When even the new Prime Minister has called our national political scene a ‘Muppet Show’, you know things are a bit of a mess.
Constantly changing leaders, claims of bullying, allegations of corruption, sleaze, personal attacks, sexism and school-yard theatrics…it all combines to make us turn-off from politics.
We might roll our eyes and despair, but the truth is we can’t afford to disengage. Politics is too important for that. The decisions our elected representatives make every day, affects our daily lives and we need to stay engaged.
‘You can choose not to be interested in politics, but you can’t choose to be unaffected by it’ Senator Penny Wong
What can politics learn from business?
Just imagine if federal politics was a listed company? The share price would be in free-fall. However, it’s hard to imagine shareholders in corporate Australia tolerating this sort of thing in a corporate board.
Many politicians have business experience. Maybe it’s time they followed the example of corporate Australia and hit the reset button.
Here are ten things they could consider that might help reverse the decline in political trust.
1.Articulate a vision of excellence
Companies that deliver outstanding customer service, are organisations that have a clear vision and a strong corporate culture. Think of QANTAS airlines which has a vision of ‘being the best’ and aims to be Australia’s premium airline. This guides the corporate values and the actions of staff so they have pride in working to do the best they can, every day they go to work.
Political leadership is about setting a vision of excellence and then ‘walking the talk’ of values and behaviour.
2. Build your future workforce
The future belongs to millennial employees. Smart organisations have programs to attract and retain talented staff, such as the mentoring program at Mars Australia, winner of the 2017 Great Places to Work.
Political party membership is declining. More voters are now supporting minor parties and independents. At the last federal election, one in four votes drifted away from the ALP and the Liberal/National Coalition. The days of the two-party duopoly are in decline.
3. Create a great culture
Successful organisations are known for their attractive culture and being great places to work. It’s not just about the job location, salary and staff benefits; it’s about ‘the way we do things around here’.
A political party needs a culture that inspires people to join up, stay and help with election campaigns. If the culture is toxic, political membership dives along with voters’ support.
4. Diversify or die-off
Savvy businesses have diversity and inclusion policies in order to embrace the unique experiences, voices and opinions of their diverse employees. They know that diversity “makes good business sense” and is “clearly linked to improvements in organisational performance, effectiveness, profitability and revenue generation” as articulated by the Diversity Council of Australia
Our politicians need to better reflect our diverse citizens in gender and cultural background. We are a nation of immigrants, and half of Australia’s population is either first- or second-generation migrants and 51% female. This is not reflected in Federal Parliament where less than a third of Members are female and according to analysis, fewer than 20 of the 226 parliamentarians serving have a non-English speaking background – less than 9 per cent.
5. Consider the downside risks before sacking the CEO
When a CEO has a track record of creating shareholder value and the stock price is good, most boards extend his/her tenure. They know the risks of sacking a popular CEO on the share price; especially if the decision is hasty and not well explained to the market.
Before he was sacked, Malcolm Turnbull was the preferred Prime Minister by 19 per cent on his rival Bill Shorten according to one News Poll. Many voters, regardless of their political views, can’t understand why he was knifed. They didn’t like it when the ALP did it to PM Kevin Rudd either.
If you’re going to sack your leader, you probably need to explain the decision to shareholders or suffer the ramifications.
6. Recruit the best by being the best
Top companies invest in excellent recruitment practices to attract and keep the best talent. At it’s best it is based on merit. Increasingly Australians see politics as a ‘jobs for the boys’ recruitment process. It seems candidates must come from the right faction (or union), have a powerful party mentor, be a good fund-raiser or maybe they are an ambitious ex-staffer of the retiring member.
To thrive, political parties could aim to recruit on merit, not connections.
7. Manels are so last century
All-male panels, or ‘Manels’, are fast becoming a thing of the past. This is in part to pushback on social media of yet another all-male line up at a conference or industry event. Also because of the Male Champions of Change Panel Pledge and the commitment of corporate leaders and speakers to speak only on diverse panels.
Wouldn’t it be great if political leaders took the panel pledge when forming their front bench?
8. Evaluate performance regularly
CEOs, Executives and most employees are subject to regular performance plan reviews. It keeps things on track and projects aligned to the company vision.
What would the KRAs be for politicians? Here are three simple goals; a prosperous economy, look after people (especially the vulnerable and needy) and secure the long-term future of the environment.
9. Emphasise integrity and ethics
Strong corporate governance is critical to a company’s success. Follow the law, manage conflicts of interest, practice integrity in all business dealings. If there are concerns, it’s reported to the regulatory authorities ASIC and ACCC.
Trust is declining in politicians. At the National level, we don’t yet have a federal anti-corruption watchdog. Perhaps it’s time. It can investigate concerns about influential political donations, transparency of lobbyists, whistle-blowers and behaviour of politicians.
10. Listen to your customer research
Customer and market research is essential to support a company’s business objectives. This research is important to understand customer satisfaction levels or testing a new product. When there is overwhelming demand for (or against) a product, a company listens. If not, there can be disastrous consequences; remember the Kraft brand disaster with Vegemite iSnack 2.0?
Given more than two-thirds of Australians supported marriage equality, it’s clear that most people are supportive of equality and a fair go for their fellow citizens. Sexist, racist, divisive policies are not going to fly with most Aussies. Great leaders embrace difference, they are not threatened by it.
What other tips would you add from your workplace to assist politicians and political parties?
Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant and coach to local government. She delivers training to support quality candidates to Get Elected to public office. Ruth is also a former Mayor, Councillor and advocate for gender equality and diversity in political representation. https://ruthmcgowan.com/