17 Feb

Measuring Relationships: a route to competitive advantage and reduced risk

Mervyn King

This article originally appeared as a blog on the International Integrated Reporting Council website. It is reposted with permission from the International integrated Reporting Council.

Corporate failures and scandals often have deep relational roots. So too does success, for the essence of any business is to invite people into relationship as investors, customers, employees or suppliers and to make such relationships more valuable. Yet, as the authors of The Relational Lens recently published by Cambridge University Press point out, these relationships are too often like dark matter – the fabric of the universe that passes unseen.

As a global leader on corporate governance and reporting I have advocated since 1994 that in its decision making process a board needs to take account of the legitimate and reasonable needs, interests and expectations (NIE’s) of its primary stakeholders.

Either management must have an ongoing communication with stakeholders or a Corporate Stakeholder Relationship Officer (CSRO) should do so. The CSRO informs management of the stakeholders’ NIE’s and does a written report to the board on the quality of the relationships.  At every board meeting there should be an agenda item “Stakeholder relationships.”  This will result in the board having an oversight which is informed in regard to managements’ proposals on strategy.

The Salz Review into Barclays, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie (a major UK public service failure), or indeed the reviews into almost any corporate failure show that weaknesses in relationships between the company and its stakeholders are readily identified after things have gone wrong. But would Volkswagen or Deutsche Bank have landed in their current situations if their internal and external stakeholder relationships had been better founded and managed?  Could the many corporate disasters, of which Enron, Lehmans, Cendant, Worldcom, HealthSouth, Tyco, Qwest Communications, Toshiba, BP and Arthur Andersen are just some of a long litany, have been avoided by a more systematic management of stakeholder relationships?

Restoring confidence in corporate, political and other institutions will require more than clever PR. It requires systematic measurement and reporting on the quality of relationships with all major stakeholders so that companies can take specific steps to address the key issues seriously.

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England puts it this way in his comments on The Relational Lens: “There is widening acceptance that organizations – large and small, public and private, commercial and charitable – may be failing to meet the needs of their societal stakeholders. This has, in some cases, caused a rupturing of trust, a loss of social licence. This book … equips companies with the tools to begin the slow process of rebuilding trust, relationship by relationship.”

In corporate reporting on social and relational capital, companies have too often resorted simply to recording their CSR spend. With integrated thinking and embedding sustainability issues into a company’s business strategy CSR has become yesterday’s thinking.

The lack of available quantitative measures is perhaps the main reason why the boards of companies, as well as executives and managers, invest so little monetary, temporal and other resources into understanding, managing and measuring relationships with their stakeholders.

A way forward is shown by the new book by John Ashcroft and his colleagues, based on over 20 years of measuring relationships within and between organizations across the public and private sectors, as well as in different parts of the world. They demonstrate persuasively that all relationships operate in 5 domains – communication, time, information, power and purpose. Using these 5 domains will aid the CSRO in carrying out their mandate.

This approach identifies whether the conditions for effective relationships are being put in place and identifying perceptions gaps around the effectiveness of such measures. Looking at the preconditions for relationships serves as a way to assess a leading indicator of risk, focuses on the relational building blocks of such outcomes as trust, accountability or loyalty, identifies the factors that can be managed and changed, as well as enabling more constructive and effective dialogue about the issues identified.

All that makes this book timely, especially for the corporate world.

Here is the framework, here are the tools and the case studies to enable companies to give stakeholder relationships the kind of detailed and systematic attention which will bring an informed understanding to a board about a company’s social capital, and help bridge the divide between financial and social capitals.

‘The Relational Lens: Understanding, Managing and Measuring Stakeholder Relationships’ was published by Cambridge University Press in October 2016. A video of the launch can be found at Relational Analytics.

Author: Professor Mervyn King SC, Chairman, International Integrated Reporting Council

Photo: Mervyn King by Sveriges Kommunikatörer on Flickr.

11 Mar

Smart(ish) Phone

iPhone

Much to the amusement of my Android colleagues, my gleaming iPhone failed me last week.  The display started to click off unexpectedly in the middle of sending an email or checking my calendar. Everything else about the phone still worked.  Calls continued to come through, apps were still running in the background but without the screen, I could not respond to or affect anything.  I was left powerless.

