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Excerpt from New Normal, Radical Shift

Chapter 6: Beyond Left and Right: Rethinking Politics     In  the  old  normal,  it  was  assumed  that  ‘progressive’  campaigning  –  based  on  a  notions   of   building   a   better,   fairer   society   and   protecting   the   environment   –   was   primarily   an   activity   of   the   non-­‐profit   sector:   voluntary   organisations,   trade   unions,   some   government  agencies,  and  so  on.  Private  business  concerned  itself  only  with  profit  –  and   often   profit   at   any   cost.   In   the   new   normal,   progressive   leadership   can   come   from   anywhere.   Profit   ‘at   any   cost’   is   not   a   viable   option,   because   society   and   the   environment   can   no   longer   bear   those   costs,   and   often   an   individual   business   cannot   either.  Sustainability  has  become  a  core  business  discipline;  commodity  price  risks,  for   example,   are   of   direct   concern   to   insurers   and   the   finance   department.   We   have   to   learn  to  be  more  co-­‐operative,  less  partisan.     What  has  always  been  hidden  from  view  in  conventional  ways  of  viewing  economics  and   business   has   been   the   high   degree   of   cooperation   and   trust   required   to   make   organisations  work.  Conventional  political  philosophies  assume  a  mutual  competition  or   even   hostility   between   constituencies.   Now,   competition   does   exist,   but   it   isn’t   the   whole   story.   If   it   was,   there   would   be   no   corporate   successes   in   the   mutual   sector;   organisations   like   Whole   Foods,   John   Lewis   and   Nationwide   Building   Society   simply   would  not  survive.  The  fact  that  they  do,  and  can  be  regarded  as  top  performers,  with   high   levels   of   profits   and   impressive   long-­‐term   resilience,   indicates   that   we   have   systematically   understated   the   centrality   of   cooperation   and   trust.   This   is   the   biggest,   simplest  and  most  damaging  error  of  agency  theory:  the  pretence  that  the  interests  of   different  stakeholders  never  overlap,  as  though  it  were  in  the  interest  of  a  CEO  for  the   business   to   fail;   prompting   elaborate   arrangements   of   treats   and   punishments   as   though  the  executives  were  rats  and  the  business  a  maze.     You   see   this   in   debates   over   employee   rights   legislation,   especially   in   Europe.   The   trade   unions   assume   that   every   additional   right   is   a   gain   for   the   worker;   the   employers’   groups   argue   that   it   is   always   an   additional   cost   to   the   business.   Both   assume   a   simplistic   ‘zero-­‐sum’   relationship   is   at   work,   rather   than   the   realities   of   a   complex   inter-­‐ relationship,   with   some   overlaps   of   interest.   In   the   real   world,   it   is   possible   that   new   employee   rights   legislation   does   not   help   workers   have   more   job   security   or   higher   wages,  but  it  is  also  possible  that  they  can  help  the  business,  rather  than  be  a  ‘cost’.  It   depends  on  the  context,  and  what  the  worker  offers  in  return  for  the  enhanced  pay  or   reduced   hours,   or   right   to   equal   treatment.   Both   sides   ignore   the   needs   of   the   other   ©  Neela  Bettridge  and  Philip  Whiteley  2011   New  Normal,  Radical  Shift  


side,  and  would  presumably  fear  a  backlash  within  their  own  communities  if  they  were   to  acknowledge  that  the  other  ‘side’  had  legitimate  claims.     The   revelation   that   employee   relations   is   not   a   zero-­‐sum   game,   or   always   a   case   of   competition,  has  profound  implications  that  extend  well  beyond  the  MBA  classroom.  It   transforms  everything  in  economics  and  politics.  This  includes  the  very  notion  of  what   constitutes  a  progressive  view,  if  your  aims  are  to  overcome  discrimination,  poverty  and   ecological  degradation.  It  also  transforms  our  understanding  of  commerce,  if  your  aim  is   to   create   successful   organisations.   Moreover,   it   opens   up   the   exciting   possibility   of   addressing  both  agendas  simultaneously,  as  the  case  studies  in  this  book  illustrate.  The   findings  also  place  a  question  mark  over  the  ‘left’  versus  ‘right’  perspectives,  which  we   argue   have   conventionally   been   based   on   the   flawed   operating   assumption   that   the   interests  of  business  owners  and  workers  are  mutually  opposed.     The   findings   on   management,   organisational   design   and   employee   engagement,   from   Elton   Mayo   in   the   1930s   to   Professor   Jeffrey   Pfeffer   today,   are   the   equivalent   to   management,   politics   and   economics   of   the   great   breakthroughs   of   Galileo,   Isaac   Newton,  and  Michael  Faraday  to  the  physical  sciences.  This  applied  anthropology  from   the   human   relations   school   has   yielded   tremendous   insights   that   can   inform   the   stewardship  of  our  great  institutions  and  economies.  It  can  only  be  opposed  by  clinging   to   the   non-­‐sequitur,   that   underlies   conventional   economics,   which   is   that   economies   and   organisations   do   not   consist   of   people;   or   at   best   that   they   consist   of   simplistic,   acquisitive  machine-­‐like  people.     There  is  a  need  for  a  departure  from  the  centuries-­‐old  turf  wars  of  left  and  right,  to  look   more   forensically   at   the   needs   of   a   modern   economy   and   society.   The   contours   of   a   post-­‐left/right  debate  would  feature  the  following  considerations:     •

Sustainability  is  for  governments  and  trade  unions,  as  well  as  corporations,  

Follow  the  money;  look  at  vested  interests,  

Change  tactics,  not  principles,  as  the  context  alters,  

What   is   the   progressive   agenda,   and   where   does   progressive   leadership   come   from?  

How  can  political  leaders  confront  contemporary  challenges?  

 

©  Neela  Bettridge  and  Philip  Whiteley  2011   New  Normal,  Radical  Shift  


Chapter 6