The Republican party has a big problem, a really big problem. The 2012 Presidential elections dealt the Republicans a crushing blow. The loss in the popular vote was greater than expected, but the loss in the electoral college was devastating. With the economy is still under performing everyone’s expectations, most Republicans assumed that Obama was a weak candidate who could easily be beaten by… anyone who wasn’t Obama. However, that’s not the way it turned out. Now, the Republican Party is scrambling to find answers, to find out what went wrong, and what has to change in the future. Of course, one of their biggest issues is that their party’s most active element wants to turn back the clock and return to an earlier age. Well, it’s not just the Republicans. The 21st century is a very confusing time for many Americans as we undergo a period of fundamental change. If we can crack the code for change for the Republicans, maybe we can learn something about change for the rest of us?
If you could place the Republican problem on a map, it would be the tiny spec labeled “compromise” that sits just outside the vast territory called “change.” Enormous change is happening, but the Republican party is not having any of it! But you really can’t blame them. They are the official conservative party, and being conservative means being the party that looked back on the past as something better, and resists anything new. As we saw in the Presidential debate, the Republican candidate (Mitt Romney) questioned the size of the US Navy, which he said has not been this small since 1917. Which was technically true if you counted the number of ships. The Democratic candidate (Barack Obama) responded that you cannot compare 1917 ships to 2012 ships… and also commented that Romney could just as well have mentioned the lack of horses and bayonets in today’s military.
These debates will never be accused of providing too much information, but consider this. The destroyer is one of the smallest sea worthy gun ships in the navy, and the battleship used to be the largest. In WWII, a battleship was typically 15-30 times larger than a destroyer. A 1917 “big” battleship is about 10,000 tons. A “little” destroyer built in 2012 is 14,000 tons. We can’t compare the size of battleships, because not a sinle navy in the world still uses battleships. The last battleship in the world was retired 20 years ago. On average, each class of ship today is 10 times the size of their 1917 counterpart. And today’s ships have more: accurate guns,. more powerful shells, radar, sonar, GPS, missiles (increasing “gunnery range” from 5 miles to several thousand miles), satellite support, computers, diesel or nuclear power (1917 was steam powered), and electricity (in 1917 many ships lacked electric lights). Was Romney’s comment on naval power a slip? Probably not. Most likely it reflected how strongly the Republicans are focused an emotional view of the world, rather than a fact-based view.
You’ve probably seen something similar at work. Groups that just can’t acknowledge that something about the business model, or the culture of the firm, has changed. They feel that proposed changes are a terrible mistake, and any resistance on their part is right-minded resistance. They feel they are the last line of resistance. Besides, if they can hold out, you and your projects just might go away. It almost sounds like a definition of the Tea Party. Because these parallels are so strong, if we can find the key to revitalizing the Republican party, we might also learn how to solve some of our own corporate problems. Besides, if the pace of change is indeed increasing, we need to know how to deal more effectively with change.
LEADER: Every major change starts with a leader who leads the change. When the Republicans nominate a Presidential candidate, they choose the face of the party for the next four years. Romney had government experience, but not at the national level. He had powerful connections and is a wealthy businessman, which is very much in line with the Republican image of success. However, few presidential candidates have made their money in the world of finance, but at a time when America is still recovering from a global financial collapse, Romney had special vulnerabilities. He most conservative Republicans believe that their message was right, but the messenger was wrong. Undoubtedly, we will learn more about what happened in backroom discussions within the Republican party, but it does appear that Romney wanted to present a more centrist view, especially in immigration reform. A different leader might have gained more votes, but they would need a different message to gain more than the core Republican vote.
When a corporation is faced with a major change, internal politics are very, very real. The choice of the leader of change is very important. In IT, where change happens more rapidly than in other departments, the turnover in CIOs is very rapid. You can interpret the data different ways, but a CIO generally gets “voted out” every two to four years. For the leaders below the CIO, their perceived “time in power” can be even shorter. IT staff is always very interested in who is leading new initiative and which groups will benefit. It is often assumed that when a UNIX professional leads, UNIX groups will prosper. Likewise, if the new leader comes from a PC background, it is assumed that PC desktop and server groups will prosper once changes take place. Choose and announce your leaders carefully. Don’t assume that your workers are passive, and will automatically follow any new direction that management agrees to.
