What to learn (or not) from Trump

Written by
Jane Chesters

09 Nov 2016

09 Nov 2016 • by Jane Chesters

First, Trump has a problematic attitude towards talent. For instance, he has pledged to build a wall to keep out economic migrants from Mexico. In terms of the workplace, the best way to make sure your organisation maintains the right talent is not to create doppelgangers of successful people already in the business; that reduces flexibility and innovation in the workforce – the very ingredients on which success relies. Much better is to understand the qualities that have enabled them to be successful – the ‘success attributes’ – in your business and replicate these.

Second, Trump doesn’t focus his investment in the right places. For instance, his presidential campaign spent $1.8 million on polling from June 2015 to this September. Over the same period he spent $3.2 million on red hats.

There are parallels for the HR community – where do we focus our investment?  We recently asked HR directors about what people management levers they saw as most critical to organisational success – and talent management in all its guises was top of the list. The majority of them reported their organisations have either undertaken a comprehensive overhaul or significantly changed their talent management practice.  But despite that, only 27% of HR directors said they had an integrated talent process – with the right talent specialists and technology solutions to secure and manage the supply of key skills.  

The problem is that business leaders are still focusing on the minutiae of back office, over-indexing on operations in the same way Trump is over-indexing on his little red hats. Even after all investments made improving HR effectiveness, the problem is that many transformation projects are still too short sighted. They try to shave a few pounds off the HR budget rather than focusing on the productivity benefits of more effective people management. Like Trump, business leaders are focusing on the wrong stuff.

Third, Trump constantly communicates threat. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with the weekly threat of “You’re fired!” hanging over me (although it might explain the turnover of senior campaign staff) but his comments on free trade are a less flippant example.

To Trump, free trade is not an opportunity – it’s a system where “companies just think that they can move, go to another country, make their products, sell it back to us and we get only one thing: unemployment”... “But when they start going to different countries, and in many cases countries that devalue their currency and make it impossible for our companies to compete, that’s not gonna happen. And if they wanna do it anyway there will be consequences and there will be very, very serious consequences.”

His protectionist message communicates fear of the world and a lack of confidence in America’s ability to compete with its peers. The best business leaders concentrate on managing feelings of threat – not stoking it up. By doing otherwise, they create limitations on people’s ability to perform and in severe cases increasing the risk of employees suffering from anxiety and depression. As the feeling of threat increases, people become more stressed and anxious which has a detrimental effect on their ability to perform.

It’s not hard to poke holes in The Donald’s unique brand of leadership. But with no speech-writers, few political staff, and far less money (Hillary Clinton has now spent roughly twice as much as Trump), he earned an extraordinary victory just winning the Republican nomination – now he's president. He has generated far too much support and momentum to be written off as a wretched irrelevance. And I suppose we could all learn a lesson from that.