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Trumpism needs a structured response from Australian organisational and HR professionals


Article by Max Underhill

Maxumise Consulting Pty Ltd

Writing an article on a Trump topic is like trying to send an SMS on the Manly ferry crossing the heads in large seas – you are trying to hit a moving target. Experiences with the Trump administration to date indicate we need to get used to that element of surprise. However, the longer-term response to “Trumpism” requires a more structured and independent approach to management. Overall this may be good for Australian organisations provided the “surprises” do not embroil us in events we would prefer not to be part of.


Organisations need to address the Trumpism effect at three levels:

  1. At the strategic level, a reviewing the past and determining the immediate and likely long term impact of Trumpism on the organisation going forward – good and bad as well as commercial and social. Trumpism comes at a time of increased change; the next wave of real technological change is probably larger than that of the 1990’s. Monitoring the strategic or organisational surprise element is established as part of a rolling strategic plan and monitored through “trigger event analysis”
  2. At the operational level organisations need to be vigilant, establishing a monitoring and response mechanism to deal with surprises that are likely to continue to “pop-up”. Surprises can result in operational impacts such as supply, market changes or financing where organisations need to take advantage of the good impacts and respond to the negative impacts.
  3. Employees and even organisations can respond to behavioural messages so we need to be prepared for the unexpected and unacceptable behavioural responses. These “people risks” will [...]

The most vulnerable impacted by poor outsourcing of government services


We need to address the cause rather than just band-aiding the symptoms.  Update on earlier Blog on Outsourcing

ABC 4-Corners has reported on many cases of privatisation or outsourcing of government community services including:

  1. November 2016 ABC 4-Corners reported on the abuse and neglect of displaced children in residential care which I am sure left a number of the viewers feeling angry and disgusted.
  2. Prior to that we saw the report on the outsourcing of some tertiary “TAFE” level education courses to the private sector referring to rip-off’s and abuse that negatively impacted vulnerable people’s lives.  Whether these abuses where legal or illegal is not for me to judge but regardless, it was immoral and left me feeling disgusted.
  3. 27th March 2017 4 – Corners again reported on abuse and neglect but this time it was in disability group homes a similar story to the children in residential care and again was disgusting and sad.

The common threads in each of these stories is the outsourcing government services to providers where some were taking advantage of vulnerable people in the community not to mention the waste of tax payer’s money.  The worrying thing with this is that the outsourcing systems, as they exist, seem to accommodate the unethical and abusive activities without accountability.  I am sure there are also the ethical providers doing the right things.

In the 1990’s we reviewed a portion of the government disability services where abuse and neglect was common place, which may have contributed to the outsourcing of the disadvantaged and disabled assimilation into the community.  However, the “outsourcing” or “privatisation” needs [...]

Let’s Outsource – Out of Sight Out of Mind

Outsourcing, if not managed correctly, can be a major disaster.  IMG_1570

There seems to be a perception that outsourcing is a euphemism for “out of sight out of mind”.  How wrong this is as we have recently seen in relation to some government outsourcing.  In 2016, the ABC 4-Corners reported on the government outsourcing of some tertiary “TAFE” level education courses and more recently on the residential care for displaced children.  The lack of diligent and planned oversight of these programmes has cost the government dearly, but the price paid by the so-called recipients of these services may last a lifetime.

Why do government and private sector implement so many outsourcings, privatisations, sub-contracting without the basic checks and balances?  If the 4-Corners alleged neglect and routing of the system has gone undetected for long periods, even years, then the organisational checks and balances are obviously not in place.  Unfortunately we also see the same lack of monitoring and control in the private sector, not-for-profits etc.

In Australia we tend to provide the “recipe” which specifies how it is to be done rather than define the “outcome” which specifies the end result.  The outcome based approach empowers the deliverer, encourages initiative and innovation while ensuring we get what we needed and at the standard required.  The recipe approach is prescriptive and often provides an opportunity for the contractor/deliverer to interpret the recipe as suites them and therefore enables the system to be manipulate in their favour – “but I just followed your instructions”.  The outcome approach is easier to specify especially the inclusion of quantifiable checks and balances [...]

Today’s technology – tomorrow’s wipe-out or opportunity?

When robots design and build robots to service robots, humans will know they are obsolete. In the meantime people need to manage organisations by optimising all available resources; current and future.  Experience tells us this is not a new issue but the predictors are estimating that technology will take over 40% of the current positions over the next 10 years.  The fundamentals of organisational and human resource design need not change, but stakeholder expectations will change as will the measures of success.

