Author Archives: Mike Smith

Why Conduct a Training Needs Analysis?

We recently proposed a quick survey of new Board members, before constructing a training session for the new, probably quite inexperienced Board.  The client wanted to know why we should bother, and it forced us to think about it.  This article is OK but isn’t concise enough for some discussions, so we put together this list.

You should always conduct a training needs analysis because:

  1. Writing it down helps make sure everyone is talking about the same thing, when they are talking about training content and what’s needed;
  2. It helps measure the skills gap, rather than making a brave presumption or estimate of it;
  3. You might find a greater depth of knowledge than expected on some topics, and thus you can skip some things and focus on others, which means your training session is more focused and more valuable;
  4. You might discover a lower level of knowledge than expected on some topics, so the training needs to be recalibrated to a lower level of skill/knowledge;
  5. You might discover some of your participants have sufficient depth of skill in some areas to be able to mentor others, or assist in training;
  6. You might discover some participants have special needs, or discover unexpected diversity or uniformity amongst participants, or an age or gender profile which suggests particular training methods;
  7. It earns buy-in from participants if you’re asking for their input;
  8. If participants understand the training reflects their needs as well as the needs of the organisation, they are more likely to participate properly and come back for more;
  9. It makes it more likely participants will see they are getting the training they want and need, rather than only in areas decided by others;
  10. It gets participants ready for the training session and makes them think about what they want to get out of it;
  11. It alerts participants to the fact that there’s change afoot – the training is going to move participants away from their business as usual behaviour;
  12. It makes it much easier to determine the desired outcomes of training if you understand the underlying skills base, the skills gap, and what it is that participants expect and want;
  13. It makes it easier to determine how much training is needed – half a day, two days, three weeks, somewhere in between; and
  14. Training is expensive – trainer fees, and the time participants spend in training, both need to be spent on filling the gap between skills held and skills wanted – and you can’t be sure you’re spending well unless you’ve made an effort to measure that gap.

Not all of those reasons will apply to every organisation, of course!

With such free/inexpensive tools as, it can be quick and painless to get good information.





When is the Next Queensland Election?

Last week several business organisations, including one of which we’re members, echoed calls from Liberal-National Party Leader Tim Nicholls, and demanded the Palaszczuk Labor State Government call an election immediately.

Apart from this echo chamber, it’s hard to detect any groundswell of demand for an immediate election – it’s due by 5 May, and the (usually but erroneously presumed three-year) Parliamentary term isn’t up until late January 2018 (the anniversary of the last election) or more appropriately 14 February (the anniversary of the Palaszczuk Ministry) – or, legally and correctly, 5 May*.

Premier Palaszczuk has said several times she intends the election will be in 2018.

There are always constraints in choosing an election date, and here are some presently operative in Queensland:

  • The Queensland election process must take a minimum of 26 days, from announcement (issuing of the writs) to Election Day – incumbent parties normally give little more than the minimum notice, for tactical advantage;
  • Don’t look like you’re calling it early for expediency or advantage – voters aren’t dumb and can usually see through that;
  • Don’t cut across
    • football finals (in this case, AFL and NRL, which expire on 30 September and 1 October, respectively);
    • school holidays (which commence from 17 November for year 12 students, from 24 November for years 10 and 11, and 8 December for the rest) because
      • so many people are away and will get cranky at the inconvenience of voting, and
      • if voters are away they will mostly miss appreciating the value of all of that money you’re spending on election ads …

… schools mostly resume on 22 January 2018;

  • Christmas and New Year;
  • The Commonwealth Games run from 4 to 15 April: if the Government changes in the month before the games, or there is campaigning across the games, there will be major distraction from the Games and this may harm the success of the game;
    • It is too late to announce the election after the Games and meet the 5 May deadline;
    • So, probably, no election after 10 March or perhaps not after 3 March;
    • November 11 (another Saturday) is out because it is Remembrance Day;
  • If you announce an election between Christmas (really, mid-December) and Australia Day, you will either cause chaos because so many Members of Parliament and public servants are away, or you’ll tell them they can’t take leave which gives the game (and tactical advantage) away:
    • Members of Parliament, and particular Ministers, take their holidays between the last Cabinet meeting of the year and the first of the next year – the Monday nearest Australia Day: if you call an election before Australia Day, you’re doing it while many sitting Members of Parliament are still away – that’s arguably quite unfair to non-Government MPs;
    • The Queensland public service shuts down from Christmas Eve (this really commences in mid-December) until late January, say Australia Day;
  • Most polling places are in school halls or similar, and it can be an incredible nuisance to get proper access to school halls during school holidays;
  • The Party in power hasn’t finished selecting all of its candidates yet, although the few remaining are not in highly targeted seats;
  • And, as Michael Todd reminds us: after this election Queensland moves to four-year fixed terms, with the election on the last Saturday of October (starting in 2021) – choosing a late October/early November date tends to bring this election into alignment with the future.

