As I recently celebrated my 64th birthday the realisation came to me that perhaps from a career perspective I may have begun the descent of my current consulting journey. I started to reflect on that journey and the many issues I have been involved in business over thirty years. One stands out as the single most disturbing issue I have encountered that we as a business community have yet to resolve.
Along the way, I have been grateful that the balance of successes over failures has been significantly in my favour. That is until my last major project, which has left me with a great sense of disappointment as the outcomes have fallen well short of what I expected. This issue has the potential to severely damage this country’s fortunes.
My activities surrounding this project have mainly been involved in examining engagement in business, which has in Australia fallen dramatically in recent years. I have witnessed an astonishing amount of reports, studies on the subject, all sending out messages that urgent action needs to be taken. There has been an outpouring of comments from contributors (including myself) on what we have to do to fix it.
It seems we have a great ability to enter into the debate but extremely deficient on getting the message over to the interested parties to take action. I have no doubt it is an unfortunate trait that we suffer from in our national life.
And yet as each year goes by the decline continues on reaching very dangerous low levels as seen by the latest study by a very well-informed person Mr Lindsay McMillan ( A Future that Works). The results suggest we are just not making any sizable headway in solving this conundrum but in fact going backways at a fast rate of knots.
People can point to the fact there is progress in this area but not enough to see a major reversal in the trend.
I realise that for some this article could be rather incendiary because its tone is extremely blunt but really it is long overdue, our collective pontification is quite frankly getting us nowhere.
Here is what I believe are the factors at play:
1. A section of leaders from the Baby Boomer generation who fervently maintain their beliefs and modus operandi should not change. They will defend their position to the end of their tenure (By the way that time frame which is shortening by the day 2023). This has had the effect of promoting conflict together with difficulties in the retention of staff costing organisations substantial amounts of money.
2. Leaders who consider the process to be “too hard”, not worth the effort and claim it will not improve the bottom line with any significant degree.
3. Members of company boards who do not take into account the rapid changes that are occurring around them. They take a short term view any derivation from the main traditional strategies will lead to a reduction in shareholder value.
4. Failure by a majority of academic institutions to recognise the need to balance the teaching of innovation and enterprise with other necessary skills required such as (soft business skills). To enable graduates and other students to make a better transition into the workforce. What we have in place at the moment is inadequate.
5. Failure of organisations to pick up on that their most important resource (Managers) have the potential to improve engagement in their workplace. The landscape has changed where senior leaders are viewed with less reverence by employees and alternative channels need to utilised to achieve more positive outcomes for organisations.
6. Ill-informed employees who believe they do not have to play their respective part in the process and are blinded by the medium of social media that does not reflect facts how things really are based on opinion and speculation.
7. A tidal wave of populism in this country and others fuelled by a media whose main aim seems to create instability and doubt for the future, hoping to build their case under the banner of transparency.
8. The degradation of trust with authority caused by politicians spending more time mired in conflict amongst themselves rather than looking after the interests of the population. This undoubtedly has spread to the workplace which has created further instability and placed doubts into the psyche of employees.
9 The occurrence of major events such as the GFC in 2008 which is still having an effect on confidence around the world nine years since it happened. Changed attitudes regarding the benefits of globalisation in certain economies. Damage to the confidence in the system of capitalism which is being claimed to have widened the gap between the “haves and have nots”.
10. That trust level is probably at its lowest ebb ever and it is hard to see how we can recover from our current position without a major rethink how it can be achieved.
Is it likely we can see a major change for the better in the next years?probably not, it will take a significant reversal in attitudes before that can happen. One of the catalysts may be the generational change in several years.
The optimistic side of me hangs on to the hope that the feedback I am receiving from the emerging generations suggest that they believe much more about the importance of engagement.
Th above issues should be considered in a global environment where it seems the industrial world is at war with itself with similar issues being experienced not only in business but other broader aspects of engagement in society.
Nevertheless, that does not help our own cause unless some practical thinking and actions are not applied here at home. The destruction of relationships will continue with consequences too dire to contemplate.
Surely Australia is better than this?