Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Ownership State

A new day, a new piece by the brilliant Phillip Blond. This time about how to change the state. Blond,predictably, attacks the sclerotic, centralising Target State. But he also attacks the New Public Sector of outsourcing, managerialism and internal markets.

Instead he proposes the Ownership State. What does he mean? Essentially, he sees a third way between the privatisation of the state and a Government-owned public sector. The `Ownership state' sees the conversion of public bodies into lots of little John Lewis Partnerships. Employee-owned in the main. Profit-making. Democratic. Front-line-led.

Blond clearly spent his years of obscurity reading very widely. For you see in his work all sorts of influences, including the radical `empowerment' gurus like Ricardo Semler, Henry Mintzberg and Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Theory now put into practice by companies such as Harley Davison, Google and Goretex.

What do I think? On one level I find Blond very inspiring. He captures the problem very clearly and his solutions are original. Nevertheless, I find myself, as a product of my time (choice, competition, management-leadership), a little unconvinced.

However hard I try, I struggle to see public sector workers becoming more productive if given less rather than more management-guidance. And, having seen the chaos in some so-call democratic organisations, I have an abiding faith, however misguided, in role of a strong, insightful leadership in setting direction - and then incentivising and tracking it through solid operations-management.

But, as Blond says, my way has failed. We have tried all this stuff in the public sector and it's still there, on the floor, failing. Perhaps we do need to go one step further. Try some new stuff, like his employee-owned `civil companies' in which management `facilitates' and front-line staff `lead'.

Fills me with horror, but, hell, it's not as though we have much to fall back on.



Anonymous said...

Geoff Mulgan has been talking about the Collaborative State for years. Which is a much more progressive model than Blonds as it moves the systems (public, private, third) into reciprocal alignment. BAT in India is one example.

Capitalism pays pensions and greases the joints of government and socialism. There is a mutual interest from collaborating beyond oft vulgar CSR.

Craig Dearden-Phillips said...

Thanks anonymous - be good to know who you are?

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