As you make the journey towards redundancy many, often conflicting, thoughts cross your mind. Will I find another job? Do I want another job? What do I really want from life? What does my family want? How will we make ends meet? Does my bum look big in this?
Part of all this questioning for me is a quest for relevance. How can I or should I use the years of public service experience and knowledge that I am taking with me? The quest has taken me into some odd places where I never ever thought I would set foot. I’ve been lucky to get those opportunities as it’s more often the journey rather than the destination where you learn most.
Yesterday was a great example of that belief. I got to spend some time with an eclectic mix of activists, community organisers, youth workers, citizen journalists, social media folks, business people and, well all sorts of folks. We were thinking about ways to network and work together to make each of our communities better.
In truth, I felt a little fraudulent being there. Particularly as I listened to the problems people were struggling with in their own lives. It was a wearying and familiar story of funding disappearing, jobs being lost, programmes closing and anger and bewilderment at the speed of all this change. I heard about one area where a team of community workers with more than a hundred years of knowledge and experience about the area they serve were soon to be redundant.
To many of the people to whom I spoke the public sector appears to be a berserk behemoth crashing from crisis to crisis and immune to reason. It was humbling and troubling to hear how the ‘crashing around’ was now impacting on real people and the places they live.
I left wondering what I could do. People had been both very kind when they heard about my situation and interested in exploring how to draw from my knowledge and experience. That only seems fair since the taxpayer has funded my acquisition of that knowledge and experience.
My journey home was full of reflection. So much so that I wasn’t really listening to the radio until I heard a voice saying something about it being time for the public to move on from being so anti-bankers. Now that got my attention.
I listened with growing disbelief as a succession of voices from the world of banking talked about their remuneration. One voice talked enthusiastically about the ‘good times rolling’ once more and that the Ferrari season was upon us. And, of course, she said there would be plenty of girls getting diamonds again for Valentine’s. Happy days.
The contrast with what I had heard earlier could not have been starker. Or more dispiriting. The programme is called The Report and you can find it here.
Then, in one of those marvellous pieces of scheduling, came In Business. The rather wonderful Peter Day was talking with Professor Michael Porter from the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School. Prof. Porter is a business big brain and his school trains and influences future and current business leaders across the world. When something is on his mind it pays to listen.
In an article with a colleague Mark Kramer in the latest Harvard Business Review Prof. Porter discusses why big business is so divorced from society. They say:
Business must find a way to engage positively in society, but this will not happen as long as it sees its social agenda as separate from its core business agenda.
Box ticking around corporate social responsibility is not enough. Substance must triumph over form (or forms).
In the article the two thinkers talk about the importance of creating shared value. They both, of course, come at this issue from the perspective of believing in the superiority of capitalism to other ways of organising economic activity. But don’t be put off if you come from a different standpoint. I think shared value is too valuable a concept to dismiss.
Porter and Kramer argue that the disconnect between business and society has been caused by business’ pursuit of a narrowly defined idea of value and profit.
The solution lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the center. We believe that it can give rise to the next major transformation of business thinking.
The trading of ever more complex financial derivatives in pursuit of bonus generating profits is a classic example of this. Selling sub-prime mortgages so widely was clearly not in the long-term interests of the people who bought them, the banks that sold them or the taxpayers who then had to bail the banks out.
Listening to Prof. Porter calmly dissecting the failure of business leaders to understand this point made all sorts of light-bulbs spark into life in my head. The creation of social value was what we had been talking about in the session earlier in the day. It was what the bankers in The Report failed to grasp at all.
But I would extend the challenge of creating social value to us public servants and the political classes though. It seems to me that social value is a shared endeavour or it is nothing. Creating The Big Society or The Good Society or Our Society all flow, to a greater or lesser extent from an unease about the state we now find ourselves in. We may disagree about the destination. And the route. But at least we may agree that it’s a journey worth making.
It was, it seemed to me, at the heart of my own quest for relevance. Creating social value through the things that I might end up doing after I’m shoved out the door. Time for some further thought.
Don’t you just love Radio 4?