Liberals fault the economy for the drop in marriage among the less educated, while conservatives blame changing values. Both may be on to something.

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Herb Kelleher, Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Southwest Airlines is known for his humor and his employees-first approach. In a 2004 interview to commemorate receiving the Strategic Management Society Lifetime Achievement Award, he explained his beliefs in true Kelleher style: “I don’t know whether it was Calvin Coolidge or Bianca Jagger who said — they’re both thin, that’s why I get them confused — ‘the business of business is business.’ We’ve always said, ‘The business of business is people.’ ”

You can’t argue with Kelleher’s success. So, assuming his belief is, at a minimum, a premise worth consideration, smart leaders would be wise to become knowledgeable about people. I’m not talking about knowing and understanding their employees. That’s a given. I’m suggesting becoming aware of social trends, like the ones listed below, that influence and impact the work force and society generally.

Marriage: “Evidence shows that the struggles of men without college degrees in recent years have led to a decline in marriage. It has been particularly acute in regions where well-paying jobs in male-dominated fields have disappeared because of automation and trade…three economists studied how the decline in manufacturing jobs from 1990 to 2014, across industries and regions, “contributed to the rapid, simultaneous decline of traditional household structures…Labor market changes made men less marriageable, they concluded.”

Birth rate: “Researchers found a corresponding increase in births to unmarried mothers…Most men feel it’s important for a husband to be a financial provider, especially men without college degrees, according to another new Pew survey…Women, meanwhile, have learned from watching a generation of divorce that they need to be able to support themselves. And many working-class women aren’t interested in taking responsibility for a man without a job.”

Families: “Just over half of adolescents in poor and working-class homes live with both their biological parents, compared with 77 percent in middle- and upper-class homes, according to the research brief, by W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang of the Institute for Family Studies.”

I’m not suggesting that business leaders become sociologists.  I am suggesting that awareness of broad social trends could help a business leader:

  • Be more authentic in understanding the forces impacting large groups of people generally, and specifically those who are or could be employees.
  • Generate open dialog both within and outside your company about the role business can play as a force for good in society.
  • With other company leaders, more wisely determine people approaches / policies and cultivate employee enrichment programs or community out-reach programs for your company.

Contact us and we can help you create your strategy and learn ways to make your company one that is in the business of people.