Stuck in Neutral: Business and the Politics of Human Capital Investment Policy

By Cathie Jo Martin | Go to book overview

FOUR
ON THE BUS:
BUSINESS ORGANIZATION IN TRAINING
AND WORK-FAMILY ISSUES

ISSUES seem to capture the popular imagination in sudden and surprising ways: if this week's story of the hour is child abuse, next week's may be global warming. Business issues often also have a staris-born quality, as managers in diverse settings simultaneously fix on the latest overnight sensation. Total quality management, lean and mean, and diversity training are but a few of the buzzwords to infiltrate corporate language in recent years.

It turns out that issues are put on the business agenda in much the same way that they gain the attention of the mass public, through the efforts of highly committed political activists. Although issues often seem propelled by natural forces, the reality is usually less instinctive and more contrived. Issues come of age through careful plotting, and core political supporters from all walks of life make use of common trade secrets. Spin doctors with MBAs frame issues in terms likely to resonate with their colleagues: social policies portrayed as props for growth are better received than those evoking images of redistribution, labor radicalism, and anti-capitalist equality.

This chapter takes up the question of how a social issue gains a significant following among managers. We may anticipate that two policies will be equally attractive to managers, yet we find that one commands far greater corporate interest and action than the other. Some social issues resonate with corporate concerns about productivity and international competition, while others are viewed with suspicion. Thus it is important to understand how issues come to managers' attention and why employers respond so differently to various initiatives in public policy.

I argue that the institutional resources of an issue's core business supporters help to account for differences in issues' appeal to the business community. One can evaluate the relative political strengths of these core supporters with the same institutional measures of corporate policy capacity that we used to analyze decision making in the firm, thus moving our discussion from the level of the firm to the level of policy. First, firms have limited resources and must decide where to concentrate their political energies; therefore, the standing within a company of private experts

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