With some know-how and the right kit, the guys in the Apple store narrowed the problem down to a loose connection within a few minutes and service was quickly restored.

Organisations depend on relationships, much as a piece of tech relies on a whole series of connections.  It’s a given that relationships are inextricably wired into our operations, though perhaps we rarely think about it.  Imagine trying to achieve anything without the necessary human connections in place.  And yet organisations often find themselves with a blank screen, struggling to understand, steer or develop all that is going on in the background.

For me, my iPhone is largely a black box, the interplay of the components remaining mostly mysterious and hidden.  For many managers (even as components in the system), organisational relationships can also be a bit of a black box.

With diagnostics and some technical expertise, the phone was restored to its designed purpose. Likewise, insight into relational dynamics leads to a more smoothly running organisation – restoration of full potential if you like.

A case in point is Google’s three-year quest to build the perfect team by investigating the elements that best predicted effectiveness. They found that group norms of relational things such as interpersonal trust and mutual respect outstripped patterns of personality types and leadership styles. The lead researcher, Julia Rozovsky, observed that “Just having data that proves to people that these things are worth paying attention to sometimes is the most important step in getting them to actually pay attention. Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.”

Dr Will Sopwith is a co-founder and Director at Renuma, who help organisations measure and improve their corporate relationships.

Photo: iPhone (by Claudio Schwarz on Flickr)

26 Feb

The debate over Brexit – does distance matter?

Europe for blog

The debate concerning Brexit, whether Britain should leave the EU, has well and truly begun. The Financial Times has published a short debate over the issue, between the Labour politican Peter Mandelson and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan. During the debate, Daniel Hannan, arguing for Brexit, says that geographical proximity has never mattered less. There is, therefore, no reason why Britain should prioritise trading with those closest i.e. Europe; instead Britain should focus on trading with the rest of the world. With open global markets, rapid transportation and high speed communications, geography simply doesn’t matter that much anymore.

It might be true that geographical proximity has never mattered less but it is not the case that geographical proximity is unimportant. A recent study on ‘The Impact of Venture Capital Monitoring‘ shows just this. The authors show that venture capitalists’ “on-site involvement with their portfolio companies leads to an increase in both innovation and the likelihood of a successful exit”. Specifically, direct flights increase the interaction that venture capitalists have with their portfolio companies and management, helping them to better understand the companies’ activities.

So regular face to face communication between venture capitalists and their portfolio companies led to increased innovation. In an earlier blog we focused on cluster initiatives to show the link between face to face communication and innovation. The important point there, as in the case of the venture capitalists, is that the innovation is a result of the greater communication possible in face to face encounters.

The fact that direct flights increase interaction is clearly because of the reduced time it takes. It is also the case that the closer two countries are, the shorter the flight between the two. Therefore, geographical proximity is not irrelevant.

While open global markets, rapid transportation and high speed communications mean that it is easy to do business with anyone in the world, it is not true that physical distance is irrelevant or unimportant. Distance is still important because face to face communication is so important. Physical encounters lead to greater connectedness; high levels of directness lead to good quality communication. Whatever one’s views about Brexit, physical proximity still matters, because physical proximity affects relational proximity.

Joshua Hemmings works for the Relational Thinking Network in marketing and communications.

Image: Blank_map_of_Europe_(polar_stereographic_projection)
_cropped.svg: Ssolbergjderivative work: Dbachmann (talk) – Blank_map_of_Europe_(polar_stereographic_projection)
_cropped.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14871393

19 Feb

United Breaks Guitars

Guitar

Back in 2008, singer/songwriter Dave Carroll was flying to Nebraska with his fellow band members.  As he was getting out of the plane, on a stop over in Chicago, he heard a passenger say “they’re throwing guitars out there!” Dave and his band members looked in shock as they realised that their guitars were being thrown out of luggage compartment. Indeed, his $3500 guitar was broken. Carroll filed a complaint with United Airlines, Airline, but he was informed that he was ineligible for compensation because he had failed to make the claim within its 24 hour time frame.

