Politics Needs a Management Shift

05/19/2015 03:54 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

It is well over 200 years since the French Revolution, a period which saw the emergence of the 'left' versus 'right' distinction in politics. Since then, civil and criminal law has come a long way in Europe, and we no longer chop people's heads off as a form of changing government.

The formation of political parties, and the ideas that underpin them, have not modernized at the same rate, however. Specifically, the left-wing idea that radical action should involve a struggle of working people against those in authority; and the right-wing concept of a hierarchical order preserving stability, no longer reflects the reality of working and organizational life in the globalized, inter-dependent economy of the 21st Century.

In the UK, an unexpected but narrow win for David Cameron's Conservatives in May 2015, after a bad-tempered election campaign, has been followed by left-wing demonstrators denouncing austerity. Far from being radical, this noisy protest against the Conservatives' democratic win strikes me as being futile without offering a genuinely progressive alternative. It's not enough to complain about austerity - we have to create wealth in a sustainable and fair way.

Decades of research now shows that a cooperative approach to business and economic development is the most effective in terms of business returns, as well as opportunities for employees, and the stability and well-being of a society where good jobs are available. It isn't a struggle between different interest groups that we need, it's a deeper understanding of how we build these positive dynamics.

This doesn't mean an end to vibrant democratic debate, or pretending there aren't fundamental differences of view on some matters. It means a deeper, richer debate, where we discuss what makes our policy effective, our public sector organizations more responsive, our private sector companies more successful. This means moving away from the politics of: 'Everything is the fault of your lot', or pitching the public sector against the private sector, when of course we need both to be effective.

If you analyse what constitutes an effective developed economy, which is essential for funding the health service and creating great careers for people, you come across an agenda that is almost absent from General Election debates. This ought to concern our political leaders and parties. The considerations include:

• Strong universities and development of skills,
• Entrepreneurial endeavour and innovation,
• Strong business management to convert start-ups into sustainable businesses,
• Engaging leadership style to ensure good salaries and prospects, high employee engagement and customer service,
• Well managed, and innovative public sector organizations,
• Low corruption.

My own research shows that, when we move to high levels of engagement and cooperation, which I have defined as Level 4 and Level 5 ways of operating (where the focus is on people, common purpose and collaboration), the rewards for all participants are considerable. I talk about a 'management shift' from hierarchy and bureaucracy towards cooperation and achievement. This is not a left-wing or a right-wing issue, but a human issue. It can unite parties on at least some issues of common purpose: the health, wealth and happiness of UK citizens.

These dimensions scarcely get mentioned in General Election campaigns, or in the prospectus of a potential party leader. Meanwhile, the way in which much politics is conducted is often superficial, generating much heat but little light. The very real danger of a permanent split in the UK ought to concentrate the minds: we'll always be sharing an island, and almost certainly a currency. This means that a very high level of cooperation will still be necessary.

There are some promising developments. Parliamentarians of all political parties joined together to produce the Management 2020 report in July 2014. Later, in the November of last year, the Conservative MP Rehman Chishti invited me to address a meeting in the House of Parliament on the subject of The Management Shift. More recently, I attended a reception at the House of Lords to mark the 25th anniversary of the Institute for Collaborative Working, focused on bringing collaborative working practices to organisations in the UK and worldwide. The Institute works in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), The British Standards Institution (BSI) and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

I think we can also take encouragement from the increasing number of women in public life, which can encourage a more considered approach, defusing the competition between alpha males. Such collaborative initiatives need to be brought into the mainstream, and influence the profession of economics, which is far too obsessed with data rather than the human enterprise that creates all economic development.

Engaging leadership creates the strong organizations and forms of collaboration that communities are crying out for. It is not a side-show to economic development, but its beating heart. The French Revolution is history. Let's take some steps into the 21st Century.

• The Management Shift: How to Harness the Power of People and Transform Your Organization for Sustainable Success, by Vlatka Hlupic, published by Palgrave Macmillan October 2014. See