Something We Can All Agree On

Dec 05, 2013 | Updated Feb 04, 2014

Of all the titles that I have not read on the U.S. Department of Labor's ongoing list of Books that Shaped Work in America, there is one I find particularly intriguing. It's called: "Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position."

Clearly, it's not the title or the cover that piqued my interest.

I'm fascinated because not one, but two former secretaries of labor from different political parties (Ray Marshall, who was President Jimmy Carter's labor secretary; and Elaine Chao, who served in the same role in the George W. Bush administration) suggested it for inclusion on the list. Right now, there isn't much both parties will agree on.


So what is it about "Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position" that is so revolutionary and post-partisan?

Published in 1982 and renamed "Out of the Crisis" in 1986, "Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position" argues the need for American companies to drastically alter their management approaches in order to compete in the emerging global economy. Author W. Edwards Deming offered a new paradigm based on "14 Points for Management" resulting from his comparative studies of Japanese and American companies in the 1970s. Central to his thesis was the concept that management should be measured not only on profits, but also quality and planning for growth through continual improvement. He proposes sound ideologies of corporate citizenship and ethics for those working on the shop floor all the way up to the executive suite.

Planning is key. And for Deming, a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Management's failure to plan for the future brings about loss of market, and that translates to loss of jobs. He also advocates life-long learning and up skilling at every level of the enterprise: "Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment."

Who could argue with that?

What management or leadership book do you think shaped work in America? Suggest it for inclusion in our project that examines work, workers and workplaces through the lens of literature. The effort also highlights the mission, history and resources of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Carl Fillichio heads the Labor Department's Office of Public Affairs and serves as the chair of the department's centennial. Learn more about the department's 100 years of service by viewing an interactive timeline and watching a special centennial video.