So Carroll, as a singer/songwriter, decided that writing a song was the only thing he could do. So he wrote a song about the incident called “United breaks guitars”. He put it up on YouTube and unfortunately for United Airlines it went viral. As of writing this it has 15,583,732 views.

After 150,000 views, United contacted Dave Carroll and offered to pay him to take the video down. He had changed his mind, however. It wasn’t about the money anymore. In fact, he suggested they donate the money to a charity.

United also discovered that “United Breaks Guitars” wasn’t just a single song. It was part of a trilogy. Furthermore, soon Carroll was doing interviews, there were parody videos and now there is even a book! This wasn’t just embarrassing publicity for United Airlines, the BBC reported that United’s stock price dropped by 10% within three to four weeks of the release of the video – a decrease in valuation of $180 million!

This story clearly shows the powerful impact that social media can have. It is also an illustration of the importance of good stakeholder relationships. Just one bad relationship with a customer cost United Airlines millions of dollars. While most bad stakeholder relationships don’t cost a company millions of dollars, their importance and the risk if they go wrong, is undeniable. Yet despite the potential for most companies do not measure or manage their stakeholder relationships.

In a recent interview with Global Reporting initiative, Mervyn King, Chairman of the International Integrated Reporting Council, argues:

“Companies need to be informed about the needs, interests and expectations of their stakeholders throughout the year and when they’re strategizing, otherwise the oversight that they have over management and its strategic proposals is not an informed oversight. At every board meeting there should be an agenda item that wasn’t there before: ‘Stakeholder Relationships.’”

According to King therefore, the boards of many companies are carrying out uninformed oversight. Therefore, for proper accountability and informed oversight, companies must be informed properly about their stakeholder relationships.

Some might see this simply as another unhelpful addition to all that companies have to do. However, proper management of stakeholder relationships can be a huge force for value creation. For companies that begin a dialogue with their stakeholders can develop a strategy that is much more informed. Furthermore, through such a dialogue, and through relationship measurement, companies can increase the levels of trust in their relationships with their stakeholders. This trust brings confidence, sustainability and innovation. So while companies will want to manage the risk in their stakeholder relationships to prevent any negative outcomes, investing in these relationships, measuring them and beginning a dialogue can drive a company forward and increase its value.

Photo: Guitar (by Shane Adams on Flickr)

04 Feb

Trust in those to come?

Trust in those to come
The founding generation sets up their organisation with passion, vision and commitment – be it a charity, a social enterprise or a business. The founding board members often feel like trustees, even if they don’t have that official title. The relationship between the board and the first employees is often a close and personal one. The early employees join because they share the founders’ same passion, vision and commitment. There is a sense of being one cohesive family.

Such an organisation, driven by commitment and passion, is a winning formula! The team works hard to birth the new organisation and sustain it. But if an organisation is going to continue growing and flourishing, the founding board members will need to change their approach over time, in the same way that parents need to ‘let go’ of their children as they grow into independence. I have seen sad cases of charities that couldn’t trust the future generations. They codified their shared values. They appointed ‘keepers of the sacred flame’ to keep things just the way they were. The generation of founders (having humbly learnt from their mistakes) tried to prevent the next generation making any mistakes at all – mistakes that they in turn could learn from.

By the second generation, an organisation must start to develop new ways to sustain and adapt its vision. This can be hard for the earlier generations to watch. They remember the situations that led to the existing ways of working and they worry that the new generation may reject sound principles or endanger the organisation’s legacy. It takes a skilled chairman to help the board see that an organisation should be greater than the individuals involved today. One with vision and diplomacy that prepares it for effective functioning after all the current members have moved on. Such a chairman needs to create an environment where new blood can contribute fully and build trust with the board; an environment where the formation of new relationships is a normal and valued activity. A chairman can encourage the board to be relationally outward looking through regular evaluation of its skills gaps and the appointment of new members in a regular cycle. He or she will also find ways for the board to build appropriate relationships with all parts of the organisation, instead of relying on close personal contacts with valued long-term employees. The board needs to be in a position to make sound and balanced judgements about employees, customers or others and this requires a range of input and perspective.

