My take away on the Support Economy is that this might be the "Silent Spring" of business books. The book that sheds light on the core issue - the dynamics and nature of the relationship that we have with the customer and hence with the front line. This inevitably forces a shift in our perspective from engineering to environmental management - from farming to gardening.
I have been working on the health aspects of the organization today and all our research tells us that the need for a shift from transaction to the relationship with the individual is literally on the money.
There is an increasing body of research underway that is looking at the direct cost of the transactional modality on the work force. The new data suggests that in a traditional large organization such as a bank, telephone company that the direct costs of illness attributable to the workplace is now about 17% of payroll and growing ( Clarke Brown). 17% of payroll is a very large direct cost. It is of course only the tip of the iceberg. What type of customer relationship is being generated by a workforce that feels this bad?
Many organizations have put in wellness programs and flex programs to deal with this illness and absence issue. But Linda Duxbury's mammoth survey, over 30,000 Canadian civil servants, shows that no one uses these programs unless there is a supportive managerial culture.
The big idea behind this is Zuboff's hypothesis - that the key is organizatinal culture or managerial relationships. Marmot's work in the UK Civil Service (The Whitehall Studies)has informed us for years that the rate of illness ( and death) in work places is 4 times higher at the bottom of the hierarchy than at the top.
The core issue that is emerging is the nature of the relationship between the manager and the "Managed" As organizations, in the Transaction model, centralize more control and cut the costs of delivery at the point of the transaction, they in effect shut down all feelings of participation and control in the front line. The result is an ever more surly and sick customer interface.
So not only is the Ford system driving large and direct costs but is also blocking any feedback that could come back from the front line. Is also blocking the learning of the front line and is making the customer interface a poisonous well.
Marmot does not suggest that the solution is to throw away hierarchy - he is clear that all sentient beings construct hierarchies. He asks us to examine the nature of the relationships inside the hierarchy.
My current best example of a hierarchy that works well would be a a submarine crew. In 1945 after taking losses of 40,000 out of 50,000, the remaining UBoat crews surrendered with their morale and effectiveness still high. How could this be? The right type of hierarchy I think.
In a sub any one person who makes a mistake can sink the boat. While the chain of command is very much adhered to, there is a different conversation and relationship through the ranks. Everyone is seen as an important individual whose opinion is valued. In the US Sub service toady, every new crew member, no matter what rank, is on probation and will be thrown off the boat if the trust issue is not met. All live the same public, cramped and uncomfortable life - there is little difference in the living conditions and no social separation. When things go wrong, they all die. When things go well, they all contribute.
If you think of this, it is a very different culture and set of relationships, to those of say the larger ships on the surface and of course to the traditional large busines or government enterprise. This is what my friends in the US Army call a "collegial culture. The irony is that one of the organizations that has done the most to shift their internal culture has bee the US Army. They may make poor policemen but they have shown us a daring and a level of collaboration that is unparalleled. The After Action Review has been and important tool in unlocking the command and control culture. BP have also used the AAR with the help of Col Ed Guthrie to great effect to enable a culture of male Scots engineers to learn from each other. The folks at Groove are finding that the simple introduction of collaborative software will not work unless there is work done to unfreeze the culture.
In closing I see the Support Economy as showing us that the next level of competition in organization will be cultural.
Organizations that can unlock their culture to be genuinely participative will overwhelm their traditional competition. They will make the transition from a metaphor based on a machine which demands conformity and the constant application of outside resources to a natural system based on the principles of true growth.
What do I mean by true growth? Think of your child or a tomato. If we as parents or gardeners, provide the right early environment, the child and the tomato will do all the rest. It is set to grow. New research on the development of children by Doug Wilms at UNB, now tells us that it is not socio economic issues that drive vulnerability in children, failure to learn and to behave, but the family culture. The worst parental approach is Authoritarian - this shuts kids down. Such is the culture of the business transactional model. The second worst is the Permissive - this is added to the government model which is the most toxic of all. In government there is a maximum control on process and the least control on behaviour. The optimal culture is described as Authoritative. Where there are rules but they are made increasingly as a result of participation from all members of the family.
As with parents and children, so with business and government