Historical Pressure Points In the 80’s when the PC emerged as an affordable tool, computers were programmed to emulate the activities humans undertook rather than capitalise on their potential.  At the same time many Australian industries became uncompetitive, lagging behind in technological change.  This was not helped by Australia’s economy of scale which also contributed to our lack of competitiveness, for example, it took seven weeks in Battle Creek USA to produce the annual corn flake output of the Australian factory.  Today so many services can be provided on line and from anywhere so the tendency will be for the cheaper costs. Australia’s competitive position requires us to become smarter as we plan for the future. Organisations need to monitor their progress in meeting the future needs of their stakeholders; identifying and measuring outcomes and integrating smart technology. At the global level, our government signs trade agreements with countries where Australia has little competitive advantage.  Maybe some great Australian iconic businesses would still exist in Australia had cooperative deals promoting companies headquartered in Australia been promulgated.  The manufacturing or processing could be located off-shore exploiting their critical mass and better proximity to markets.

Dynamic Planning for the Future – what we should be doing [...]

Is qualification a meaningful measure of an organisations capability needs?

Obtaining a qualifications is a significant milestone for many people.  But how does a qualification impact the employer?

Maxumise finds that qualifications are, at best, a guide and not a meaningful measure of an organisations’ capability needs.  Moreover, it does not indicate the capacity of the employee to contribute.  We find that a focus on qualifications can, in fact, be a hindrance to innovation, progression and organisational development especially with the current academic approach to learning and development.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) Labour Force Survey, reported by the Guardian, found that around 15% (1 in 6) of workers are over-educated for their jobs while 13.9% are under-educated i.e. having a lower than average education level for their occupation.  The survey therefore concludes that 28.9% of the UK workforce are in “jobs not suited to their skill level”.  It was also found that the younger employees fall into the “over-educated group” while the 50 to 64 year olds made up the majority of the under educated.  The question is, would we have got a different result if we were looking at the competence of the people against the organisations requirements rather than qualification?

While we have no problem with the report findings, we question the relevance of qualification as a meaningful measure of an organisations’ capability needs.  In fact we would go further to say that qualification can be a hindrance to making real change in organisations as the tendency is to retain traditional “jobs” rather than define new and innovative positions around stakeholder needs.  The blinkered traditional “qualification” approach may be a significant contributor to the productivity issues in the UK and other countries like Australia as we are still teaching to old out [...]

When the only certainty is uncertainty

Human Resource Professionals can contribute to the socio-economic change in Australia.

The overwhelming availability of media, both social and formal, make it is easy to get distracted by the political “ping pong” and perceived waffle we are constantly bombarded with.  However, now organisations need to deal with the uncertainties of a budget delivery in the next few weeks and a protracted looming federal election.

We live in a time of political optimism with a current PM who sees the issues facing Australia as opportunities.  We clearly have deep-seated issues like an ageing population, high costs of doing business and providing services, relatively few value-adding sectors like manufacturing, a slow economic growth and an imbalance between revenue and expenditure levels.  Governments must rely on their own planning and service delivery departments while considering the impact on the private and not for profit sector.  We all have a role to play in maintaining our standard of living and assisting in closing the gap between the haves and have nots leading to a more sustainable society. 

As HR professionals we need to make that transition from narrow HR focus to a broader and more methodologically driven approach to organisational issues – often referred to as human capital management (HCM).  This approach commences with the development of a dynamic strategic plan that addresses the historical trends, where we are today as well as projecting forward with a dynamic quantifiable rolling strategic plan that defines the corporate accountability.  Other than the corporate statements that we are all familiar with the strategic plan must define how we intend to measure the success of the plan as well what capability will we need to [...]

Board Corporate Governance

Corporate Governance can sometimes be likened to a mad hatters’ tea party.

Good governance models are relatively straight forward so why is it often poorly applied? The shareholders/owners elect the Board which provides the corporate directives to the CEO/Management. The performance framework and corporate risk analysis provide the foundation for reporting back. What could be difficult about this and why do organisations have difficulty in applying such a simple but absolutely crucial model?

While we find a number of commercial organisations, including listed entities, have challenges applying and maintaining good corporate governance principles, spare a thought for the member-based organisations, cooperatives, smaller family based companies as well as the not-for-profit support and research organisations, all where the Board members have to wear multiple hats and making decisions in extremely difficult situations that can have direct impact on themselves or other associates.

When you are working with these co-operatives or not-for-profit organisations you quickly realise the complexities of these organisations and the critical need for good governance procedures as the responsibilities can be enormous. Whether you are a commercial cooperative like fruit packing or dairy product manufacture, a not for profit providing services to specialised groups using government funding or a member organisation providing services to a range of member interests good governance is as important in these organisations as it is in any large commercial entity.