Intentionally establishing reliable flows of information can feel unnatural. There can be a sense that creating intentional relationships in addition to existing informal personal and social relationships is less relational rather than more. Some founding directors will struggle with the transition, where others will be able to embrace change and transition relatively easily. Here again the role of the chairman is crucial; steering the board through transition, whilst honouring previous contributions and respecting individuals enough not to demand more than they can give.

Handled well, a board transition can result in a board made up of diverse vision-holders who have the capacity to handle the challenges of the future. That capacity will include the ability to relate effectively and intentionally with the whole organisation and its current and future stakeholders.

This article was written by Renuma Consulting and was published on their website. Renuma Consulting helps organisations measure and improve their corporate relationships.

Photo: 2012 Newcastle Olympic Torch Relay (by Kurosawa Michiyo on Flickr)
22 Jan

A Response to WEF/ Davos and to Jeremy Rifkin

David Cameron at WEF for blog

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos began this week and runs until Saturday 23rd. It brings together some 2,500 top business and political leaders, as well as some selected intellectuals, journalists and the occasional celebrity.

Prior to this year’s forum, Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, argued that we are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution.  In ‘Industry Week’, Jeremy Rifkin has argued that this is wrong; what is happening around us should be seen as a continuation of the third industrial revolution.

The following is a response to this by Professor Prabhu Guptara:

I agree with Jeremy that it doesn’t really matter whether we call it a 3rd or 4th (or indeed Xth) revolution.

I also agree that what matters is whether we can create “a global commitment to … create a more prosperous, equitable, humane, and ecologically sustainable society.”

What many people fail to do (or deliberately don’t do) is to analyse why our global systems have strayed further and further away from such goals over the last 30 years or so.

And the Relational Thinking movement is exactly for such analysis – as well as a programme of action consequent on that analysis.

Our conclusion is that the increased distance between such goals and the reality of global systems is created by the licencing or approval of greed, individualism and materialism in our culture, and the increased trend towards embedding these in our global, national, regional and local structures and systems.

The solution, says the Relational Thinking movement, is to systematically prioritise and embed the Relational approach into global (and specifically corporate) structures and systems, so as to have some chance of actually realising the promise of our new technologies and therefore in fact to create a more equitable, humane and ecologically sustainable society.

On this website, you will find the basics of applying Relational Thinking to companies, governments, inter-governmental organisations, technology, criminal justice, education, civil society, and so on.

Join the dialogue – and, equally important, join the action!

Image: David Cameron at World Economic Forum 2014 by Number 10 on Flickr.

04 Dec

The Relational Lens: Understanding, managing and measuring stakeholder relationships

IMG_6056

We’re excited to announce the forthcoming publication by Cambridge University Press of a new book called ‘The Relational Lens: Understanding, managing and measuring stakeholder relationships’

The book spells out in some detail the 5 dimensions of Relational Proximity and provides an academic exploration of their use and usefulness. The Relational Proximity Framework® is a groundbreaking approach to transforming organizational performance. It measures the amount of relational access individuals have to one another – access determined by formal or informal rules of engagement established either by the stakeholders’ own behavioural habits or by company practice and policy. By using it, management can address organization-wide relationship problems and strengthen the relational infrastructure on which productivity depends.

Here is a small excerpt from the book:

The premise of the book, and of the tools and courses that complement it, is simple. It is that success – in business, in community building, in public service, in life – depends upon getting relationships right; that leadership (in whatever context and at whatever level it is exercised) depends upon the ability to build and sustain relationships; and that real change starts by realising that relationships are both measurable and a basis on which to improve performance. It is possible to create the conditions within which people are more likely to form and conduct effective relationships, and to approach relationships in organisations in ways that enable constructive discussion and actionable solutions.

The book is written by four authors, John Ashcroft, Roy Childs, Alison Myers and Michael Schluter, and is due for publication mid 2016.

27 Nov

The time to build Relational Leadership is now!

