As a leadership coach, an expert in organisational culture and a voter I have been intrigued by recent political events in Australia. In different ways I have seen these events replicated around the world.
Let me say before I begin that I belong to neither side of politics. I am a libertarian, a government minimalist who supports intervention in the market only when the market is unable to regulate itself effectively. I believe in climate change, see a low carbon economy as the only logical way forward at the same time as being an advocate of the free market. I believe in equality and doing the right thing regardless of the current fads and trends! I wish to vote for a person, not a party, who can offer sensible and pragmatic solutions to the challenges we face as both a local community and a planet.
The Australian Labour Party (our version of left of centre politics) just lost a by-election. This is not surprising given that it was in an electorate that had been held by one of our conservative parties for more than 100 years. What was alarming for the Labour Party strategists was that their primary vote dropped by more than 7.5%. This has led to much speculation regarding what the party is doing wrong. Joel Fitzgibbon (one of the local federal ALP parliamentarians, Member for Hunter) is advocating a return to the good old days of The Labour Party supporting it’s base (blue collar, union member voters) even if that means advocating for additional coal powered electricity stations. It’s OK if we have no planet left as long as an ever decreasing group of workers can keep doing what they have done for most of their lives!
There seems to be little reflection on the root cause of the parties problems with the electorate. At it’s core the party is undemocratic. The Union Movement controls the platform of the party, many of the key decisions and often even controls who will gain preselection to stand as a candidate. This is often dressed up as factional deals however the factions generally reflect deals done at a union level to maintain control. Why does this matter….. well only 14% of the working population (about 1.2 million workers) are trade union members. In 1992 this number was closer to 40%. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, August, 2020). Nationally more than 16.8 million Australians are obliged to vote whenever we have a Federal election. Am I the only one who is starting to see a challenge here? This means that there is a lack of transparency in the way in which the organisation works. The organisation is trying to influence the voting decisions of the public at the same time as being out of touch with them.
‘One of the key killers of positive cultures in large organisations is a lack of transparency and a perception of a lack of fairness.’
Do we really believe that the voting population are unaware of who really controls the Australian Labour Party and this drives them away? Will they ever vote for a group that is essentially controlled by 7% of the voting population.
Whilst we can argue the toss on the extent to which the union movement’s involvement in the Labour Party drives voters away but the stark truth is that the party is out of touch with what enough voters want to win an election. They have allowed themselves to become distant from the people that ultimately make them successful. This is NOT blue collar workers, or union members, or salaried workers. It is enough voters to get them elected. The rhetoric about losing touch with their base may be true but there are not enough of their tradition ‘base left’ to get them elected, so as a political party what is the purpose of staying true to them. In the large organisation we talk about this as not being customer centric. The reality is that a business that loses customer centricity will not grow.
So what do we get out this little monologue of mine.
In politics, as in business or any large organisation, ignore your customers and your staff at your own peril as between them they can sink you……. or refuse to elect you to higher office.
Tim Kitching is a Pragmatic Leadership expert with a clear focus on building mentally healthy high performance organisations. He calls things how he sees them and pulls no punches when it comes to working with his clients. Tim lives in Sydney, Australia and works globally. He is married with 2 kids, 2 dogs, a cat, assorted fish, chickens and a love of Red Wine and Ice Hockey.