Premier Palaszczuk

These things in combination mean the election could be announced

  • Anytime up until 2 October, for a 28 October Election Day, if the Premier is prepared to explain why it can’t be next year as she has previously said, or
  • Anytime up until 9 October, for a 4 November Election Day, with the same proviso, or
  • Not between 10 October and Australia Day for the reasons advanced above, and
  • Not for a date after 10 March, to avoid the Commonwealth Games and their build up, and
  • Just possibly after an early Cabinet meeting on 22 January, for 17 February, or
  • More likely, sometime in the two-and-a-bit weeks after Australia Day, for an Election Day of 24 February, 3 March, or 10 March.

The Queensland Premier (and her staff) has not been consulted in the drafting of this article, and nor has she consulted us!


* See and




20 years ago today

Twenty years ago today was Northern Territory Election Day: 30 August 1997.

The Australian Labor Party had never governed in the Territory, and never looked like they would win the 1997 Election.  Labor polling showed them heading for a bloodbath – they were starting with only 7 seats in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly, but Party polling showed they were on track to lose several more.

From early that year, Labor’s caucus led by Maggie Hickey seized on the many issues of weakness for the governing Country-Liberal Party (CLP) and worked with real focus in the run-up to Election Day.  Labor’s polling showed the electorate had little regard for the CLP, and the aggressive advertising campaign closely paraphrased the research findings.

The TV ads, in particular, were controversial and met with a mixed reception, but all evidence is that the average voters, mostly, loved them:

The result?  Labor lost one seat, for local reasons quite unconnected with the main campaign.



New Queensland Election Analysis

Queensland Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk has restated her intention the next State Election should happen in 2018.  In anticipation, blogger Ben Rau of The Tally Room has updated and published his seat by seat analysis.

If you are interested in the next Queensland election, it is well worth subscribing to his blog, and you can do that via an email subscription box just to the right of his post.

You can access his excellent analysis here, and can look at the seats listed alphabetically, via a pendulum, or via a clickable map.

Ben intends to publish a post summarising the impact of the redistribution of seat boundaries, and a deeper analysis of key seats, in the immediate future.


Teleconference Blues & How To Beat Them

Are you driven crazy by frustrating teleconferences? We spend a lot of time on teleconferences, including formal board and committee meetings, and these twelve tips below can make the experience much more effective and pleasant.

One: Early chairs get the worms: whoever is chairing or moderating should get online a few minutes before the session is due to start, and make sure all of the technology is working properly, at least from their end. If they commence the session smoothly and well-prepared, the rest of the session is more likely to go that way, rather than starting with a big fumble – which I’m sure we’ve all seen and heard many times.

Two: Start on time: don’t wait for stragglers, which is the same rule applies in face-to-face meetings. If you’ve got ten people on the line, and someone is six minutes late and you’ve waited for them, you’ve wasted an entire hour of what might otherwise have been productive time. Setting aside the very rare occasions on which lateness is simply inevitable, when people arrive late they are saying their time is more important than that of others.

Three: Background noise: when you’re convening the meeting, asked participants to locate themselves where there will be minimum background noise, or ask them to mute their microphone during the call if background noise can’t be eliminated (but it’s better to leave the microphone open and eliminate background noise, so people can participate more effectively). The person who doesn’t appreciate that this is a problem with background noise is almost always the person whose location is the source. Warn people before a teleconference they must not put the call on hold, as most phone systems have music or tones which will destroy a teleconference – and remind them at the start of the meeting.

