The paradigm shift in action

By Martin Vogel

buurtzorg
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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Corporations as a force for good? Could do better.

By Martin Vogel

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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How should executive coaches respond when the role of business in society is contested?

By Martin Vogel

Indignant, in any language.
Indignant, in any language.

I’m looking forward to the APECS symposium on the future for executive coaching on 18th June. As part of a group working on the social and business context for coaching, I’ve submitted a discussion paper. I found it a useful opportunity to pull together the themes I’ve been developing at this blog over the past few years. I’ve been receiving a number of requests to access the paper even ahead of the symposium, so I’m posting it here with the following caveat: my thinking on this is a work in progress rather than my last word. Feedback, critical or otherwise, most welcome.

Anglo-Saxon capitalism is experiencing a shift in the socio-economic paradigm by which we organise ourselves. In the period after the Second World War, a consensus was established around social democracy, with its emphasis on welfare, corporatism and mitigating inequality. As this became dysfunctional, it was replaced by a consensus around free markets, managerialism and shareholder value which, itself, is now being called into question by systemic failure. What replaces it will be contested. It could be a more benign form of capitalism in which organisations accept responsibility for greater stewardship of the public realm or it could be something much closer to fascism or something else again. What role, if any, should coaches play in helping executives both to recognise the shift and to play a role in shaping a constructive outcome?

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Miscellany: narcissism, storytelling and more

By Martin Vogel

Narcissus
Narcissus by Caravaggio

An unrelated assortment of pieces could each have prompted a blog post. But since it’s been a busy week, I’ll note them in passing.


Corporate purpose and organisational form

John Kay, apropos the Co-op debacle, provides a timely back to basics primer on who should be held to account and how when things go wrong in organisations:

“The public company has become the dominant form of business organisation because it seems to offer clear answers to these questions. Shareholders put up the money and control the executives. True, the reality often falls short. Shareholders are often diffuse and disengaged. The cost of bad business decisions may fall instead on employees, creditors and taxpayers. But, on balance, the corporate form works tolerably well.”

But that’s not the end of the argument because John Kay makes the good point that there are many hybrid organisations – such as privatised utilities, hospitals and universities – that need to develop distinctive frameworks of control because they combine trading and social purposes.

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For happiness and against toxicity

By Martin Vogel

good lifeAt Vogel Wakefield HQ yesterday we were undertaking our annual strategic review and pondering our deep motivation for building our own business. We reached a startling conclusion: we don’t surface in how we present ourselves to clients our real passion for what we do. Instead, we neuter it by smothering it in business-friendly language. Our passion is to challenge the things that are toxic in organisations: to inspire people both to align themselves in their working lives more closely with their positive values and to push organisations into making a more positive contribution to society.

It’s not that all corporations are toxic nor that they make no contribution. But we have worked in organisations long enough to have developed a deep aversion to the negatives caused by internal politics, short-term perspectives, spin and the like. We have reached a stage in life where we can do more to mitigate these negative impacts on others, and to preserve our own welfare, by holding ourselves outside the organisation and working with those within.

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Dysfunctional banking cultures: what they need is servant leadership

By Martin Vogel

How do you set right a corporate culture beset with “systematic dishonesty” – as Barclays has been described by its former chief executive, Martin Taylor?

The scandal at Barclays over its rigging of financial markets seems to represent a turning point which will require all banks to take a long, deep look at how the ways in which they operate may contradict the public interest. Were we not already in the worst financial crisis in living memory, the computer failure at RBS – which has prevented customers accessing their money and is still ongoing at Ulster Bank – would count as a monumental banking failure in its own right, evidence itself of the incompetence, negligence and greed that over many years has overwhelmed an ethos of stewardship at the major banks. On top of that, came news last week that the big four banks had committed serious failings in their mis-selling of interest rate hedges to small and medium-sized businesses

Small wonder that the Governor of the Bank of England has described the banks as “shoddy” and “deceitful”. Or that the Director-General of the Institute of Directors has said the banks “should feel deep shame for the damage they have done”.

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Renewing corporate culture one soul at a time

By Martin Vogel

Gary Hamel wants business to embrace timeless human values

Book review: What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation by Gary Hamel.

What Matters Now by Gary Hamel is a critique by a renowned management thinker of the apparent collapse in moral values in big business that was revealed by the financial crisis. It’s a startling read because, while being a contribution to the airport news-stand canon of management literature, it uses language and imagery which is alien to the corporate world – precisely to question their absence. Hamel offers an impassioned call for a more compassionate and ethically-grounded capitalism which puts value rather than cost at the centre of its concerns.

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The value of culture lies in its capacity to enrich lives

By Martin Vogel

The National Gallery drew large crowds during the Second World War for recitals by Myra Hess
The National Gallery drew large crowds during the Second World War for recitals by Myra Hess

Organisations of all kinds face a new challenge: to demonstrate that they create value for society and not just for themselves.

A reckoning has been a long time coming after the financial collapse of 2008. But it’s arrival is unmistakable – not just in the mood music of the party leaders as they compete to compose the best tune on moral capitalism. It’s evident in the furore around the aborted bonus of the RBS chief executive, Stephen Hester, the broadly sympathetic hearing given to the Occupy protestors at St. Paul’s, and the public revulsion over the phone hacking scandal which brought about the Leveson Inquiry into the role of the press.

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The role of business schools in society

By Martin Vogel

business school
Business school lecture: a force for good or harm?

Book review: Confronting Managerialism: How the Business Elite and Their Schools Threw Our Lives Out of Balance by Robert R. Locke and J.-C. Spender

One of the striking characteristics of the debate about the economic crisis is the ease with which the epithet “anti-capitalist” is used to describe even the mildest critique of the status quo. Even David Cameron (a fleeting champion of “moral capitalism”) was at it last week, condemning as “anti-business” people who argue that the bosses of large corporations should restrain themselves from accepting obscene pay awards when the performance of their companies has been poor.

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Assessing the social value of universities

By Mark Wakefield

Loughborough University Library
Loughborough University Library

Anyone interested in the future of higher education would do well to read the NCCPE’s recent report on the social value of universities. Paul Manners, the NCCPE’s Director, sets the context for the report when he quotes research for Universities UK in 2010 which suggested that less than one in five people in the UK recognise the wider impacts that universities have on society. This alarming statistic goes some way to explaining the relative ease with which the government has introduced its controversial reforms. Where the public has shown concern it has been focused almost exclusively on the level of fees rather than on the implications for the sector and its contribution to the life and health of the nation.

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