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