FREE TRADE THURSDAY: Trump and a Simple Change Agile Experiment

Kris Dunn Change Management, Kris Dunn

I’m a sucker for leaders taking BIG SWINGS at BIG problems.  I think that’s part of what makes a leader great.  Name a leader who got great things done in difficult times, and you’ll usually find a risk taker who makes a calculated bet to zig when others are convinced the status quo of zag is the best option.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.  Yes – I’m going into politics, if only to dive into an example of an OD/Change Agile experiment.

Of course, it’s better to have a few Big Ideas rather than the 1,000 that the Donald seems to have.  Which means I could have asked the following question last Thursday and gotten this answer:

KD: Hey POTUS, what’s cooking today?

Donald:  See tweet below KD – I was up early doing this one.  Let’s stick it to China!

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018

That tweet represents a big swing at something that might be a big problem – the trade deficit.

While I think I’m generally a free trade kind of guy, I have to say that the massive trade deficits bother me.  How did they get so high?  Did we sell our soul by offshoring so much of our economy?  Are we better off for offshoring so much of our economy to the lowest cost provider, which keeps cost of living in check over time?

I don’t know, but I do know that free trade, tariffs and more are inherently linked to our work in HR.  Where do jobs go?  What’s hot in the next decade from an employment perspective?  What skills are needed and which ones are DOA? What can we pay to keep jobs onshore and still be competitive?  The list of connected issues goes on and on.

But as they used to say, “Rome is the mob“, which is why our current POTUS serves up tweets daily.  The devil is in the details. Steel tariffs were announced the same day, which unleashed a wave of analysis on whether that was good or bad for American business.

I’ll spin my answer to all of this a different way. The answer isn’t whether you or I think that we should protect American manufacturing, it’s whether Walmart (and other retailers – I’m looking at you, Amazon) can test this idea and actually make the same (or more) margin off of American-made products as offshore alternatives.  If the vast majority of Americans don’t care, then America won’t be able to make it work financially.  If the majority do care (after being marketed to), Walmart should make the same or more money off those product lines.

In other words, the market decides on a form of protectionism, but you have to run a test.

That’s where a Change Agile test could come in.  Change Agile – brings Agile principles to your change efforts.

Change Agile is about managers engaging their teams on a team vision, project or perhaps just something that’s broken – bringing their teams into the idea process to unlock the innovative powers of a team.  After an idea is selected, agile suggests that you have to run tests that are as small as possible to make sure the idea you selected actually works before layering too much complexity into your solution.

That’s right – I’m texting Donald right now to propose he run a Change Agile test with the help of WalMart.

Here’s what a month’s worth of testing on Free Trade via Change Agile at the consumer level would look like with the help of WalMart:

  1. We’d start by describing the test – we believe that by labeling products as American made and pricing them in a way that delivers the same or greater margin as offshore alternatives, American products will outsell the offshore alternatives as evidenced by sales in test markets.
  2. Next, we’ll identify 10-15 products currently in stores, and create displays that would show both American made and offshore made products side by side – with the American product clearly noted and possibly higher priced as necessary to protect the margin.
  3. We then would create 10-15 test stores that would represent a cross-section of rural/urban and regional diversity.
  4. We would market both products as necessary.
  5. The test would run for a defined period of time – let’s say one month.
  6. We’ll measure the results of the test after the time period was up.
  7. We’ll make the decision whether to pursue/pivot/abandon the concept (in this case of Free Trade and stocking American-made products) based on the test.

That’s one example of how you’d handle the concept via Change Agile. The market decides.  If no one cares about the American-made tag, the test fails and the administration can still do what it’s doing for PR purposes (remember!  Rome is the mob!), but by running Change Agile style tests, they’d understand what the consumer really thinks – and know whether the concept had bigger designs than good PR.

The post isn’t about politics – it’s about testing Change principles in any organization.   I understand that there are a million angles to this – but testing whether the American consumer is willing to pay more for basics should be a key test that’s run related to any trade-related protectionism.

It’s a great application of Change Agile, which my company does training 0n (check it out by clicking this link).

I’m DMing Donald right now with my Change Agile/HR-related proposal.  I’m sure he’ll be open to it!

If he’s not? Sad!