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 need to be monitored through the performance measures especially employee surveys and operational audits.

Despite this, there may be a silver lining to Trumpism especially if it is taken as a wake-up call for governments and private sector organisations alike. Bob Carr in his interview with Stan Grant ABC 7:30 Report on the 2nd February 2017 –said:“… I’ve written for The Australian tomorrow, I say that this is… a healthy thing for Australia.” “… I think it’s a reminder to Australians that America is different, America has changed. America is declaring it’s “America first from now on”. That’s a quote from the inauguration speech by the President.”

The wake-up call requires a correction to the past inadequate organisational and human resource management we have experienced in Australia whilst simultaneously making changes to accommodate the emerging technology as well as addressing Trumpism. Maxumise has generally found that in Australia strategic plans have been lacking in rigour especially as far as performance and capability frameworks are concerned. As a result, the structures are not well defined and lack relevance and innovation. This impacts, firstly the definition and valuation of the positions and secondly, the assessment of the applicant or incumbent. This inaccuracy in the structure and position profiling can result in up to 85% of incumbents having competency shortfalls with, on average, close to half of these (42%) having serious shortfalls. However, in nearly all cases this shortfall of competence is not reflected in the salary/wages paid and in some cases the person with the lower competence has the higher remuneration – serious remuneration discrepancies.

At the government and organisational level, this wake-up call begs us to consider, have we been realistic in the past, especially with our perceived “economy of scale”? Yes, we are up there on the global “platform” but realistically we are a small fish in the global scheme of things. Having worked in the Pacific I’ve seen aid projects directly transfer Australian structures and requirements onto small economies without properly identifying whether it fits the needs. Australia has given the “poor developing” countries second rate technology with second rate training which ends up as largely a manual system not appropriate to their need. Comparing these developing country economies of scale to Australia, it is about the same ratio as comparing Australia to USA. Australia needs to identify what it can do well and focus on that as a niche market. We saw a massive out flow of manufacturing in the mid 1990’s but that was “OK as we were going to become the clever country” and our innovation and research was going to feed into world development. How much R&D did occur and how much value adding of raw materials and products do we do in Australia? I believe we can be competitive in niche markets especially if we develop or modify and own the technology involved. For example; with the imminent arrival of autonomous vehicles, the company that owns the vehicle controls the technology. General Motors has already bought into Lyft, a car pool company obviously intending to supply autonomous cars and have a continued involvement in the technology past the manufacture stage.

A recent article on Australian “trade agreements” questioned who were the winners and losers and how stable they were. The article went on to say these should be “business agreements” allowing companies to operate as a unit across country boundaries; say research and development in Australia, manufacturing in China and administration and marketing in the Philippines but sharing the taxation, based on the utility and social demands on each of the countries. Singapore through the Economic Development Board has been a master of cross-border business arrangements since they started 25 years ago. The USA has demonstrated the stability in these trade agreements and certainly how to make them “winners” for yourself.

The New Wave of Technology and How does Australian Position

The Trump era has coincided with the next wave of new technology so Australia has to face a double change “whammy”. Not only do we need to prepare for and respond to Trumpism we need to learn from the lessons of the mid 1990’s and identify where the niche opportunities are, building on them and remembering the competitive edge will be driven by technology, remembering that who controls the technology will be “pulling the leavers”. In a recent blog I read “when robots design and built robots to service robots we humans will know we are obsolete”. In the mid 1990’s when Australia lost a significant amount of manufacturing including a number Australian icons, a few companies including Kellogg Australia were prepared to make innovative work practice changes and incorporate sufficient new technologies for the plant to survive another 16 or more years.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in Australia each computer replaced about 13 typewriter-based “jobs” but created 2 to 4 new higher level re-designed positions i.e. net reduction: 9 or 10:1. The next wave of technology is likely to be more dramatic and is already impacting organisations. German company Adidas moved its manufacturing offshore in the 1990’s but now plans to speed up production and allow shoppers to customize shoes and clothes. “We will bring production back to where the main markets are, “in the last couple of weeks Adidas Chief Executive Herbert Hainer said, adding the current six weeks it took to ship from Asia to Europe was too long. “Robots can be everywhere.” Manufacturing closer to consumers should allow it to react more quickly to fast changing trends… Can Australia get back some of the manufacturing lost in the 1990’s?

