I find myself wondering if President Obama has read “The Authentic Enterprise,” the Arthur W. Page Society's white paper examining the rapidly changing context for 21st century business. Well, of course he hasn't, but consider how his actions follow the report's recommendations:
• Define and activate core values. The president's inaugural address called for a return to fundamental values. It turns out that the change he envisions involves old things: “Those values upon which our success depends – honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true.”
At the Private Sector Summit on Public Diplomacy two years ago, the State Department told the PR Coalition about polling data, which showed that America's world image has suffered not from a rejection of its core values, but from the impression that its actions were inconsistent with its beliefs. Values continue to make the American ideal the aspiration of all. If President Obama can return the US to its fundamental values, he will go a long way toward reviving trust in America.
•Build and manage integrated, multi-stakeholder relationships. The president is reaching out to constituencies that are not his natural supporters. His visits to the Republican caucuses regarding the stimulus package might not have won any votes yet, but it did buy goodwill.
Gerald Seib noted in his Wall Street Journal column that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) “thinks the new president will be able, in particular, to work with him and other conservatives on measures to make government more transparent and to eliminate programs.” In other words, they'll cooperate when they agree. They won't always agree, but if they are willing to have a dialogue, they might find an opportunity to build consensus on difficult issues.
•Enable people with new media skills and tools. The Obama campaign's use of new media has revolutionized campaigning. As Time reported, “Three million people have given [Obama] money [and] two million have created profiles on Obama's social networking site.”
The Obama campaign's Web supporters and online organizers feel an empowerment that has created an ongoing commitment to help him enact his ambitious agenda. This is the kind of commitment about which companies investing in social media can only dream.
•Build and manage trust in all its dimensions. In addition to all the steps noted above, President Obama has promised a new era of transparency, making government processes more open and accessible.
Given the reaction of congressional Republicans to the stimulus package, some might suggest that the president's efforts have gone for naught. However, the point of building relationships of trust is not to have fundamental differences evaporate overnight, but rather to keep those differences from preventing cooperative efforts when common ground can be found. On the stimulus package, three Senate Republicans and a number of GOP governors found common ground with the Obama administration. On other future issues, other alliances may develop.
By seeking to build relationships of trust, President Obama is giving himself a fighting chance to enact his agenda and attain his lofty goals. Business ought to do the same.
Roger Bolton is a senior counselor to APCO Worldwide and past president of Arthur W. Page Society.