I’m relatively bullish on the American economy, but I do worry that the prolonged downturn has created some odd mental blocks among American CEOs. Today, for example, the Wall Street Journal has a long story about how even though McDonald’s did fairly well at the depths of the recession they’re now having problems with the quality of the customer service they provide. I’m no management genius, but even I know that how much you pay people is relevant to how demanding you can be about the quality of the work they do. The Journal writes that “achieving speed and friendliness of service across the chain has been a particularly elusive goal” but it seems obvious that if you want people to work faster and better you’re going to have to be willing to shell out more money.
I would just dismiss this as bad journalism, but it comes on the heels of a remarkable article about how Wal-Mart is selling lots of stuff but can’t keep the shelves stocked in which “hire more people to stock the shelves” doesn’t seem to be under consideration as a corporate option. Strange stuff.
But as I say, I’m bullish. Part of what you’re seeing here is that the prolonged weak labor market has in some ways been a sweet ride for managers. As things bounce back, it gets tougher. You might need to add staff. And to add high-quality staff you might need to offer better wages and working conditions. It’s tough out there. But someone will figure it out.