Timothy Wolfe

Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, has recently published a fascinating article in the Huffington Post about Relational Leadership. Entitled ‘The Follower Revolt: What’s Eating Leaders for Breakfast?’, he writes about the growing distrust from followers in leaders and the increasing incidence of followers rejecting leaders whom they are no longer willing to follower. You can read the full article here.

He recommends three steps for leaders in the light of this developing distrust:

Relational Risk — Name it

Leaders must begin by identifying and naming Relational Risk as a new, compelling component of risk management. Often the signs are present but ignored. The New York Times reports “Volkswagen’s command-and-control structure probably made it difficult for Winterkorn to escape responsibility, even if no direct culpability. Critics long faulted a company culture that hampers internal communication and discourages mid-managers from delivering bad news.” Millions of customers threatening class-action lawsuits were a product of a leader’s unidentified Relational Risk.

Of the University of Missouri, the New York Times wrote, “Wolfe didn’t do himself any favors. A former corporate executive, Wolfe possessed a command-and-control style that didn’t jibe well with campus life. And he clearly didn’t know how to respond to the protests.”

Relationship crisis does not devolve from a single incident but from a series of episodes where relationship damage accumulates because it is ignored or handled ineffectively – incubating risk.

Spineless acquiescence or reactive overkill are traps for leaders who fail to name and respect relational risk.

Relational Leadership — Lead it

Relational risk demands relational leadership. I define Relational Leadership as the ability to deliver and sustain productive engagement with widely different groups. It means being engaged with your employees, your customers, your shareholders and especially with outspoken groups that feel powerless – that may seem oppositional or even hostile. Yesterday’s wisdom was: Hold your friends close and your enemies closer.

Today’s wisdom requires leaders with the humility to recognize that those who oppose them constitute one of their most valuable resources. Competitors push leaders to perform better; philosophical opposition introduces differences that may reveal blind spots or opportunities for innovative improvement. Critics push them to get clearer on what they believe and why. A recent study found that highly regarded CEOs were six times as likely to be viewed as humble when compared to least-highly regarded CEOs.

Leaders coddled by uncontested power are often unprepared to lead during a relational crisis. In fact coddled leaders often unwittingly make coddled followers stronger. Today like never before, in both selecting and developing leaders, Relational Leadership skills must be a priority for successfully addressing this new risk of highly critical, sometimes entitled followers.

Relational Metrics — Measure it

The growing relational risk that leaders face is changing the metrics that boards, key shareholders and regulators pay attention to. I recently spoke at a Relational Risk conference at Cambridge University in England with attendees from about 20 countries. A fellow speaker addressed a growing movement requiring more integrated reporting from public companies beyond just financial information to include metrics regarding social and relational capital – a Relationship Scorecard, you might say. This broader reporting is now mandated in Brazil and South Africa and voluntarily being addressed in 20 percent of the FTSI 100 companies in the UK. Governments and shareholders recognize that financial reporting is a pretty narrow, after-the-fact instrument for understanding and anticipating relational risk with customers, employees, communities and the environment.

Instituting a Relationship Scorecard to track and understand the strengths and weaknesses of key constituent relationships is an important step to proactive Relational Leadership.

If we want a more accountable, less-entitled society, it must start with leaders competently and plan-fully addressing follower dissonance.

Simply blaming the “victims” will not be a viable strategy. In medicine it often leads to medical malpractice. In leaders it risks leadership malpractice. Leadership is similar to medicine where what most often gets you sued is not substandard medical treatment, but callous relationship treatment.

The risk of followership revolt is real. Self-righteous dictators, Pharisees, and command-and-control leaders are no more attractive than self-righteous followers. Relational leaders must be the grown-ups that engage proactively, productively, and relationally; anything less fuels revolt. Relational leaders will view these challenges as opportunities to strengthen leadership, build relationships with dissident groups and grow their relational currency. The time to build Relational Leadership is not in the midst of a crisis – it is now!”

Photo:  Timothy Wolfe, who resigned as President of the University of Missouri amid a race row at the University. (By UKMC from Flickr)

04 Sep

What is on the agenda for Relational Leadership? Values and skills for navigating relational risk

Two business men shaking hands at international business meeting.