Four: Normal meeting rules apply: whoever is chairing, and someone should always be chairing, needs to understand that normal meeting rules and courtesy apply: they need to stop individuals talking over others, talking multiple times to the one topic, or talking at unnecessary length.

Five: Maximise technology: just as videoconferencing (e.g. Skype or Zoom or commercial products) will improve the focus of participants and minimise distraction, making use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing systems which allow document sharing and presentations makes them much more engaging and effective.  See below under “Taking turns” for a note about managing participation in large calls, via online technology solutions.

Six: Agenda: send out a draft agenda in plenty of time for participants to understand what the purpose is, particularly if it’s not a single-topic meeting and send out the material which it is presumed participants will be across; it’s a good idea to ask for proposed changes to the agenda right up front in the meeting as well. These things are significantly more important for online meetings and teleconferences than for face to face meetings.

Seven: Multitasking: asked participants to turn off electronic items they are not using for the call; for example if they are making the call via a desk phone, ask them to turn off their mobile phone, and where they don’t need it, their computer. Multitasking is a source of great inattentiveness in teleconferences – which is one reason videoconferences through Zoom or Skype or commercial alternatives can be more effective: you can see when people are not paying attention.

Eight: Accommodate remote participants: what are the worst experiences can be when you are remote from the main meeting, and are as a consequence marginalised by those who are present in person. The chair needs to be mindful that it is harder to participate on the end of a teleconference, and specifically ask for input from individuals online.

Nine: Taking turns: when you’re on a teleconference where people are constantly interrupting and talking over one another, you’ll feel like hanging up or screaming. A good way to get around this issue is for the chair to have a list of participants, and instead of throwing the floor open after a topic has been raised or a proposal advanced, to ask each individual in the call, one by one, to offer up their thoughts. This not only maximises participation but reduces the frustration of people talking over one another. No one should ever ask a question which invites participants to talk over the top of one another.  This works if you’ve got up to perhaps a dozen participants, but becomes cumbersome after that.  For bigger calls, there are technology solutions, set up and managed online, which allow participants to be muted/unmuted by the Chair, all together or one at a time, and through participants “put their hands up” by pressing their keypad when they want to speak – see for a short explanation of one variety of this technology, and this is another

Ten: Maximise participation: using the taking turns approach outlined above is a great way to ensure that everyone is involved in the discussion, but other tactics will also help. Setting limits on the amount of speaking time consumed by individuals, and giving the chair a mute button to ensure time limits are observed will ensure that enough time for everyone to have their say.

Eleven: Get your slides right: if you are using a system which allows the sharing of slides, use a best practice approach to such presentations; text heavy slides, and presenters who simply read their slides, are a big no-no.

Twelve: Terminate: because teleconferences and videoconferences can be much more draining than face-to-face discussions, give such sessions a strict time limit, and stick to it. If necessary, and while everyone is still on the line and hasn’t had to go to the next meeting or other activity, establish an agreed time for an adjourned meeting.

Let us know about any of your favourite teleconference fixes, if we haven’t suggested them above!




Lobbying: When Do I Go Political?

When should you make your business or community issue political?  “Never” is the answer from which you should start.

Time and again we’ve seen business and community groups, frustrated with a response from Government, take their issue to the Opposition or crossbench Members of Parliament, and ask them to pursue it.  Or they say to us “How long do we have to put up with this?  Let’s ‘go political’!

If those non-Government Members of Parliament take up your issue, the nearly inevitable outcome is you lose any capacity for your business/group to deal with the Government.

Why?  Because their business too easily becomes proving the Government wrong, not delivering support for your issue.  Your business becomes the battlefield.

Once an issue becomes the subject of partisan advocacy it almost always* becomes the subject of partisan claims, demands, and arguments – it is then a political issue; the Government of the day and their opponents thereafter prosecute the case for and against in exactly the same way as they do with any other political hot potato.  This means the merits of your issue are forever after in dispute; compromise becomes impossible because it would be characterised as political weakness, or political victory/defeat for one side or the other.

This outcome is just about inevitable, and it is very hard to retrieve the situation – by going to non-Government MPs you are almost always locking yourself into support from one side of politics only, and you are pinning your prospects of success entirely to a change of Government.

This your project is delayed: possibly for years, possibly forever.