The Element of Surprise and Behavioural Standards

The element of surprise will range from the internal, what appears to the outsider as absurd responses to domestic situations and behavioural outbursts, to what would appear as the more serious globally sensitive reactions and diplomatically insensitive statements.

The immediate concern for organisational and HR managers in Australia should be the threat of “copycat” behaviour and even “copycat” policy decisions of government (does Malcolm’s 457 visa policy fit here?). Trumpism behaviour, prevalent and reported on during the election campaigning, included racial and sexist behaviour as well as a lack of respect for the truth and those that report on events. Might this be relevant to, and possibly impact on, Australian organisations? During the Clinton era an Australian government department found it necessary to put out an instruction to the effect that there was zero tolerance for anyone undertaking reported “Clinton acts”. We believe that world leaders can influence people’s behaviours and while the “elder statespersons” have left their legacy as great leaders and good behaviours, unfortunately poor leaders also leave a “not so good” legacy. Many so called followers of dictators do so because they perceive it as a “licence to behave badly” more than agreeing with the principles the dictator stands for. Where does Trumpism rank amongst these – well with the element of surprise and inconsistency, probably the full scale?

We have always lived with an element of the unknown and this is why monitoring strategic risk and operational risk is well expounded. This element of surprise has been heightened with Trumpism especially when, I believe, it appears to emerge from a lack of obvious logic and rationale. While there are the issues like the ethnic entry bans, Mexican walls, Obama health etc., there are more globally sensitive events such as the Syrian “chemical warfare” response and naval placements close to North Korea. CNBC International news reported (5th April 2017) under some dramatic headlines; “While the world watches mounting military tensions in the South China Sea, another, more ominous situation is brewing in the East China Sea that could be the trigger point for a major war between the superpowers.” ….and in discussing the build-up of jets in the area said “The situation increases the risk of an accidental confrontation — and could draw other countries, like the United States, into a conflict.” Add the element of surprise and Australia could quickly become involved in a conflict; reading this makes me worried so how must my Chinese and Japanese friends living in Australia feel.

Organisational and Human Resource professionals in Australia have to deal with Trumpism within the technological changes that are going to face us over the next 3 to 7 years. If Trumpism has served as a “wake up call” for all the levels of Australian governments, as well as the private sector, by making us more aware of the need to analyse and plan for the future then this will be a positive.

While undertaking a plan for an organisation recently and incorporating technology impact over the “business as normal” model we found massive differences in the future core business, structures, position design, work practices, need for office space, investments needs and the return on assets including the human and robotic assets especially in the service and office automation. While future achievements may be less certain after 3 or 4 years the adoption of a rolling strategic plan with an in-built trigger event analysis will maintain the relevance of the plan and its updates. It is clear that new positions will evolve that, in many cases, will be very different to the current “activity based jobs”. The value of these new positions will need to be known as well the value and gaps of the incumbent or applicants. We were horrified while reading a recent survey to see that a large number of organisations have not assessed the contribution value of the positions let alone assessed the incumbents against the current and future position they hold for more than 10 years. It is therefore not surprising that our assessments found that 85% of incumbents are not fully competent for their current position and close to half of these (42%) had serious competency shortfalls (close to half of these again i.e. 18% of the organisation, did not have the potential to develop). This is in a current steady state situation so managing the change that confronts organisations includes catching up to where they should be, incorporating the new technological development as well as dealing with Trumpism is going to take significant and structured planning.

“Australia first” will need to be driven by our competitive edge and this will not just happen, we need to make it happen. With a Federal Government governing with one hand tied behind their back, managing change will need to be driven by the private/non-government sector.

Max Underhill

Managing Director

Maxumise Consulting Pty Ltd

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