Ten blocks from the Capitol and close to my home lies a store with a fluorescent red marquee announcing it as the home of “Ann’s B/S and Wigs.” How appropriate, I think to myself whenever I pass by; in Washington, D.C., there are stores that specialize in selling BS.
Actually, the B/S stands for Beauty Supplies, making the sign an example of how different perception and reality about this town can be. I’ve lived here 31 years, and for the last nine of them have had the privilege of visiting your operations in 49 states as ProSales’ editor. Here’s what I’ve found: Every time I leave the capital, I feel I’m entering the real world. And every time I return, I realize Washington is that rare place where people understand how crazy, diverse, and unruly this country is.
I bring this up now because the Obama Administration is coming out with some of the most disturbing proposals that LBM dealers have seen in quite a while. Some are virtually certain to cost you money, such as the proposal involving who gets overtime pay. If you do installed sales, beware the tightening of regulations affecting independent subcontractors. The National Labor Relations Board has raised eyebrows with its rules on joint-employer status. And then there are regs on confined spaces, reporting injuries, silica dust, and lead paint. Oh yes, while all this is taking place, Congress has before it the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act and other tort reform measures.
Most of these proposals (except tort reform) likely will make your blood boil. But for many regulators, they're logical and prudent steps to take. It's a philosophical gap that takes explaining from someone like me who has watched the debates from both sides.
Imagine this nation is a giant funnel, in which you and all other normal Americans are on the upper rim while regulators occupy the bottom edge. From your spot, cheaters are rare and rarely viewed. But when those few stretchers and abusers of the rules fall, they slide to the bottom of the funnel. When regulators look up, pretty much the only thing they see are cheaters. As a result, they write rules to stop the bad guys. You probably regard these rules as profit-sapping impositions and job-killing restrictions, but if you saw as many nasty characters as these regulators do, you might do just what they’ve done.
Meanwhile, there’s a popular view that regulators and members of Congress ignore the public. Actually, I think the trouble is that they’re listening to the public closer than ever—they just can’t make sense of what you’re telling them. Policy makers are drowning in emails, opinion polls, focus groups, lobbyists, PAC dollars, marchers, and think-tank papers. All spout selective facts and claim there’s a clear and obvious path to take. Bureaucrats know it’s never that simple.
Washington is a complicated town because we’re a complicated nation. Study American history and you’ll find we’ve been veering toward the cliff’s edge regularly since, oh, 1776. We went off that cliff during the Civil War, but ultimately climbed back up. Nothing we’re doing today appears likely to cause a repeat.
What’s the moral here? It’s that, just as with your company, achieving your goals takes time and effort and a commitment. In politics, the winners—both the good ones and the bad—were usually the people who worked hardest and for the longest time to get what they wanted. But they also had one other quality: An understanding of what motivates the opposition and compels regulators and lawmakers to act. You need to know how both Washington and the real world work.