We always recommend going to Government with a business case which makes sense to the Government of the day, and sometimes we recommend going to all Parliamentary Parties at once, with arguments constructed to make sense to each Party.

And, a final point about “going political“: it’s nearly always done out of anger and frustration.  Your stakeholders deserve a more measured and professional approach.



* There’s an exception to this rule which we’ll cover in a future article: on that rare occasion you can persuade the non-Government Member of Parliament to champion your cause without doing it in a partisan or divisive way.




8 August 2017: Opportunity for Government, or for Litigation?

parl house

Federal Parliament House

Australia is supposed to have seventy-six Senators: right now we have no more than seventy-four, possibly only seventy-two, and possibly far fewer; and when Parliament resumes on 8 August, expect political and legal fireworks because of it – read more here

Apologies for this entirely odd post – not at all sure how it got here when it was supposed to be somewhere else entirely.

8 August 2017: Opportunity for Government, or for Litigation?

Federal Parliament House

Australia is supposed to have seventy-six Senators: right now we have no more than seventy-four, possibly only seventy-two, and possibly far fewer, because of application of s44 of the Australian Constitution.  And when Parliament resumes on 8 August, expect political and legal fireworks.

This reduced number of Senators is important, because it might make it easier for the Government to get their legislation passed.

Here’s why: while Australia’s Liberal National Party Coalition government has the support of a majority in the House of Representatives, no legislation can pass without the support of a majority in the Senate, where the Government is in a minority. This means all legislation which passes through the Senate, and subsequently becomes law, must garner support from non-government parties, and with fewer Senators the total number of Senators required to support legislation reduces.

If we indeed have 74 Senators,

  • 29 are from the Coalition,
  • 26 are from Labor,
  • 7 from the Greens,
  • 4 are from One Nation,
  • 3 from the Xenophon Team, and
  • one each are from the Liberal Democrats (Leynholm), Justice Party (Hinch), Australian Conservatives (Bernardi), Jacqui Lambie Network, and independent Gichuhi (who is ex-Family First).

With only seventy-four Senate votes in play, to secure Senate passage of government legislation, the Liberal National Party Government needs nine votes from amongst the 19 cross-benchers; Labor needs 12 to block the passage of any legislation, or pass their own resolutions.

The Government now needs the support of one less non-Government Senator than before, to see legislation passed, and this situation will continue for months as the process of replacing ineligible Senators isn’t quick – see  This presents the Government with opportunities to advance unpopular legislation through the Senate – the two ineligible “Senators” are seen as more likely to have opposed components of the Government’s legislative program.

Malcolm Roberts

We are down to no more than seventy-four Senators because two Greens Party Senators have acknowledged they are ineligible – see  We may have only seventy-two Senators because detailed questions have been raised about the eligibility of two others – see and

Matthew Canavan

Both Senators Roberts (One Nation Party) and Canavan (Liberal National Party) say they are eligible.  There’s no doubt this will be tested in the Court of Disputed Returns – probably at the same time as determinations are made about Larissa Waters’ and Scott Ludlum’s replacements.

The Australian Senate resumes on 8 August 2017, and we can be very sure if either Senator Roberts or Senator Canavan seek to exercise a vote, or perhaps even take their seat, someone is going to go to Court, claim those Senators are ineligible, and seek via legal action to stop them acting as a Senator.

And to add to the potential for chaos, while it is a typically over-blown and under-researched article, the Australian newspaper has questioned the eligibility of 21 Members of Parliament further, from all of the Liberal Party, the National Party, and Australian Labor Party: (paywalled).

In the House of Representatives, the Government has only a one-seat majority – should any one Government member* in the House acknowledge ineligibility, or be found ineligible, they will lose their working majority in the House, the capacity of the Government to govern at all becomes questionable, and we may be headed to a very early election.

By 8 August, all of our Parliamentary parties need to have their plans in place for how to react: because the success of the Government’s legislative program, or the very existence of the Turnbull Government, might hinge on the outcome, there’s little hope of bipartisanship.

Here’s a link to information on the Australian Electoral Commission website explaining eligibility laws:


*  Or one more Government member than non-Government members.

Labor Prime Minister Ineligible?

Scott Ludlam

Was Australia’s, and the world’s, first Labor Prime Minister invalidly elected?

