The prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, made headlines this week with a bold campaign strategy: he took a shift as a taxi driver. No, not a gun-toting, bent-on-vengeance sort of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s role as the vigilante cabbie in Taxi Driver, but a mild-mannered taxi driver interested in hearing directly from the voters.
“It is important for me to hear what people really think,” Stoltenberg told Norwegian media. “And if there is one place people really say what they think about most things, it's in the taxi.”
So far, so good. Was it necessary? Maybe, maybe not. It’s not that hard to get a sense of the big picture. Politicians have all sorts of avenues to learn what’s on the voters’ mind—getting input from political advisors or listening to feedback from colleagues in other political positions. To get a little closer to words and views of the typical man on the street, they can do what the rest of us do, and tune in to a few talk radio programs or browse through a few newspapers.
However, a shift as a taxi driver does have a little more appeal. A taxi is an intimate, informal setting, and this is a sure way to get an unrehearsed viewpoint delivered straight from the heart.
To an American, it probably sounds a little exotic. It would be difficult to imagine the U.S. president driving around Washington, D.C. in a cab. However, culture comes into play: It’s customary that politicians in Nordic countries are a little more accessible than in many other countries. The country size and population also are factors. In the U.S., where more than 315 million people are spread out over 3.79 million sq. miles, merely getting a glimpse of the president is a rarity for most. On the other hand, Norway has a population of 5 million in a relatively compact area, just 149,000 sq. miles. A Norwegian citizen rubbing elbows with the prime minister is akin to a resident of Minnesota meeting the governor in person. Not exactly a commonplace event, but not all that difficult to arrange, either.
Were the fares willing to speak openly, or did they feel free to speak openly? That’s easy to answer: several offered commentary on his driving (and little of it was complimentary). Usually he is chauffeured to and fro, so he apologized for his ragged driving skills. At one point he stepped on the brake pedal, mistaking it for a clutch pedal, bringing the cab to an unexpected and abrupt halt.
It’s not hard to find a lesson here. Most fabrication shops are small, just a handful of employees, and the owner is just one or two steps up the ladder from the people who do the heavy lifting. In many cases, the owners still do some of the lifting, at least the light stuff. However, as shops grow in size, and bureaucracy creeps in, the owner gets further removed from the activities on the shop floor. It’s akin to being chauffeured around rather than getting behind the wheel.
My guess is that, if you compare any two fabrication shops, the one with the higher morale and higher productivity is the one in which the employees see the owner more often, speak with him more frequently, and can share viewpoints and concerns more candidly.
If you’re the owner and it has been a while since you got out to the shop floor, it might be a good idea. One caveat: You might want to have a supervisor accompany you—someone who can look out for you in case you accidentally stomp on the brake pedal, so to speak.