Change management is an integral part of business studies curricula and has a massive literature. It is a multidisciplinary subject making use of human behaviour and psychology. As well having academics, who carry out research, it has practitioners who make use of it or specialise in it. Anyone pursuing a career in HR will have studied change management.
The surprising thing about a large amount of this subject is that it is based on approaches that encourage empowerment, participation, teamwork, cooperation and both organisational and individual learning. This stands in contrast to the competitive environment which businesses inhabit (Anthony op. cit.). It is a though business has a dirty little secret: people are naturally social and cooperative and treating them well leads to better performance. Nevertheless it still actively supports competition, is often openly partisan with its political contributions and can put an extreme case through its advocates like the Adam Smith Institute or Institute of Economic Affairs. If one was to by cynical about this one would could say that the good nature of people (at work) is being put upon in order to maximise shareholder returns. Leaving that aside we can be sure that it (i.e. empowerment, participation, teamwork, cooperation and both organisational and individual learning) would not be used if it did not work.
Now the caveats,
- There are those who reject the notion of planned or managed change altogether – to me this seems like ideological overspill from neo-liberal economics, nevertheless some people, excited by the “new economy” expect us all to be Thriving on Chaos (Note: Thriving on Chaos)– which sounds great unless you are one of the people in 5 below.
- We have to remember that management use the term human resources which shows that, in the end management just regard people as another resource. This may explain why the good practice eluded to above is not more widely adopted, some managements chose to sweat their assets and when they do they excuse it on the grounds of competitive pressure
- A business will use its power to impose change if it needs to, as anyone who has been through a restructuring will realise this and no matter how many times you are told it is not personal it always feels personal
- If you are a well paid professional, a specialist or a manager in a world class business you are much more likely to experience the velvet glove than if you are a worker in some extended or remote part of its supply chain (e.g. in a factory owned town in China)
- If you are one of the people forcibly classed as self-employed you are experiencing the rough side of what was advocated as the necessary design for a highly competitive world. This has its origins long before the internet enabled world of Task Rabbit and Uber; it is formally known as the core-periphery model (Note: The Flexible Firm)
There is within management theory just as much advocacy of contingent or contingency management as there is what we might call normative or humanistic management. In contingency management one uses whatever technique will work, so if time is short you can, if you are able to, use simple position power and not bother with the niceties of consultation. Here is an example, presented with with remarkable understatement;
“The sharpest contrast is between “best practice” and the “contingency” models. The “best practice” models, albeit in their different ways, put a premium on the quality of the human resources. The “contingency models”, by contrast, admit a number of possibilities, some of which are very far removed from the quality option” (Note: Contingency Management)
So, what to take from this? What we need are the things that will help us move towards the vision. To bring in a political economy that enables people to achieve their potential, where politics is collaboration to achieve good governance and where business increases the common wealth.
Here are the things that the I have learned from management literature that are relevant to a holistic political economy
- Planning & Organisational learning
- Involvement and Commitment
- Facilitation, Team work & problem solving
Planning & Organisational learning
There has to be a balance between planning and the ongoing process. A plan sets direction but needs to be capable of constant change in the light of experience. The idea of a plan as a straight-jacket (sometimes referred to as a lockstep plan) is not going to work, but to dismiss direction setting by government by reference to the failure of state planning in the now defunct communist regimes is to fight yesterday’s battles. It is quite possible to set direction, have measurements, feedback and evaluations that lead to changes in the detailed execution by which we stick to the longer-term goals. When this direction is achieved we can use autonomy and self direction at the lower levels - show people the way to do it for themselves and trust them to get on with it.
In short, we need to think about change as a process to be managed, no invisible hand here.
Involvement and Commitment
Business knows that involving people builds commitment, the literature shows it works. Because of exiting power relations however there is that caveat, noted above of contingency management. When it deems it necessary, management will dictate rather than go to the effort involved to build commitment. And in the last 30 years having subdued the trades unions management is much more ready to exercise its right to manage and people who are just glad to have little choice but to put up with it.
We don’t have to have this caveat in politics, if we are to be a democracy with equal citizenship then we need to be encouraging involvement and building commitment all the time.
Facilitation, team work & problem solving
When commitment and involvement are needed or deemed worthwhile there is a vast literature on how to proceed. This boils down to some fairly simple things that are easy to comprehend. Facilitation is used to make sure everyone can have their say and that all ideas are captured. Teams are routinely used to solve problems
And the whole process is underpinned by communication, what is planned, what is happening now, what results are in from things that just happened. Change programs in business put out very sophisticated communications aimed at all the different stakeholders ranging from senior management to shop floor workers.
There it is, hiding in plain sight in the heart of the competitive business environment, a body of knowledge, practice and experience that clearly shows how to bring the best out in people. An important set of templates and building blocks for holistic political economy, just waiting to be pressed into service.
Change as a process
For democratic politics we just need to know that it works and start doing it, all the time. In the vast majority of situations in politics we would would benefit from a facilitated discussion covering all sides. Using facilitation and problem solving to develop policy would mea that it would have support when it is implemented. The need for speed is rare, unless there is a foreign crisis or a domestic emergency and in those cases we can bring out contingency plans that have themselves been subject to debate and agreement in advance.
It should also be obvious that for this to take place we need deep constitutional change that covers a lot more then changing periodic elections from first past the post to PR.
There are models of change which take complex problems and allow for their management. Such models bring in the idea of developmental stages. They are often referred to as maturity models. (Note: Change Maturity Model). To be of use for political purposes these need to be adapted.