Scott Ludlam’s and Larissa Waters’ announcements they are not eligible to be Senators and throws plenty of juicy but well-answered questions into the public arena, but because they are so badly trained and do so little research, most journalists and commentators will get their facts wrong – see yesterday’s article here.

But there’s an even more interesting issue of which we are reminded: was Australia’s and the world’s first Labor Prime Minister invalidly so?

Chris Watson’s birthplace and birthdate were once the subject of some confusion, but it’s now clear he was born in Chile:

Chris Watson

Did Chilean law at that time mandate that someone taking citizenship of another country automatically lost Chilean citizenship?  If not, did he ever renounce his Chilean citizenship?  Almost certainly not.

Was he ever an Australian citizen?  The Grassby/Ordoñez biography* (pages 31-32) suggests he claimed to be British-born, and never bothered with the formality of becoming an Aussie.

So, how could he be elected to the Australian Parliament in 1901 and later become Australia’s** first Labor Prime Minister in 1904?  Quite possibly not lawfully!


*  Grassby, A. and Ordoñez, S.  (1999) .  John Watson.  Melbourne: Black Inc.

** … and the world’s!  Did we mention that already?



Scott Ludlam & the Australian Senate: what happens now?

Scott Ludlam

Scott Ludlam’s announcement he’s not eligible to be a Senator throws plenty of juicy but well-answered questions into the public arena, but because Australian journalists and commentators are too often badly trained and do little research, most will get their facts wrong.

Here’s some fast facts:

  • Scott can’t resign from the office of Senator, because he’s not a Senator: his ineligibility means his election was invalid and he’s never lawfully been a Senator.  You can’t resign from being something that you’ve never been.
  • Declaration of the poll, on each of those occasions he’s been elected and reelected, by the Australian Electoral Commission doesn’t make him a Senator if he never was eligible; the AEC doesn’t have the power to inquire into eligibility – they simply require candidates to declare they are eligible.
  • Because he can’t resign, someone – probably the AEC – will need to start a Court of Disputed Returns action in order to have Scott’s election declared invalid and a recount ordered.
  • Or, he could try to take his seat in the Senate* at the next sittings, or re-occupy his Senate office, or take his next Senate pay cheque, in which case someone – probably the Liberal Party or National Party – would seek an injunction to prevent it, which would eventually have the same outcome as a Court of Disputed Returns action.
  • Because Scott isn’t resigning, the casual vacancy mechanism relating to mid-term replacement of Senators isn’t activated and The Greens don’t get to nominate a replacement.
  • The recount mentioned above will probably see the third candidate on The Greens’ Senate ticket at the last election – Jordon Steele-John – declared elected.
  • In theory, Scott has a debt to the Commonwealth of all of the salary he has been paid, and all of the expenses of his office.  Normal practice is that the debt is calculated, demanded, and then waived.  However, others have different ideas:
  • This is a guy who has been doing what has generally been acknowledged to be a good job**, is hard-working, and is open about having suffered depression, and these revelations will have come as a huge shock; all of his staff, too, are now without jobs or income: so even those who dislike The Greens intensely might wind back the gloating a little.

The ABC’s Antony Green makes additional interesting points here

The Senate may initially be harder to predict until a new Senator is appointed – probably months away – but things will be easier for the Government in the interim:

Of the 75 Senators post-Ludlam, 29 are Coalition, 26 Labor, 8 Greens, 4 One Nation, 3 Xenophon Team, and one each to Liberal Democrats (Leynholm), Justice Party (Hinch), Australian Conservatives (Bernardi), Jacqui Lambie Network, and independent Gichuhi (who is ex-Family First); usually, to secure Senate passage, the Government will need nine votes from amongst the 20 cross-benchers, and Labor needs 12. Prior to the Ludlam revelation, the Government needed ten and Labor needed thirteen.

Prior to the Ludlam revelation, the Government needed ten and Labor needed thirteen.  The smaller number will make it easier than before, for the Government to stitch together nine further votes and hence a Senate majority, because they will have to wrangle fewer of the cross-bench votes, and complicated ideologies and personalities, so to do.


*  Of course he won’t: he’s not that dishonest or stupid.  Many friends say he is quite nice.

**  Political disagreements aside, of course.