Consult First

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Authentic Speaking - Consult FIRST

Recently, Australia has seen some very high level versions of "consulting" with stakeholders that are nothing of the sort.

The Federal government's May 2 announcement of a proposed Mining Super Tax (the Resource Super Profits Tax or RSPT) was announced as a "fait accomplit" - no discussion, no negotiation, no preparation.  This was an execrable form of the federal government's now-preferred form of consultation with industry, states and community stakeholders: that is, don't consult, just announce.

Announcing such as an important change to one of the most prominent and dominant industries in the Australian economic landscape was an error of monumental proportions.  Whether or not the Tax is reasonable or even beneficial, the resultant opposition, media and popular campaign was utterly predictable given the method that the Rudd government used of announcing the Tax as part of an already determined budget line item.

In the midst of the storm of protest that ensued the government finally backed down and deigned to "consult" with the mining industry on the tax.  As most Australians will know, this "consultation" was surrounded by the caveat that no real aspect of the tax would be changed whatsoever - the only issue up for discussion was "how" it is to be implemented.

In the real world, this is not called consultation, but is essentially bullying.  Democratic rights pre-suppose the right of discussion of major points of policy to be implemented by an elected government.  The federal government's posturing of its "leadership" is merely another example in an ever-growing list of its tendency to develop and implement back-room or party solutions to national problems, announced with fanfare and absolute certainty, without any discussion with affected parties.

I am not taking political sides when I say that this kind of leadership is extremely damaging to any organisation (or government).  If you really want to develop great ideas and communicate effective plans, you MUST consult with the affected parties first.

An opposite example of how to effectively do this has taken place in the U.S. under the leadership of President Barack Obama.  Heavily criticised in the U.S. for being too slow to implement changes to the health system in his first year, his administration took a little time in discussing, preparing, working with the Senate, Democrats, Republicans, working with the AMA, religious groups and as many interested parties as they could before submitting legislation.

It's not perfect by any means and, in the end, most Republican Senators balked at the entire health care package.  But the Obama White House now has the most significant changes to U.S. health care for decades on the cards.

It's easy to take pot shots at your own government when you're in the stands.  When you're in leadership, it's a different story than when you're one of the staff.  Everything is much more difficult and complex once you're finally faced with the job.  That's why political promises made before someone takes office are so easy to break once you are confronted by the realities of office.  That's why your colleague who'll "finally treat people right" at work suddenly becomes one of the enemy once he's been the manager for a while.  That's why once you take over the family, you finally realise why Mum or Dad were always so frazzled and worried - and you start acting like them!

But if you're going to take on the job, you must be committed to sticking by principles and making the effort.  Leaders must make the effort to speak and act to the real heart of the matter.

As a communicator and a leader, you have to CONSULT FIRST - ask questions, float ideas, get feedback, make changes - and then announce and act. 

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