Written by Marie-Anne Chidiac and Sally Denham-Vaughan from Relational Change, an organisation that promotes a relational approach in all walks of life.

In the April issue of this blog, Robert Hall, one of the speakers at the rapidly approaching Relational Thinking International Conference, introduced the topic of Relational Leadership, reminding us that if you can get “the right WHO” in a leadership position, the agenda of “WHAT”, (direction, strategy), will emerge in a qualitatively different, and urgently needed, way: a way that is, we believe, much more aligned with a sustainable future for our planet.

At Relational Change, we believe this change in focus from tasks first to people first cannot come quickly enough if we are to genuinely develop our leadership capacity and gain more understanding of what motivates and sustains people. Indeed, our relational approach to coaching and consulting work was prompted by the experience of trying to support organisations where people were floundering due to unrealistic, unsustainable, task-driven leadership practices that viewed staff as a particularly tricky part of the operational chain: unpredictable, emotional and prone to erratic behaviour according to changing cultures and contexts!

For example, in health care, we found numerous examples of staff, particularly senior staff, ignoring ‘evidence-based’ guidelines, not because they didn’t know or understand the guidelines, but because they believed that the “evidence” did not necessarily apply to the specific case or context. By doing this, these staff knowingly put themselves in a risky situation, but nonetheless, they strongly believed this was the ‘right’ thing to do. On closer inquiry, all these staff could cite many important reasons that led them to deviate from the guidelines, with these reasons focussed on the specific relationships, culture and contexts.

Similarly, in his book ‘Adapt’, Tim Harford cites numerous examples of leaders from a wide range of backgrounds, (including government, the American Army, Corporate Business and Education), ‘deviating’ from pre-agreed plans and strategies in favour of responding to the immediate relational context. Vitally he demonstrates that all these leaders needed to deviate, in order to deliver a successful, safe and appropriate outcome.

But, we are not advocating an anarchic anything goes/do what feels right, sloppiness.  Design, plans and pre-agreements give us a sense that we have a clear vision of the way forward, the skills to meet demand and reassuringly, a sense of control and agreement. When problems come in the complex shape and size of climate change, wealth inequity, migration and ever growing demands for health care, (to name a few), some sense of a way through is essential.

So we would want to highlight what is often, and unhelpfully we believe, seen as a tension between the ‘soft/people’ focussed aspects of leadership, and the need for clarity, transparency, focus and task attainment at work. We believe this polarisation is misguided; ‘relational’ in our book implies a contextually sensitive approach that recognises our profound inter-connection and inter-dependence. Not an approach where we are focussed on being ‘nice’ to each other, but one that recognises that our relationship with both the people and environment around us leads directly to the emergence of behaviour in the moment. This is what we saw happening in our health care situations and large global challenges will demand ever more complex collaborations that appreciate why people are behaving in these “unpredictable, deviant and erratic” ways.

Sadly, most leadership trainings do not emphasise the extent of personal development required for a leader to manage the complexity of such a relational approach. Boundaries can become less clear and contemporary leadership requires skills in ‘how to be’, how to respond and how to navigate the range of relational risks that are revealed through the necessary numerous collaborations.

At Relational Change, our theory and experience is that competence in the Relational approach is achieved by attending to three main, interconnected frameworks involving self, other and the situation, (Denham-Vaughan & Chidiac 2013, Clark et. al. 2014). Accordingly we have evolved our “SOS” model, which includes the three domains and also has global recognition as a call for assistance: lone heros’ are unlikely to survive!  Developing insight and skills in each of these three domains develops leaders with genuine Presence; able to use themselves and their relationships to leverage maximum effect in a range of challenging situations.

In our experience of coaching and consulting, we observe that being “relational” as a leader/manager requires tough skills of personal awareness, sensitivity to context and emotional attunement with others. Equally important are skills in recognising the relational risks arising from these closer collaborations and fuzzier boundaries, and being able to dialogue authentically about these in order to support and sustain change.

References:

Clark, M. Denham-Vaughan, S and Chidiac, (2014) M-A. “A relational perspective on public sector leadership and management”, The International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 4-16.

