Too big to succeed

July, It’s the month in which we celebrate America’s birthday. A time to reflect on our heritage, assess our present, and project our future.

In taking a look at our present this month, we saw evidence that our government really could stand to drop some pounds. This isn’t exactly news for manufacturers and distributors who have dealt with EPA, NHTSA, OSHA, and other agencies over the years. But even the regulators are beginning to admit that government is getting too big and regulations too complex.

In one announcement July 3, the Treasury Department announced that the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate would be delayed one year because of the “complexity of the requirements.”

Two days later, in a completely different matter, former White House advisor David Axlerod explained the IRS scandal by saying that government is too big to manage.

And then there’s the famous Nancy Pelosi line in which she told the House of Representatives that Congress had to pass the bill to know what is in it. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she may as well have said, “we are bringing before you legislation so massive, so complex, that we will not have time in this session of Congress to really understand this. It doesn’t matter how many aides you have or how smart they are, you won’t be getting your arms around this legislation anytime soon.” As we learned from the events of June 3, she was right.

We aren’t necessarily saying that legislation today is good or bad. It’s just big. Too big. And that’s too bad. If the people who generate these rules and regulations can’t figure them out, what chance does a small company have?

At the beginning of the Great Recession and the financial crisis that triggered it, certain companies were given substantial amounts of government aid on the premise that they were “too big to fail.”

Given what we have observed this month, we are beginning to wonder if it’s possible to become too big to succeed. Is it possible for governments to become too big to function effectively? Is Congress writing laws that are too complex to understand? Are our regulatory agencies becoming too big to manage?

It’s human nature to want to grow, to make organizations bigger and better. But big in and of itself isn’t necessarily good. We have seen that in the commercial truck and trailer business. The history of our industry is peppered with companies that grew too fast, spread out too far, or tried to control too much of the channel of distribution. They moved away from core competencies. Or they never achieved the synergies that seemed so obvious when they acquired those other companies. The bigger companies get, the more challenging they are to manage.

Why should government be any different?

We wonder what our country would look like if our governments operated under the same incentives that drive you and your company.

This month’s cover story is a case in point. As any manufacturer would do, Great Dane made a major financial commitment to build its trailers as well and as efficiently as possible. The company is trying to drive out lost motion as materials flow through their new refrigerated trailer plant. They have invested in automation to improve efficiency and consistent quality.

Lean manufacturing has been the guiding principle of many manufacturers for years. Trailer dealers and truck equipment distributors also have been employing lean principles. It’s a competitive business. Every dollar and every minute counts.

What if government had the same goals?

It’s interesting how effective simplicity can be, even when writing government documents. Including the names of the people who signed it, the Declaration of Independence contains 1,458 words. The Constitution has 4,543 words. It can be read in about half an hour and has been the guiding document for the world’s most successful democracy for more than two centuries. Today we measure legislation in pages and could just as easily measure it in pounds.

Nevertheless, we are skeptical that government will become leaner anytime soon. Thomas Jefferson revealed his insight into the nature of human beings when he penned these words in the Declaration of Independence: “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer…than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”         

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