Us and Them: Leading in a Season of Populism

Published 29th December 2017
Rebecca Siow

Head of Research
Human Capital Leadership Institute

Published 29th December 2017

According to HCLI's upcoming research piece, Us And Them, there are three culprits deepening fractures in our world today:

  • Concerns and fears around technological disruption and what it means for livelihoods;
  • Worsening inequalities in wealth and opportunities; and
  • Elite unresponsiveness that has existed for some time.

As growing masses protest for change – and sometimes, exercise their voting rights for a populist politician or party – incumbent governments are responding with the tools at their disposal: control of borders, trade, immigration and visas, labour regulations, and taxes.

Such responses pose five significant risks to Business. Consider if any will impact yours:

  1. A break in existing global production and supply chains leading to lower cost efficiencies, productivity, competitiveness, etc.;
  2. A restriction on foreign employees in country hampering work delivery;
  3. A restriction on mobility affecting development of global talent and leaders;
  4. Perceived support for (or opposition towards) divisive political figures leading to alienated customers and employees; and/or
  5. Perceived (or actual) corruption leading to attacks on business as usual by politicians and the people.

In the spirit of scenario planning and readying for the future, be it 2018 or further out, what can Business and you, as a leader in this sphere, do? Our research findings suggest eight practices:

  1. Figure out now (not later): how can you help the countries that you are operating in achieve their public interest?
  2. On an organisational level, give opportunities to local employees.
  3. Despite political noise and distraction, continue to strategise with your customers as top of mind.
  4. Of course, not all noise should be ignored. Some point to fundamental disruptors and in such cases, accelerate reinvention of your people and business today.
  5. The above practices will require a longer tenure in your strategy, and so it is imperative that you align your investors (providers of capital and resources) for the longer-term with a plan, which you personally believe in and will execute.
  6. To rally your people to act on this plan, share the higher cause and guiding values with them. Very importantly, when returns flow in, remember to share value with them – and not hoard it within your inner circle.
  7. To facilitate the day to day, create an environment where people can power on together on the real issues, and not splinter apart in negativity and distrust.
  8. Finally, measure progress to get success. However, your indicators should not be just profits. If success is represented by a table, lift it by lifting all four legs of the table, the legs being revenues, profits, employee satisfaction, and customer satisfaction.

As we conclude 2017 and step into 2018, what goals do you have? What actions will you take? Will you partner with us to develop global leaders for Asia, from Asia – and in addition to that, responsive leaders who are committed to bridging societal fractures?

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