Denham-Vaughan, S. “The Liminal Space and Twelve Action Practices for Gracious Living”, British Gestalt Journal, (2010), 19, (2), 34-45

Denham-Vaughan, S. and Chidiac, M-A. “SOS: A relational orientation towards social inclusion”. (2013), Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 17, (2), 100-107

Harford, T. “Adapt”, (2011), Little, Brown, London UK.

 

14 Aug

Work is about relationships

Three machinists in workspace by machine talking

Work. Many people dread the Monday morning when they are heading back to their work place. Others are looking for work and don’t seem to be able to find any. For many different reasons (the need for) work can sometimes feel more like a curse than a blessing. But what if there is virtue in work in and of itself, not because of what it can or cannot do for us? Are we then not missing something? What if work is valuable because it is…. well, relational? Passing on our experiences expertise to others, helping colleagues to grow and develop their skills, serving clients with good products and service, producing items that others benefit from. Not to mention the fact that we work with colleagues, managers, distributors, clients, suppliers…

In an essay that British MP Jon Cruddas wrote for and which was published in “What’s love got to do with it: 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of policy” (Relate, July 2015), he expands on the notion of work and relationships. A somewhat shortened version of this follows here:

“Love and work, said William Morris. The purpose of life is to employ one’s talent to useful, beautiful and meaningful ends. Work is about relationships. We inherit knowledge from the past and we shape it with others into new forms of value. Work creates hope.

Morris describes it as worthy work. It carries with it the hope of pleasure in rest, the hope of pleasure in our using what it makes, and the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill. All other work he said is mere toiling to live that we may live to toil. (1)

Today the value in work is neglected. We have got to the point where everything other than work generates value: capital, technology, risk-taking, innovation, anything other than accomplished work and skilful cooperation with others. Both the market and the state have undermined the conditions of meaningful work.

The crash of 2008 revealed the problem with relying upon the financial sector and state administration as the drivers of growth. It was not just the private debt and the public deficit. It was the neglect of vocation and virtue that led to an economy too often rewarding vice in the form of cheating and greed, and excessive self-regard.

In an economy that values work and workers, the old mentor the young and pass on their wisdom and experience, as well as technical skills to the younger apprentice. Workers associate in order to strengthen their knowledge and skill and where it is valued and upheld by vocational colleges. That is why I am committed to the restoration of vocational training so that we can fix and mend, innovate and create.

In work we will value quality and equality. We need to ensure employees are represented on the remuneration committees of large companies, with real status within the firm. It should not be ignored as peripheral. Building partnerships and dialogue between management and workforce creates mutual responsibility and accountability. Management would need to justify their bonuses and the workforce would need to understand the realities of the company.

We will deploy the idea of ‘skin in the game’ to extend accountability into the market. Instead of tying up business in complicated rules and regulations, ‘skin in the game’ reforms incentives in the market. People who make decisions on behalf of others should share in the risks, not just enjoy the rewards. Only then can we start to truly align power and accountability.

It is not just the private economy that has become disconnected – and threatens to disconnect society from itself. Our system of government and our public services are the same. The state is over-centralised and out of touch. It lacks the trust we need to hold society together. Some of our public services have pursued ‘value for money’, and ‘customer satisfaction’, but neglected the human relationships and trust that lie at the heart of public services.

Public sector reform has failed to give frontline staff and users a sense of ownership and control. Instead, it has transferred power from an unaccountable state to unaccountable big corporations. Too much power has been concentrated in the market and the state. There is too little accountability, and too little transparency. People are left feeling powerless and often humiliated. The market and the state have been used as instruments of reform without any transfer of power to people.

The consequences are insecurity at work and low pay; falling living standards; high levels of immigration; and for many a sense of loss of belonging. We need a stronger and more connected society to reform our economy and share our prosperity more fairly. No Whitehall target will create it. People and politics have to make it.”

(1) Morris, W, (1884) Useful work versus Useless Toil, November 1884 https:// www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1884/useful.htm

Relational Thinking is a movement that is not affiliated to any political party. On this website we publish articles and opinion pieces that  align with our values. If you like to respond, why not leave a note here?