Here I present a strawman for holistic political economy. Since we have a vision (Part 2 Assess - Vision) we can sketch in what things will tell us we have reached maturity and as we know what things are like now we can define a starting point. We can use a lifecycle approach to define the intermediate steps. As well as having roots in business change models I first encountered this, as would many others, in the take-off theory of industrialisation and growth of the economy put forward by W.W. Rostow (Rostow)
Anyone on the left will be familiar with calls for the transformation of society but also be baffled as to what this phrase actually means, both in terms of the process and destinaton. In Part 2 Vision, How different will it be? I attempted to spell out some of the characteristics of what a holistic political economy would be like. Here I am starting to develop an idea of the steps and activities that need to be undertaken to bring it about. (Note: Practicalities of Change)
Stages of development
Developmental stages: these go from now when we do not have holistic political economy into the future up to a point where we could say holistic political economy has become mature. In Part 4 Strategy I will develop this further since it is necessary to distinguish two sets of criteria, those that describe societal change and those that describe the movement that brings it about.
- Initiation – the idea defined, communication
- Spread – reaching the audience, getting attention, first steps
- Acceptance – becoming an accepted idea, building on early changes
- Normalisation – holistic political approaches becomes mainstream, holistic political economy is taking off
- Maturity – holistic political economy exists as the way of doing things, it becomes a matter of continual improvement
Areas of activity
Activities: these are being carried out at all stages if development and fall into four broad areas
- Ideas and policy foundations
- Political activity and mobilisation
- Democratic practice and institutions
- Economic change and business development
These are not remarkable of themselves. Any political movement needs to develop its foundational ideas and work out what they mean in terms of policies. It also needs to inspire and mobilise people, to make converts by winning arguments and changing minds. For holistic political economy we need to take the next steps in democratic development; we have an urgent need to reinvigorate and extend democracy. We also have an urgent need to rein in greed and destructive competition and to create an economy that increases the commonwealth of society at large.
These 4 broad areas will each expand into themes and interrelated activities. Some very important strands within Economic Change and Business Development will be the transition to sustainable practice, increasing re-use.
Staying on track
Criteria can be developed for assessing each stage of development. This is necessary so we can know if we are making progress; how far have we come and what is the next step. Today in our pessimistic, no-alternative politics we don’t seem to have any sense of direction informed by any sort of vision and little clear idea of what to do. With the increasing number of brains on the planet we need to match the exponential development of knowledge and stuff with a matching exponential development of collective wisdom.
We are all aware of unintended consequences. Changes that are made with the best of motives do not always work. We need to factor this into holistic political economy – we need to be able to halt, reflect, redesign and go again in much faster cycles than merely voting once every five years allows.
The change framework (maturity model) I suggest can cater for this. Here is how it helps. If we are trying to assess progress, we can zoom in on a Stage of Development for one Area of Activity.
For example, within the Stage of Normalisation and the Activity Economic Change and Business Development, what is that we will expect to have happened? Suppose we decide that Normalisation will have been reached when 50% of workforce is either employed in cooperative enterprises or works for businesses that have adopted an inclusive stakeholder model of governance (i.e. where there is board representation for workers, customers, suppliers, and civic stakeholders as well as shareholders and management) then we can measure. Have we reached normalisation or not? Do we need to review activity in other areas that help it come about? All routine in some businesses. In politics however its altogether different, our politicians are more likely to be plotting how they can win the next election and what needs to go in the manifesto (on the shopping list).
This is a very different jumping off point for the development of practical politics than anything our current approaches can supply. If we have such a measure of progress then we need the policy and change activity to make it actually happen. That in turn means we must undertake work to get the idea accepted, create a climate of opinion that favour it. The change I force is one that accepts that civil society is above business and that business must accept direct inputs to its governance because of its externalities. It is one that sees (for example) enabling legislation around the details of public liability companies and an important topic which deserves to go to the top of the political agenda. How companies operate and what is expected from them is fundamental. A political economy that is moving towards holistic political economy will have a set of polices designed to move society from one Stage of Development to the next. Party manifestos, judged against this criteria, will look very different to the ones we are used to.
Political priorities and how to spend political capital on change will become a very different activity. We will see more persuasion, more compromise and more fundamental changes in things that currently languish at the bottom of the agenda (or are not even on it) such as; banning planned obsolescence and insisting on repairability, constitutional reform, open outsourcing contracts, corporate governance and more. The limit is our imagination, with a vision all sorts of possibilities open up (Note: A New Agenda)
We can summarise this discussion with a diagram as follows
We don't have a good track record with big top down changes, the point I want to make is that we can envisage small changes that would have a big impact and set more change in motion. There is an argument to be had and won over the freedom of business. There will be howls of protest (and immoderate hyperbolic rabble rousing) from those who conflate economic freedom with personal freedom (who want small government, a lazier faire free market, and believe in the invisible hand). We have to establish both, the sound evidential basis and pressing moral case, for holistic political economy and then insist on our collective right as citizens to oversee. Our right to oversee the executive should be obvious. The case for overseeing business is simple this - what you do effects us all.
There is a consensus building on the left the includes ideas such as The Green New Deal and Universal Basis Income. There is a newly emerging appetite for non violent direct action in the case of climate change. Both of these represent demands for change that do not include changes to the underlying power relations within society. They offer something that can be rallied round, but they do not provide silver bullets. If and when climate change begins to cause crises we need people to be habituated to collective action and to use cooperation by default, otherwise we'll end up with drastic top down measures that will be imposed - with all the entails for acceptance and social cohesion.