The government are on a sticky wicket with regard to the €100 euro household charge. At the time of writing, a huge wedge of people haven’t signed up to register for payment. The entire ‘left-wing-alliance’ is backing a campaign to boycott payment, with several politicians saying that they are prepared to go to jail (assuring re-election?) rather than stumping up. Into these stormy waters, the Government announces the introduction of water metering. It’s not possible, at this moment in time, to quantify the likely charges. All is confusion and darkness as the opposition parties imply that this is the ‘thin end of the wedge’. If it gets any worse, we’ll all be diverting rainwater to have showers. Buckle in for a bumpy political ride ahead!
Change Management: So, just over a year into the new government with a huge seat majority in the Dail, where did it all go wrong? Those of us engaged in the management of change believe that there are some simple organization lessons that can be applied at a national level. Here’s a couple of ideas…
Lesson 1: Why Bother? When the current government took up office, the math’s were stark. There was an annual budget deficit of circa €23 billion. Income = €50 billion; expenditure = €73 billion. That deficit has been reduced to circa €17 billion through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. So, the trend is positive and that’s potentially good news. But, it’s still an enormous deficit. Like the old quip, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it all adds up.
Economic Literacy: Economic literacy is not widespread. Even people who studied economics (myself included), don’t understand it. Couple this with the potential for a bit of scaremongering from people who profit from seeing the government on the spit. For Joe or Joan in the street it gets a tad confusing. So, the government needs to get back on message. Lesson #1 in the management of change = this is why we are doing this…. (It has to be 1 or 2 key messages, not 9). Is it taxation? Job creation? Conservation? Note to the Government: you can’t pick all of the above arguments!
Lesson 2: Is it Fair? It helps people if they believe that any new tax is fair and that they are not being unjustly overburdened vis a vis neighbours or international competitors. So, if we look at comparators, the government should show that the Poll Tax/community charges in other countries is circa €X per year. There is also an ‘internal equity’ question within Ireland. For a variety of cultural reasons, we seen to more readily accept increases in existing taxes (e.g. Income tax or VAT) than the introduction of a ‘new’ tax. But the problem with income tax, of course, is that it’s only paid by a percentage of the population. And those ‘willing horses’, keep getting overburdened with further bails of straw! We need some simple way to show how these new charges will help to redistribute the tax burden and highlight the fact that many of those against water charges are actually ‘against paying tax’ period! Make them the ‘bad guys’.
Lesson 3: Here’s How it Works: Last week, I listened to a government spokesperson on RTE, arguing that it will take 1,000 X 2 man teams (not sure why women can’t do plumbing) 18 months to put meters in 1 million+ homes. His central argument was that this is a government sponsored job creation exercise. How many people are currently ‘trained’? He didn’t know. How many jobs will be lost in existing positions in the Local Authorities? He didn’t know. You can’t announce a change programme without knowing how this will work in practice. No CEO stands up in a factory and says: ‘There will be lots of changes to working practices’ and when asked to name them, answers: ‘We’re working on that’. That’s exactly what we are doing at a political level.
Oops I did it again: Perhaps this Britney Spears’ pop song is Phil Hogan’s favourite tune. Someone needs to press the ‘Pause’ button on Phil, who seems to be suffering from that dreadful political condition known as ‘Premature Revelation’ (what are his advisors thinking, or not-thinking in this case?).
The government could learn a few basic ‘tricks’ in the professional management of change. For all our sakes, let’s hope that they learn them soon, before Mr. Flanagan TD becomes Ming the Minister in charge of H20. Just add water, and stir!
Lighter Moment: A young guy walks into the local welfare office to pick up his check. He marches up to the counter and says, “Hi. You know, I just HATE drawing welfare. I’d really rather have a job. I don’t like taking advantage of the system, getting something for nothing.” The Social Welfare Officer behind the counter says, “Your timing is excellent. We just received a job opening from a very wealthy man who wants a chauffeur and bodyguard for his beautiful daughter. You’ll have to drive around in his 2012 Mercedes-Benz CL and he will supply all of your clothes. Because of the long hours, meals will be provided. You’ll also be expected to escort the daughter on her overseas holiday trips. This is rather awkward to say but you will also have, as part of your duties, the assignment to satisfy her urges as the daughter is in her mid-20’s and has a rather strong sex drive.” The guy, just plain wide-eyed, said, “You’re bullshittin’ me!” The Social Welfare Officer said, “Yeah, well… you started it”.
PS Thanks for the many good wishes on the launch of the new book The Transformation Roadmap – Accelerating Organization Change. The book is available directly from Oak Tree Press (see their website) on in any of the usual retail outlets.
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