Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why Don't We Get What We Want?

It is now late November 2013 and two different national Opinion Polls released yesterday and today both show a similar story - the current Australian Government, elected only a month or so back, is losing the confidence of the Australian people. In fact, according to one Poll, the decline of the party in power (the Liberal-National Coalition) has been the fastest in Australian history.

To say that this decline is extremely surprising to many of us is to use strong understatement.

On 7 September 2013 Australians elected the Liberal National Coalition as Australia's Federal Government. The result was clear and unequivocal. In the House of Representatives the Coalition received an unassailable majority and in the Senate it was clear that the conservative vote (even if not for the Coalition per se) meant that the new Senate will be dominated by basically conservatives. Yet now, not 3 months later, the Polls say that, if an election had been held last week, the result may have been quite different - almost certainly the Coalition would still have won but its majority would have been significantly less.

As the late Professor Sumner Miller used to say, when speaking of science matters on Australian TV, "Why is this so?"

I suggest there are 2 reasons why this has occurred. I also suggest that failure to deal with these reasons could, potentially, lead to the previously unthinkable scenario that was suggested to me last week at a workshop I was conducting for senior business leaders. At that workshop a very senior leader with extremely strong Liberal Party connections and a person who is very much "in touch" with public opinion stated that we needed to face the possibility that the Abbott Government could be a "one-term" Government!

So let's look at the two reasons:

  1. Getting rid of what you don't want is vastly different from getting what you do want.
  2. The very things that have made you successful in the past are the same things that can stop you being successful in the future.
Getting rid of what you don't want is vastly different from getting what you do want.
During its period in power, the Labor Government under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had become increasingly dysfunctional. It had done some good things under both Prime Ministers but the factional in-fighting and the increasingly poisonous relationship between Kevin Rudd (and his supporters) and Julia Gillard (and her supporters) meant that there was increasing disenchantment with the Government and a reluctance to believe that it had any answers to the issues facing Australia. Accordingly, at the election on September 7, there was a strong consensus that "this lot has got to go". It was widely felt that anything would be better than what we had!

I think that what this first round of Polling is telling is that right now, based on what we have seen over the past couple of months, lots of people are saying "despite our earlier optimism, unfortunately right now we can't see that this current Government is the utopian answer for which we had been seeking."

The very things that have made you successful in the past are the same things that can stop you being successful in the future
Some 20 years ago I was at a conference in California where one of the key speakers was a successful businessman named Jim Belasco (author of the book "Teaching the Elephant to Dance"). Belsaco said that over his years in business one of the hardest lessons he had to learn was that those very behaviours that had made him successful in the past were the very behaviours that would stop him being successful in the future. The further he moved up the hierarchy, successfully encountering new challenges meant that he needed to use new behaviours.

There is no doubt that Tony Abbott, Australia's current Prime Minister, was one of the most effective Parliamentary Opposition Leaders in Australia's recent history - and possible the most effective. His pugnacious, take-no-prisoners, approach in which he largely succeeded in dictating the political agenda meant that he dominated the media and facilitated much of the negative perception with which the Labor Government came to be seen. As a Rhodes' Scholar, Tony Abbot was a Boxing Blue and I am sure that during this period he learned that there is a huge difference in the behaviour required of a challenger as opposed to that of a defending title holder. He needs to apply this knowledge now - both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard failed to appropriately change behaviours and I doubt that Tony Abbot wants to be in the same camp as them.

"So what," you may say. "This was the first set of Opinion Polls for the new Government and there is a long time before the next Federal election must be called." Very true and I, for one, am always sceptical of opinion polls because they can become self-fulfilling. I know about "lies, damned lies, and statistics!". But, in this case, it may be an early warning sign - something that says "here's something to be aware of but don't be too concerned at this stage".

In my latest book Delivering High Performance: The Third Generation Organisation (2013, Gower Publications, London) I make the point that there is plenty of evidence worldwide to support the view that the Chairman of any organisation sets the tone for the entire organisation and that, where inappropriate behaviour is found anywhere in the organisation, it is usually quite easy to show a direct linkage between the behaviour exhibited and the standards set and policed by the Chairman. Tony Abbott is, in effect, the Chairman of the organisation "Australia". Already since September 7 we have been regaled with possible abuses of the Parliamentary expenses system across both major parties and involving senior members of the Government (including Tony Abbott himself). Already we are seeing the same pugnacious, "I'm not going to listen to what the people say", approach from Ministers of the Crown as they showed when Opposition Spokespeople on various Ministries. This isn't going down well with lots of people and I think these first 2 Opinion Polls indicate this.

It will be interesting to see if Tony Abbott, an undoubtedly highly intelligent person, can make the necessary behavioural transitions from being a highly successful Leader of the Opposition to now become a highly successful Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd couldn't.

I'd love to know what you think. Please comment below.

More information about Doug Long at http://www.dglong.com

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