MESSAGE: Once the primaries are over, the winner is expected to reach out to their party and perhaps beyond their party to form their platform. The platform used to be very important, with most of the news coverage focused on an analysis of the “message” in the platform. In the 2012 election, the platform virtually disappeared for both the Republicans and the Democrats. Instead, the debate was about the other guy’s flaws and failures. Very little airtime was spent by Republicans talking about the Republican platform. Even the details of the proposed Republican budget were not for public discussion, and would only be fully released after the election was won. As the Republican party became ever more conservative, there seemed to be no happy medium between the desires of the ultra-conservatives and a more liberal message that would appeal to undecided voters. The decision to have no message in many issues areas appears to be the worst possible decision, if votes are the measure of success. There are difficult decisions that still need to be made, but few in the party who wanted to be associated with the downside of these messages. During the election, it was repeatedly stated that program cuts could be delivered with virtually no negative consequences to the elderly or the needy. However, in the budget discussions after the elections, these easy steps for balancing the budget seem to have disappeared. The lesson learned is that you can’t escape bad news; eventually, you have to reveal the big plan.
With any big change there will be good and bad news. You can’t hide from it. When change comes to your organization, change is easier if everyone can rely on what they are told. When everyone second guesses the truth of your message, or wonders why there isn’t more information, resistance to change rises. If your organization plans to dramatically reduce the cost or the size of a department, positions may need to be cut or job may be moved to a new location. Corporate culture differs dramatically, but providing as much information as honestly as possible is the best policy. If the entire plan is not yet fully known, that’s fine. But as the plan progresses, let the employees of your firm know what events are coming up rather than letting them find out about significant events on blogs and in the newspapers.
DEMOGRAPHICS: The rise of the Hispanic vote was a major discussion during the elections. Did the Republicans lose the Hispanic vote because they ignored immigration reform, because of their lack of presence at the Republican convention, or for their strong rhetoric about returning to an “English First” culture? There are definitely cultural clashes between the idealized 50’s culture they want and the increasingly ethnically and racially diverse culture of America in the 21st century. Regardless of which culture is dominant, women will continue to be 51% of the population. In addition to numerous gaffs about the role of women in America, the Republican party failed to deliver a message that was compelling for independent women voters. The demographics of the Republican party are: older, wealthier, more male and more Caucasian than the Democratic party or independent voters. The Republicans have typically supported: higher military spending, lower taxes on the wealthy, no civilian gun restrictions, greater restrictions on immigrants, etc. It will be difficult for the Republicans to give up (or change) these policies, without giving up the members who are so tightly attached to each policy.
While the average corporation is not dealing with these specific issues, major corporations are dealing with a similar problem. The most senior managers of any firm tend to be older and more conservative than the managers that report to them. A tier or two down, and managers may question why change cannot happen in leaps rather than small steps. The teams that manage each change project have until recently reflected the demographics of senior management, who a few years ago were middle managers. Today, you need to see that project teams are more reflective of the company. There need to be more women in senior positions on teams, if only to better represent the greater number of women in corporate management positions. Many companies have gone global, or use outsourcing in countries like India and the Philippines. Are members of the branch office represented when headquarters makes plans? If your firm has moved heavily to outsourcing in the last few years, then your “workers” in these outsourced firms probably have no one to represent them when change plans are developed. However, if you ignore the significant cultural differences in this workforce, there may be unintended consequences for your projects.
Change takes time to happen. Almost all the very difficult changes that are facing the Republicans have been under discussion since the last Century. Eventually, though, the issues of the future become the issues of today. This is a time of big change, for the Republicans and for every corporation. Today, we have just looked at the foundational changes in America, but in our next blog, we will look at some policy changes and possible solutions. But for today, that’s my Niccolls worth!
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