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Power to the people

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In a world where seismic shifts in economic, cultural and political matters seem commonplace and global communication, transportation and technology stream swathes of data across our paths and underline the enormity of the capability of mankind as a whole, we can forget that we can each still, individually, make a real difference to outcomes.

An outcome or result can be a function of a series of events, incidents or actions and achieving the best outcome is often linked to making the most of those connected events. If this analysis is correct then organisations that are able to enhance the contribution of the individuals connected to them, in their specific roles and functions, are going to achieve much better outcomes than those that don’t.

Individual performance might contribute to success or failure in that action - but is there a wider significance?

A breakdown in the chain or poor performance by individuals can cause embarrassment or difficulties or failure and multiple failures can be catastrophic.

Social enterprises and mutuals have an enviable, intrinsic and ideal opportunity to maximise the contribution of those involved with them on a number of different levels and if they can do this through, for example, maximising ownership and stakeholder and community involvement, then their business model has a very good chance of being successful.

Think of the Napoleonic Wars; the Royal Navy, a lonely, ghostly Frigate carving through the rough waters of the Bay of Biscay when a French 74 Gun Battleship looms up through the mist and chaos ensues as people scramble to action stations.

Within no time the ships are grappling together and its man-to-man combat. The scene on board is intense and insane. Clearly this action is extremely important to those on board the ships, but is it really any more important that that?

Individual performance might contribute to success or failure in that action - but is there a wider significance? Perhaps it is just one action on a large ocean in a European war.

So, what does this isolated and single incident matter in the scheme of things?

You need to understand each and every individual and then design, organise and implement a strategy to enable everyone to be able to give their best

I think it matters alright. Despite two great nations at war - and with great resources - the impact of one, single encounter on the countries involved - and on the war - becomes considerable.

A victory in times of crises and in times of hardship enhances the morale of a nation, instills confidence, boosts energy and brings direction. In that one battle, each person involved, from the Captain to the Doctor, right through to the other individuals within the ship’s company, plays his or her part, and it is the extent of that contribution and its quality which will help determine not only the single encounter but the ultimately and finally, the outcome of the war itself.

If individuals matter so much, you need to ensure that they feel able to give their best to the respective organisation. You need to understand each and every individual and then design, organise and implement a strategy to enable everyone to be able to give their best.

However, you cannot take it for granted that this will just happen, particularly after any ‘honeymoon” period.Those of you mature enough to remember ‘Citizen Smith’, may recall Wolfie’s catchphrase in the TV series -‘power to the people’; yet his Tooting Popular Front was just not organised enough to make best use of the energy and talent available to it. I’m sure it wouldn’t have bolstered the organisation’s position for them to have pronounced - or rather, shouted ‘power to the people’ at a sleeping baby, whilst under the watchful eye of its mother.

You need a carefully put-together strategy, which includes assessing who should be ‘owners’ and therefore have a share and/or a vote on the key issues affecting the organisation, who might not have the aforementioned rights per say but is still connected enough to the organisation to have an interest; and who ought to be involved in looking at, or reviewing strategy, future goals and objectives.

Whatever you do, you want something that is real and practical and allows the business to be efficiently and effectively run. There is no one way to do it, but designing something that maximises the quality of the input of all those involved, attracts commissioners and gives you an identifiable USP is the goal.

Learning involves listening and then designing a response

A big debate at the moment is the extent of involvement of those actually using the relevant services, includingcarers: should they be owners or just stakeholders?

There is no right answer. You need to strip back your organisational issues and work it out. A key point is to make is that you need to learn from these people, and learning involves listening and then designing a response. I was at a conference recently where a person - who herself used the services - was explaining her thoughts about how she thought they could be improved. When she gave her view on a particular matter a delegate in the audience interjected, stating that what she was proposing was not the done thing anymore in governance terms and that ‘x and y’ was the current thinking. Some good listening there…

In work I have been doing recently in relation to mental health services, a point that has been made time and time again is that if you ask both a person receiving the services and a hospital doctor what treatment they think should be available, there is a distinct possibility that the two answers would be poles apart. That is interesting and powerful, particularly at the current time, when commissioners are looking at re-designing services and looking at the whole context of their delivery.

We have to make the most of the talents and skills available and having a say in an organisation is a powerful incentive to give one’s best. In a recent discussion with employees of a social enterprise, I instigated a debate around the pros and cons of having a Community Interest Company limited by shares or by guarantee. The share company won hands down. The employees said that they would feel much more a part of this type of organisation, a greater involvement having been issued with a share in that company compared with just being a member.

That’s powerful feedback; certainly not to be ignored.

Chris Brophy is a partner with Capsticks, specialising in commercial and contractual work for healthcare bodies, social enterprises, mutuals and charities.

LGC’s social enterprise channel, providing the latest local government news, comment and analysis.

In association with Capsticks, specialist law firm for health and local government organisations.



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