Take for example, a Supplier Board Member in a co-operative; they are an owner/shareholder receiving a dividend, a supplier receiving payments and a part of the Board ensuring commercial sustainability of the cooperative. During any Board meeting they might be involved in decisions involving shareholder dividend payments, supply rates and decisions involving the sustainability of the co-operative organisation, like capital expenditure that in the [...]

Is your Succession Planning driving the status quo or driving business change?

Succession planning is still critical in organisations; however it has evolved over the past 10 years where today succession planning is more about planning for the future and ensuring “Organisational Readiness”. Research at the Australian Graduate School of Leadership has identified the importance of organisations developing transitional and future structures. This is supported by the Maxumise strategic planning process that often identifies transitional structures that have quite different contributing elements (positions) to those that currently exits.

In modern Human Capital Management, succession planning is about “organisational readiness” and involves:

a) Managing the structure and knowing what the future and transitional capability needs are and what this will translate to in structure design (Strategic Planning);

b) Specifying the role/position descriptions which define the current and future contributing elements in the structure and

c) Determine the competency match between the current employees and the respective positions in the transitional structures.

Traditionally, succession planning is about employees being ready to fill, or at least apply for, positions that are, or may soon become, vacant in the current structure. Using this traditional approach, organisations find themselves focussing on maintaining the status quo rather than using succession planning as a key driver of business growth. These business growth drivers consist of firstly, the generic drivers that maintain the organisation on a steady state of growth whether from a competitive pricing, legislative change, product or service offering etc. Secondly, the deliberate growth or what is often referred to as interventional growth.  This interventional growth is identified largely through a structured strategic planning process that incorporates generic growth as well as the interventional growth over the next 3 to 5 years.

Two (2) key outcomes of the strategic planning process are, firstly the performance framework and secondly the capability [...]

Yes there is a replacement for the old “Job Evaluation”?

New age role sizing and position evaluation has been around since the first competency modelling developed around the early 1990’s. The preciseness of these systems have improved over the years and we can now confidently pay the right base salary, differentiate between position and incumbent and even place the HR asset value on the balance sheet (note).


The old “job” evaluation and the psychometric basis for sizing “jobs” has really been dead for a number of years. The point-factor job evaluation and processes like starting employees off at 85% and progressing to 115% of an imprecise number to start with would raise a few challenges – yet we still see remnants of this approach. The Productivity Commission study into executive remuneration questioned the processes used to determine the salaries that executives were paid and obviously market forces create the creep resulting in the salary levels we see today. What is critical is the not so much the package paid to specific appointments (this is a P&L expense), rather it is the value of the contribution of the position to the organisation. This is the value of the HR asset that should go on the balance sheet.

In modern human capital management the base salary is calculated precisely for the position. With an ideal position design then the applicant, incumbent or promotion candidate (s) can be assessed against this position and also valued. The new quantitative position evaluation uses competencies (outcome based competency vs behavioural) and this sets the position value and also used as the valuation on the individuals.

Competencies designed appropriately will have dimension such as a starting and finishing complexity as well as a significance to the position to deliver the critical outcomes. With over [...]

Can we trust our workers to perform?

Not only do we need to set up a system where the employee knows what is expected of them, we need them to understand and provide feedback on the results. They need to be empowered.

Progressive organizations are embedding the performance measures into the position descriptions using an outcome-based approach. The quantitative performance measures empower employees to manage their own performance and report back to the manager/supervisor- obviously with the necessary checks and balances. It applies from the CEO or even Board right down through the organization e.g. delivery driver which can be by shift or 6 weeks whatever.

This human capital management approach provides the definition of expectations in a quantitative way, empowers the employee, encourages motivation & innovation and rewards the employee for effort above and beyond the normal expectations (position target performance measures). The organization also knows they are getting a positive return on the performance pay – this is a win win situation.

With the performance envelopes in place the employees can interpret the data as quickly as the supervisor. As an example, in 1990’s this was introduced at Kellogg Australia and, just taking the Cooking Team, they could not only tell you whether the cook was in specification, they could also tell the supervisor why it was in spec. or tending towards the “out” and what needed doing to fix it. The supervisors moved to another site where they receiving feedback but more importantly spent time focusing on their own performance measures (which included an accumulation of the teams at the plant).

This empowerment was a new concept in the 1990’s but today it must be the approach we adopt if we are to become a progressive organization. We have to utilize and [...]