help you understand the problem, but it may also show you some hidden advantages.

  2. Consider the context of the problem rather than the problem itself. Perhaps you have an employee who is performing poorly. Instead of focusing on his work record, look at his surroundings. Visualize the office space, tools, procedures, policies and co-workers. Then place the employee in that picture and see how he fits. In many cases, a small change in environment makes a big difference in performance.(3) Assume nothing. See your business as if for the first time. Raise naive questions about methods and philosophies. You may stumble upon some surprising--and successful-­ alternatives.

MAKING THE MOST OF MEETINGS: Meetings don't have to be a waste of time. In fact, they can be both the best means of sharing information and your best opportunity for demon­ strating competence--if you grasp the dynamics. By comprehending and communicating what's at stake, you can enhance productivity while subtly "selling" your strengths.

Here are some tips: (1) Be prepared. Study all relevant data, have your questions and suggestions ready, and warn fellow participants beforehand if you plan to oppose their position. (2) Arrive early. This lets you gauge the attitudes of other participants as they enter. (3) Observe logistics. Who sits where? End chairs are for the heavy hitters. (4) Listen intently. Select the best time to enter arguments and be ready to offer solid facts for defense. (5) Be humble. Spread the credit around, no matter how much of the insight was your own. (6) Be a good loser. If your idea is rejected, drop it. Accept and support the majority choice. (7) Help others save face. Never criticize the person, only the idea. And then be sure you re ultra-tactful …especially if your opponent is a superior.(8) Think ahead. To secure an edge at the next meeting, offer to research a problem or summarize events so far. Then you'll have the floor early to strategically position yourself.

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