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We All Built That

This Labor Day, let's remember that it generally takes business leaders, workers and decent government to make a successful company, economy and society.

August 31, 2012

Politics can really warp reality. That's worth remembering this Labor Day. The truth is that it generally takes business leaders, workers and decent government to make a successful company, economy and society.

Of course Barack Obama is right when he makes the point that business owners can't take all the credit for creating a solid company. And he stumbled in uttering that simplistic statement: "If you've got a business—you didn't build that."

Of course Mitt Romney is right that business owners "built it"—in the sense that individual initiative is a key ingredient in any successful business. And he stumbles in discounting the importance of society and government in creating the conditions for business success.

Want to argue this point? Show me a lot of successful, world-class businesses based in Somalia these days. Or in Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Myanmar and other countries plagued by high levels of corruption or tyrannical leadership.

The Soviet experiment showed that too much government planning and control can stifle an economy. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries that have had much more government involvement in the economy than our more free-enterprise system have produced many world-class companies as well as some of the highest standards of living.

A balance is needed. The extremes aren't helpful.

One thing Democrats and Republicans ought to agree on is that labor deserves some credit this Labor Day. To be sure, American workers can always improve their skills and their performance. But take a step back and appreciate what U.S. employees have been doing over the past few years:

The AFL-CIO has launched a catchy campaign to applaud workers. You can access an app that lets you send cards to friends and others with messages like: "That barbecue didn't make itself. Labor Day, brought to you by hard-working people. Like you. … Thanks for the work you do."

For companies, recognizing workers' importance and actively recognizing their contributions—in other words, becoming a better employer—is a key step to better business results.

Smart organizations know the truth. It's not "you built that, Mr. or Ms. Business Owner." Nor is it "You didn't build that." It's "We all built that."

Ed Frauenheim is senior editor at Workforce Management. Comment below or email efrauenheim@workforce.com.