How You Will (or Won't) Vote

Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 5:51 AM EDT

Hands up if you have ordered all the party manifestos and are going to work through them diligently to find the best party to govern Britain.

No hands? Don't worry, you are one of roughly 60 million citizens who are not making party manifestos the publishing sensation of the year.

As I discovered when I was head of research for one of the parties, our collective ignorance about policy is astonishing.

Even as head of research I was pretty clueless about anything outside my specialist area of responsibility. So if we don't decide between parties on policy, how do we decide who to vote for?

I suspect the key word is trust. None us want to work for a boss we do not trust. We will not have team members we do not trust and we do not want a government we do not trust. In politics, as in business, trust is the fundamental currency of success.

The total collapse of trust in politicians, from a very low base, explains why so many people are undecided voters, and why so many may choose not to vote at all for a rotten system. In the UK only 21 percent of us trust politicians, just edging out journalists for the wooden spoon of trust. The big question is: who are these 21 percent who actually trust politicians? And why?

So if trust is so low, how can politicians -- and managers -- build trust? There is a simple trust equation which shows how:

T= (V*C)/R
Put simply, trust is a function of 'values intimacy' and credibility, divided by risk. Let's see how that pans out for us as managers and for our wannabe rulers.

Values intimacy. This is a fancy way of asking: is this person on my side? Do we belong to the same tribe? Managers and leaders need to talk the same talk as their teams, listen and show similar interests and values.

In the election run-up, see how each party tries to work values intimacy. Cameron goes for photo opportunities in meat factories and pubs: implied message: 'he's one of us'. Brown goes to hospital to launch his manifesto, using a 20-year-old Asian woman to front the event. That is a 100 percent tribal event (even though the woman had blogged for Brown's removal and the hospital is a PFI fiasco).

Credibility. You have to be able to deliver on your promises. As a boss, every half-promise you make will be banked as a certainty by your team members. If it doesn 't work out, it'll be toys out of the pram. So Labour suffers from having a 13 year track record. The Lib Dems and Tories suffer from having no track record. Collectively, credibility of the main parties varies between zip and zero, roughly the same as they score for values intimacy.

Risk. The greater the risk, the more we need to trust someone. The MORI survey shows that 54 per cent of us trust the person in the street to tell us the truth -- probably because they've never had the chance let us down. You might trust a stranger with directions to the local post office, but would you trust them with your life savings?

Managers can work the risk equation two ways -- reduce the risk of the way forward, and increase the perceived risk of any alternative. Make the status quo appear very risky and even the most change resistant person may be prepared to change.

Politically, each party is playing the risk card -- Labour trying to show Tory cuts as ruinous to the UK; the Tories and Lib Dems savaging Labour's track record (credibility, see above).

Once you understand the risk equation you can see the whole election being played out using it: each party is desperately trying to build and extend its tribal credentials, wants to appear credible and to be the least risky choice for us.

Fortunately, they only have to face each other. As the trust equation is relative, the side with the least bad score will win.

(Pic: purplejavatroll, cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership