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Global forces – review


Title: Global Forces, a guide for enlightened leaders – what companies and individuals can do
Author: Bruce Nixon.
Publisher: Management Books 2000 Ltd
ISBN: 1852523530
Price: £14.99

Buy this book from the TrainingZONE – Blackwells bookshop.

This is a book which comes with a string of endorsements including one from Lin Arigho, winner of boss of the year award 2000, who called it “brilliant”, and Professor G. Burgoyne, a policy research consultant, who says “he does a splendid job of bringing out the issues in an understandable way.” The title, Gobal Forces, suggests description and analysis of data. There is certainly plenty of that, with a very broad set of indexed references, and case illustrations. But its real concern is in the sub-title. This is a book about changing the world of work, or rather the British world, since it is really only about work in this country!

At the start he quotes Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

The small group the book is aimed at is the set of enlightened leaders. Explicitly Bruce Nixon wants to “Help leaders build better and more successful work places, and contribute to creating a sustainable and fairer world.”

If you are not interested in this theme you are not an enlightened leader, you need not read the book or even continue this review. In writing this review I shall concern myself with whether the book has anything more than encouragement to offer those people who are enlightened, or if it would be better targetted at bringing some light to managerial darkness. The big challenge is to preach successfully to the unconverted.

The book is broken into five parts. I shall offer a brief review and evaluation of each part.
1) The age of the global economy
He summarises global forces in terms of:
– global free market capitalism
– accelerating technology
– dominance of the transnational corporation
– decline and break up of nation states
– failure of centralised systems
– financial instability
– demand for quality and value
– decline and unemployment leading to rebirth and regeneration
– growing gap between rich and poor
– ageing populations in the west
– ecological crisis and search for sustainability
– growing power of non governmental organisations, consumers and media
– decline of certainties and deference , moving towards respect, inclusion and partnership
– appreciation of interconnectedness of things, the world as a self-organising system
– new ideas of leadership and organisation
– growing awareness of complexity, chaos, unpredictability and being out of control
– Higher expectations of living and working, including a search for meaning and value.

After this general description he offers chapters on the upside and the downside of this set of forces. His concern is the benefits for people in Britain. We Brits have a wider range of foods in the supermarkets, a greater diversity of products and services, vastly improved quality and reliability, costs falling and innovations appearing all the time. There has been a transfer from other parts of the world of better management and better management methods. We have more flexibility and opportunity in our work situations. Our economy is doing well inspite of being less efficient than those of others countries.

Nixon goes on to give more emphasis to the downside. Inspite of this new affluence, he observes:
– We go on killing ourselves through alcohol, tobacco, fast driving, and increasing pollution
– we make unhealthy lifestyle choices, with lack of safety to walk or cycle to work
– overeating and targetting unhealthy food to our children
– destruction of local food production resources
– increasingly poor public services
– a National health service that is falling behind our neighbours
– we are more likely to die of common killer diseases than our neighbours
– we treat old people badly, and allow many of our children to live in poverty.

One problem, as he admits himself, is that the information he provides is out of date even before it is published. It is well worth regular updating. But it might make sense to update chapters continually, and have them downloadable from the web. I wonder what differences he would make in his analysis post the Bush election and september 11. Nixon describes himself as an optimist about the future of life-work on this planet, but he has not closed his eyes to difficult issues, or the problems that his own idealism has led him and his colleagues into, as a change consultant. i find myself shifted a little towards optimism, but not convinced.

2) The big issues
Nixon sees the issues as follows:
– making work more fulfilling
– the power of transnational corporations as threats to democracy, sustainablity, poor people and diversity of culture
– a growing rich-poor divide
– the ecological threat to life on this planet
– the need to respect difference rather than make it a threat to civilisation.
– the need to bring more balance into life and work

The fundamental issue for Bruce Nixon is whether it is possible and even expedient for companies to shift from a focus on the values of free market capitalism to a new set of ethical values and beliefs and work practices. The enlightened leaders he is addressing are those managers and leaders who might be willing to build this dream of a better future at work into a living and working reality.

He gives plenty of illustrations of how things are bad and can get worse. He is not blind to the exploitation of the poor and disadvantaged, not to mention the well paid, who increasingly work more and more hours for less and in terms of quality of life, as seen in the round. He quotes Milton Friedman insisting that the only social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, as a paradigm of the old capitalist set of values, though he thinks few people would accept Friedman today. I would criticise his placing the ecological crisis lower down the list of important issues. The 500 billion tons of broken off melting ice in the antarctic today are just the latest wake up call to the fact that most of the worlds cities are headed for submersion due to global warming, and only transnational companies can do much about it, with absolutely no help from the world’s one remaining superpower. What is more we would need the resources of several planets to meet the materialist aspirations of most of the countries in the world today. Without radical change the world is on course for catastrophe.

3) the need to change the way we think in Britain
While Nixon tells us the horror stories of capitalism unconstrained and out of control, he still remains an optimist about the future of work in Britain in a global economy. He says “Fresh, exciting models are emerging of the kind of new company we need to respond to the global forces I have been describing. These are moves towards inclusive leadership, one world thinking, social responsibility, ethical standards, sustainability, transparency, long term stewardship and partnership with all stakeholders. It all amounts to a new spirit.”

Nixon borrows from the RSA enquiry “Tomorrow’s Company – The role of Business in a changing world” (1996). This focusses on what prevents British companies from being globally competitive. He identifies these:
– complacency and ignorance of world standards
– over-reliance on financial measures of performance
– our national adversarial culture

He picks out its recommendations:
– partnership with all stakeholders, suppliers, customers, employess at all levels, community-not just shareholders
– an inclusive approach to business leadership
– a more appropriate value system
– corporate governance and accountability
– long-term stewardship
– emphasis on long term relationships with stakeholders
– annual reporting against its ability to support goals, purpose, value and key relationships.

He quotes a newspaper report saying that this new consciousness was rare at the time, and many would be thinking about their role afresh. It would be interesting to get a snapshot of how well we are doing today.

The rest of the book is about how to achieve the desired changes in business leadership and business practise. A big problem I have found in trying to review the book is that there is a lot of overlap in the different sections, which are not at all as distinct as is intended, partly because some chapters are borrowed from earlier books.

Having made his case for the need to change the way we think, he moves on to methods of implementation. Having looked at the global forces and given his reasons for adopting what he strongly believes is the enlightened values position, he offers his guide to making those values become a living work-place reality.

4) Tools for transformation
Having taken us on a whistle-stop tour of the different cultures that feed into the capitalist system Nixon now proposes tools for company culture-change. It is not simply theory, for the book is much enhanced by case material from his own and colleagues’ work. The tools he proposes are:
– Large group methods like
getting the whole system into the room
future search
open space technology
real time strategic change
search conferences
– dialoguing
– polarity management
– conflict resolution through non-violent communication
– uniting body, heart, mind, and spirit

The core concept behind the use of these large group methodologies is a profound respect for the other as a human being whose point of view needs to be valued and heard. The large group methods he describes are a walking of the talk, a values in action approach to achieving change. They are variations on a theme of involving everyone in the process of transformation in company culture. Some are more radical than others, so there are options for managers to retain elements of hierarchical control over developments.

“People at the bottom need to be given the opportunity to act powerfully, speak their minds honestly without fear of adverse consequences and take responsibility. Top management need to experience this and see that it does work. People need the experience of hearing diverse views expressed, sometimes with passion, and perhaps being moved by this.”

“Real sustainable change occurs when people experience the paradigm shift that enables them to see beyond their small part of the system. For an organisation to learn a different dance, all the partners need to be present as equal contributors.”

How well I know this last one! When I worked as a consultant to the Charing Cross Day Hospital in London, the change work was completely thwarted by the absense of the senior psychiatrists from the meetings.

As a psychodynamic change facilitator I was interested in his statements about resistence, dependency and counter-dependency. He says “Was this because we spent too much time facilitating small groups instead of facilitating the whole process? Would it be leass likely to happen if we stood back more and gave everyone a chance in facilitating small groups? This fits with our conclusions that people who become facilitators benefit most. And everyone needs to be an effective facilitator today.” This is what led him on to discovering the large group methods.

I am curious about the large group interventions he describes, which I have discussed a little with colleagues but not experienced for myself. I felt that these sketches left something to be desired in terms of getting a feel for their efficacy. Very big players like the Ford motor company have tried them. I think they should be taken very seriously. But without being involved directly I have doubts about their ability to transform a culture. One of the key constructs he uses is non-violent communication. He quotes from Zeldin that convincing people should be considered a form of violence!

He provides a case illustration of work done and written up by Nic Turner on what happens after the whole system has left the room: some of the lived difficulties in bringing change to fruition. He writes about trauma and naivety and the resistence of the “culture in action”, and the need for “participative change experts available to the change project and with a remit to keep an eye on it” But in spite of some punctured illusions there were big gains. “In a business that had previously seen directors as almost gods, being able to come up with proposals that wherever possible were actioned immediately really signalled a massive cultural change” ” we only landed 25-35% of what we wanted to achieve overall. The business learned about its own resistence to change. It learned how its “culture in action” frustrated the culture it wished to create.”

Nixon then goes on to write about dialogue and polarity management. For me there is something vital missing here. It is a fundamental principle of process-oriented psychology that to achieve transformation you need first to amplify and fully bring out the polarities. Nixon seems to grasp this at times, but at others talks about polarity in terms of finding a place on a continuum, which is not right at all.

My vision of culture change using large group methods would be to encourage a full expression of the positions of the new vision culture and the culture in action, which would allow an authentic and real synthesis to emerge. This would then really represent the total process of the whole system. Such process-oriented large group work could perhaps follow the other large group events aimed at discovering the new vision. Nixon talks about this process of bringing out the two sides happening before the future plan happens. It is a bit like chicken and egg, I think.

I would like to recommend books by Arnold Mindell, “the leader as martial artist” and “Sitting in the fire”, which explores working with very large groups on such major conflicts as war in the Balkans and the troubles of Northern Ireland, as a balance and a completion to the slightly idealised positivity I find in this book. People do not simply become non-violent and sensitive and empathic, when they have been brought up in a company culture and a National culture that is violently and abusively competitive.

A second system of culture change which can work with groups of three to three hundred which I would also add is David Wasdell’s Meridian Matrix design. Like one of the systems in Nixon’s book, it grew out of the Tavistock’s large group work. But Wasdell moved on from there into a psycho-social analysis based on common and collective defense patterning. It is based on the trauma of the western way of birth. Nixon mentions a little about birth and parenting, but not enough. I want to add a quote from Suzanne Arms.

“If we hope to create an non violent world where respect and kindness replace fear and hatred, we must begin with how we treat each other at the beginning of life. For that is where our deepest patterns are set. From these roots grow fear and alienation – or love and trust.”

Wasdell’s system analyzes core defences as they inhibit the perception and action of people in organisations. It is a brilliant synthesis of trauma psychology, information theory, communication theory and psycho-social analysis.

5) A new beginning- discovering and following your passion.
Let me begin this last section with some key quotes from the book:
“I believe we are witnessing a profound collective transition to a new integration that by its very nature evokes many more of the positive aspects of the feminine and the masculine, the right and the left brain.”

“the familiar top down command structure is facing a radical review, that traditional linear modes of thinking are becoming insufficient to deal with the growing complexity, unpredictability and speed of change that many corporations face, and that hitherto undervalued abilities of communication, creative and visionary thinking and human relationships are becoming the new keys to competitive advantage.”

As a tool to help us all cope Nixon recommends walking through four rooms of our being every day. These rooms are the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spaces. He attaches most importance to the last, quoting from Sogyal Rinpoche:

“as this new awareness begins to become vivid and almost unbroken, there occurs what the upanishads call “a turning about in the seat of consciousness” a personal, utterly non conceptual revelation of what we are, why we are here and how we should act, which in the end amounts to nothing less than a new life, a new birth, almost, you could say, a resurrection.”

Yes. We need to transform our own birth experiences! The turning point in the seat of consciousness is really the turning point in the birth canal, where we literally must turn our whole body in order to emerge safely into the new world.

Nixon’s last section is an exhortation to take on the role of stategic leadership ourselves. He quotes Handy: “We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply at the end of history. It is up to us to light small fires in the darkness.”

Nixon does offer us something of a blueprint, or model, for developing our strategic leadership. He suggests we can do this as individuals and as part of a working group.

what is going on in the environment and affecting us; key trends
rigorous review; how are we/am I responding; health and sustainability; key issues; opportunities
what matters and inspires me? corporate and personal values.
world, organisation, my part in it; myself; include the culture needed.
key strategic actions or interventions, unique role
Who you need to influence; the networks you need
contacts you need to work on; out there; in group; in you
plan implementation and support

Back to Global forces. the model is circular.

I have one final quotation as a conclusion to this challenging and thought-provoking book:
“Organisations are like other things in nature. We can’t control them – maybe that is why 70% of change efforts are said to fail. They are to a large extent self-organisaing and self-regulating. We are part of nature and if we want to learn about organisations, we could not do better than, like Meg Wheatley, look at how nature works, in this case termites; “Relationship is all there is – bumping into each other and relating.” When relationship happens, we sort things out, good leaders encourage it to happen.” (my italics).

Having read Global Forces I am more hopeful of being able to do values-based culture change work with commercial organisations. I set up my own organisation, Transitions to achieve such goals. This book is an important stepping stone along the road to achieving my own personal strategic goals. There are so many sign posts included in it: people, organisations, websites, books. I heartily recommend it.

Nick Owen

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