A sure sign of obsession with one’s profession is the ability to find a way to relate everything to that profession. So, if ever there is a “Human Resource Management Anonymous”, I think I am now willing to join and declare I am a HR-oholic. Like everyone else, I watched the US presidential election with much fascination and of course appreciation for Canadian values and the way we in Canada still have the decency to, at least in public, treat some things as unacceptable. But politics aside, I think Donald Trump’s campaign has very key lessons for human resource practitioners. So I would like to relate, in true obsessive form, the key strategies of his campaign to some strategies I think could be useful for human resource practitioners.
Donald’s strategy #1—The importance of repetitive messaging
It is an accepted theory that stimuli repetition impacts behavior. This concept was established, starting with Pavlov’s work on conditioned response. Even though the point of Pavlov’s experiment was the notion of conditioned response, we know that repetitive messaging impacts learning. Donald Trump has further proven that it is possible to create significant impact simply by repeating a message.
This simple test proves my point….think about Donald’s campaign slogan; now think about Hilary’s campaign slogan. Even if you dislike Donald’s policies your mind recalls his slogan much quicker than it recalls Hilary’s slogan. The reason is simple…he kept saying it and saying it. “Make America Great Again” was his constant refrain. It was very difficult to come up with a clear understanding of how he would do that and it might also be difficult to agree with his policies, but his message was repeated so consistently that it found fertile soil in the minds of some and was sufficient to win him the presidency.
The human resource application here relates to the way we treat our mission statements, vision statements and value statements within organizations. Human resources is normally centrally involved in the process of embedding organizational values into the psyche of employees. We tend to do this by ensuring that these values are enshrined in performance evaluations and onboarding processes. But do we actually say the words often enough? Do we constantly expose employees to the words we want to guide their conduct? Do we constantly present employees with mission and vision statements other than on the company website or on a wall somewhere in the office building? Maybe it’s time to engage our marketing teams to provide support in really marketing our companies to our employees.
After all Donald has proven that with very little money, constantly repeating something will eventually cause it to stick…very similar to a song you hate that gets stuck in your mind.
Donald’s strategy #2—The value of non–complex communication
Regardless of how much you may disagree with Donald, you understood what he was saying. Even when he wasn’t saying much, you understood what he was saying. The polls indicated that his support did not come from the intelligentsia. This is not to say that those who support him are not smart people, the point is that you didn’t need a college degree to figure out what he wanted to do.
He wanted to build a wall…we all know what a wall is. He wanted to deport everyone that is undocumented…no complex conditions or deference to clauses in any immigration law—simply everybody. The manufacturing sector was going to be “huge”—no information about percentage growth and all that complexity…just huge.
To be honest it is actually funny, but the point is, he did not attempt to present details, didn’t get caught up in the weeds, he didn’t communicate any details to be rebutted. He stayed high level, big picture and simple. He knew his audience.
There is a human resource application here too. Sometimes we communicate with non–human resource people as if they are human resource practitioners, and then wonder why they don’t get it. This is particularly important when negotiating with other stakeholders within our businesses. It is unlikely that a CFO or CEO will be willing to approve funds for human resource initiatives if what is being communicated cannot be related in a simple non–complex way to core organizational objectives. Communication is at times most effective when it is simple.
There are also some additional lessons that could be learnt from Donald Trump that are not necessarily strategic in nature.
Donald’s lesson #1—The impact of loyalty
We often hear that it is important to win the heart before you can win the mind. Anyone who doubts the value of investing in acquiring loyalty only needs to reference Donald Trump’s supporters. Donald was so confident in his investment in acquiring loyalty that he said he was confident that if he shot someone in NY city, his supporters would continue to support him…and he was right. He self–reported sexual assault and his supporters didn’t even blink an eye.
All organizations will at some point face turbulence or challenges. This is why employee loyalty is important. This loyalty provides stability and continuity during difficulty. It is therefore prudent for businesses to pay attention to employee loyalty. When human resource develops a good recipe for employee loyalty turn–over costs lower, training spend becomes less debatable and organizations see less frequent disruptions. Trump has proven that when loyalty is won, facts no longer matter.
Donald’s lesson #2—The power of disengagement
54% of registered American voters did not vote. Those who supported the first black man in his bid for president did not support a white woman. The majority of Donald’s supporters’ main gripe was being left out or left back by society. Regardless of the accuracy of this claim by his supporters, the reality is that when people feel disengaged or actually refuse to participate their impact is as strong or may be even stronger than those who are engaged.
The human resource lesson here is that disengagement is very dangerous. Disengagement also cannot be countered by hyper–engagement in others. The disengaged must be re–engaged.
Donald’s lesson #3—The power of hidden opinions
Out of the many articles being written on how Donald won, the one that struck me was a comment piece on CNN’s website about the “under–cover” Trump supporter. It is believed that there were people who voted for him that would not have admitted that they support him.
The lesson here is that hidden opinions also have value and impact. As human resource practitioners, it is important that we find ways of consistently engaging employees and eliciting feedback in a large enough number of ways that there is a method of communication that facilitates everyone. We must focus on reducing the stock of unknown information.
The world has at least four years of Donald Trump…it might just be four years of human resource lessons if we pay attention.