Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

May
15
2015

After the General Election, the forthcoming politics of organisation

It doesn’t have to be like this: the politics of organisation, circa 1984.

 

Earlier this year, I attended a talk at the RSA by Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations. Laloux was every bit as inspiring as I had hoped after reading his book. But what has stayed with me also was a throwaway comment by Matthew Taylor, chairman of the RSA and former advisor to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. Reflecting on the paucity of organisational life, Matthew observed that we need a politics of organisation. Yes, I thought, this is exactly what we need and, at last, people are beginning to get it.

The politics of organisation was, of course, one of many absences in the General Election campaign. One of the successes of three decades of neo-liberalism is that what happens inside organisations has been ruled out of court for politicians. But at the same time, organisations – particularly private corporations – have become increasingly central to how our society is, well, organised. Most of us work in large organisations to earn our living and, with the hollowing out of the state, depend on them for the delivery of our public services. And what is left of life is increasingly mediated by the likes of banks that are too big to fail, food retailers whose chains extend from the convenience shop to the out-of-town megastore, and global internet businesses such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. How we experience them as employees and consumers and how they impact on society in general are among the most significant influences on our lives.

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March
21
2015

Apple Watch: how the quantification of life assists managerialism

Apple Watch blackSimon Western has ruined my eager anticipation of the Apple Watch (launching late next month, pre-orders from 10th April). In a profound and reflective piece, he discusses how the Watch (as opposed to the humble watch) represents the latest and most decisive step towards the creation of a neurotic age.

Key to this argument is the insight that technology is not simply an appendage to human life but changes what it is to be human. As Simon Western says, we are so affectively attached to the brands and products of the technology companies that they become a part of our emotional, physical and cognitive being. Apple is foremost in facilitating this attachment – with its celebrated competence in combining the disciplines of arts, humanities, science and technology in the service of the development of products to die for. But it is far from alone, as exemplified by the signal obssessions of our day: monitoring of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email; the pre-eminence of collecting selfies above experiencing life; or the quantifying of one’s lifestyle.

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October
24
2014

How all organisations tend to the dysfunctional in their own way

Taylorism: not without its ethical claims.

Taylorism: not without its ethical claims.

 

Book review: A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations by Chris Grey.

A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations by Chris Grey took me back to my roots in sociology. It was a welcome, if disconcerting, journey which made me question whether, even from my critical perspective, I’m too complicit with the orthodoxy of our age.

The book deconstructs the managerialist consensus that construes organisations as being somehow apart from society, and amenable to direction in whatever way managers consider to be “efficient”. Efficiency, in this worldview, turns out to be the right of senior managers/shareholders to optimise the running of the organisation in their own interest. It does not lack an ethical claim. Taylorism, for example, freed factory workers from the tyranny of the gang leader and offered a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. But it led to a perverted extreme by which, to quote one of Grey’s contemporary examples, it can seem rational and legitimate to require machine operators to urinate on the spot in their clothes on the grounds that allowing lavatory breaks is too costly.

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October
10
2014

The paradigm shift in action

Buurtzorg, a higher level of consciousness in organisational form

Buurtzorg, a higher level of consciousness in organisational form

 

Book review: Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.

In the years since the financial crisis, we’ve honed a conviction here at Vogel Wakefield that the way most businesses and organisations are run is bust. Public distrust has been engendered not just by the financial crash but scandals in sectors as diverse as the health service, the media, supermarkets, the police and Parliament. Such is the depth of distrust that we envisage society eventually breaking decisively with the economic settlement of the past three decades. What the shape of the new consensus will be, who can tell? But the future surely entails profound changes for the way organisations are run. The public wants businesses to exercise greater stewardship of community assets and to operate in a more socially-oriented way.

If this vision sounds nebulous and, frankly, utopian, the exciting thing about Frederic Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations, is the detailed portrayal it presents of successful companies that are making real today the model of tomorrow. His view of the forces of change is broader than ours. Where we envisage this as a paradigm shift in contemporary capitalism, akin to that from social democracy to neo-liberalism thirty years ago, Laloux sees a fundamental shift in human development, the kind of shift that occurs as human consciousness develops. In this, he draws on the work of Piaget, Robert Kegan and, especially, Ken Wilber.

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October
01
2014

Coaching in a messed-up world

The Universe: its future may depend on you

The Universe: its future may depend on you

 

Last night, I attended a stirring call on the coaching profession to wake up and recast its responsibilities in relation to a world that is messed up and in crisis. The call was made by Aboodi Shabi, who one might reasonably describe as a leader of the coaching profession in the UK. Courtesy of a platform with the London Coaching Group, he extemporised on themes I have advocated myself, most recently in my presentation to APECS. But Aboodi made the case with a passion and bluntness that challenged me to stand up for this agenda with much greater clarity. A theme of the evening was how coaching could “come out” as a profession that engages with society’s problems. Aboodi’s message resonated with a good proportion of his audience, although it also provoked fear and dismissal among a vociferous minority.

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June
26
2014

Corporations as a force for good? Could do better.

Supplying a force for good?

Supplying a force for good?

 

“Corporations as a force for good” was the optimistic title of a talk given by the London Business School academic, Lynda Gratton, at the Royal Society of Arts today. Her thesis was more a paean to than a critique of corporations. On the evidence she presented, I found her optimism a little premature. Corporations can be great conduits for the creativity and fulfilment of employees and the fulfilment of societal needs at massive scale. But they are vessels for trapping employees in alienating conditions, exploiting their consumers and society at large and they often ask too few questions about their supply chains. “Could do better” would be a more appropriate assessment of the current contribution of corporations.

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June
10
2014

The hard path of the whistleblower: apropos An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris

Whistelblowers past and present: George Picquart, French Army, and Julie Bailey, Cure the NHS

Whistelblowers past and present: George Picquart, French Army, and Julie Bailey, Cure the NHS

 

Robert Harris’s novel An Officer and a Spy is not only a cracking read but a psychological study in the gathering courage of a whistleblower in an organisation gone to bad.

It tells the story of the Dreyfus affair – the wrongful conviction and incarceration for spying of a Jewish officer in the French army at the end of the 19th Century. It is told through the eyes of Georges Picquart, a spy chief who is both a party to the downfall of Dreyfus and a prime mover in the uncovering of Dreyfus’s framing by the military establishment.

Much of the power of the narrative derives from the fact that Picquart is a reluctant whistleblower. The youngest colonel in the army, he has a great career ahead of him. Moreover, he shares the casual anti-semitism of his age and has no great sympathy for Dreyfus. Nonetheless, when he discovers evidence that implicates a different officer, Esterhazy, in the spying for which Dreyfus was blamed, he cannot ignore the injustice and assumes his senior officers will think likewise.

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April
29
2014

Different kinds of truth in health care

University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff

 

The unharmonious sound of an establishment closing ranks could be heard last week when an NHS hospital attempted to discredit the account by the MP, Anne Clwyd, of the death of her husband while in its care. While conceding that Ms Clwyd’s husband, Owen Roberts, died of hospital-acquired pneumonia, the University Hospital of Wales said it had no evidence to support Ms Clwyd’s assertion that Mr Roberts had died “like a battery hen.”

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board released a summary of an independent inquiry into Ms Clwyd’s allegations but declined to release the full report. So it’s impossible to assess what evidence it evaluated before reaching a view that Mr Roberts didn’t die like a battery hen.

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