Companies have a political role to play
Today, states are over-indebted and find it difficult to manage supranational issues. We live in a global village where economic giants are absorbing and creating gigantic value with valuations in excess of $1 trillion in the US and China. Luc Bretones emphasises that, in this context, economic players bear a major responsibility: to reduce the growing fractures that are forming at the societal and environmental level. “Without their intervention, we will face serious social crises, or even a revolution that will be symptomatic of a growing evil,” says Luc.
“If companies do have a political role to play, they cannot do without the State and even less can they replace it”, Laurent Ledoux points out. “The political objective today is to give back to the State the role it has so that it can fully appropriate it to define or clarify the rules of the game of the economy. The fact that companies, both private and public, assist it in this task is not incompatible with their respective roles,” he adds.
Globalisation and new technologies have changed the way this game is currently played between different states, companies, but also organisations such as lobby groups and NGOs. The collaborative governance that is taking place today in many companies can also be implemented in these public and non-profit organisations. “Some of them are already doing it, and there could be a similar dynamic at all levels of the state,” says Laurent Ledoux.
There is likely to be a very strong link between establishing collaborative governance and having a positive impact on the evolution of society and the environment. “When an organisation becomes more collaborative, it will naturally tend to collaborate with external players who are also involved in the societal and environmental impact it seeks to produce,” explains Laurent Ledoux. The new modes of governance are, according to him, a leaven to help companies occupy the political sphere, not in a competitive spirit, but to live together.
Internet: the right use of influence
“In the 1990s, the advent of the Internet heralded a profound change in social paradigm on a global scale. At the time, the Cluetrain Manifesto was already comparing markets to conversations. And this is what is happening today, 30 years later”, says Luc Bretones.
One of the positive elements of this development is that economic and political actors now have no choice but to be more transparent. The two sides agreed that without transparency and authenticity in the approach, companies and states will come up against a wall. According to them, we are coming to a crossroads where some organisations are going to use new technologies to encourage autonomy and trust, while others will do precisely the opposite, using them to control everyone even more centrally and permanently. The return of trust must therefore be encouraged. It will depend on the capacity of each individual to take responsibility and to move away from power relations in favour of co-construction.
“Two weeks ago, I discovered that Microsoft has added a productivity module to measure the activities of employees within organisations. This is no more and no less than a monitoring system and it is very worrying to see that such influential players as Microsoft are generating tools like this”, denounces Luc Bretones.
It is true that the Internet, and all the technologies associated with it, are capable of the best and the worst. On the one hand, it allows everyone to express themselves, even to influence the course of things by forming mass movements nourished by collective intelligence. On the other hand, they also give free rein to the rise of populist, radical and even totalitarian phenomena.
“It is also for this reason that democratic states and companies must work together to assume their respective political roles and responsibilities: to preserve democratic models while making the most of the power of the internet”, says Luc Bretones.
Faced with these observations, the public is wondering: what can be done concretely to transform organisations to this end?
The transformation of organisations is a voluntary but gradual act
While he is working at Orange, Luc Bretones is in contact with almost 4,000 employees. An organisation of this size cannot be transformed overnight. The deployment of the collaborative governance project he then set up proves to be extremely interesting. Luc begins by training all the managers who want to get involved in the project. It is important to point out that these people volunteered to test the approach. “The managers were accompanied for two years by external coaches specialised in collaborative governance and agility”, recalls Luc Bretones.
In order to make gradual progress, Luc and his management committee select strategic projects for the group. He then starts several small-scale programmes. When the programme reaches a critical milestone, Luc organises feedback sessions with the employees concerned and trade union representatives to take stock of the situation while ensuring that the experiment is conducted with respect for people.
“Of course, we made mistakes. An organisational transformation is far from being a long, quiet river, but everyone was heading in the same direction and there was no way the test teams could turn back! Why not? Because these modes of operation allow employees to regain control over what they do and because power is given back to those who do rather than those who imagine what should be done,” says Luc Bretones.
“The type of transformation we are describing here is not limited to changing an organisation, nor is it limited to changing a culture. It is a deep questioning, intrinsically linked to the willingness of leaders to change their stance on power and control,“ says Laurent Ledoux.
Both speakers agree that the transformation of an organisation depends on the conviction of the employees in the project, starting with the top and middle management. They also agree on a crucial point, which is that of experience: “To accompany this change of stance, you have to have lived it yourself“, Laurent Ledoux insists.
One of the webinar participants then asked a question that represents one of the major challenges of any organisational transformation: how, within the current legal framework, can social dialogue be created and consultation between the various players be ensured to accelerate the transformation?
The social partners: key players in the transformation
For 120 years, companies operated according to the principles of Fordism and Taylorism: that of a paternalistic system supported by a pyramidal hierarchy. The new generation of companies is interested in another model that makes use of team networks.
“The balance of power between employer and employees is no longer relevant in a world where information is accessible to everyone, everywhere, all the time,” explains Luc Bretones. According to him, transversality within the organisation is a real asset.
“Sterile confrontations between union representatives and management are the prerogative of traditional organisations,” adds Laurent Ledoux. In his view, collaborative governance can largely resolve these types of conflict since the principles on which it is based are also defended by the social partners, namely: optimal working conditions where individual room for manoeuvre, autonomy, inclusion and personal development contribute to the overall well-being of employees.
This is why it is preferable, conditions permitting, for the social partners to be included from the outset in projects to transform organisations. On the one hand, to enable them to understand the ins and outs of the project. On the other hand, to show them that it is not a change pushed by the top and piloted by a few, but an organic transformation process, nourished by the collective intelligence of volunteer teams from all levels of the company.
“In order to protect the experiences that are going to be made, in order to carry them out in the best possible conditions, it is important to ensure that all stakeholders within the organisation are deeply convinced of the merits of the approach, understand the issues at stake, take ownership of them, share the same values and remain open to dialogue“, says Luc Bretones.
Of course, discussions vary depending on who is interacting, the key factor being trust. “When trade union representatives trust the managers who are implementing the transformation in the organisation, the exchanges are constructive and help to move in the right direction. The reverse is also true. However, nothing should fundamentally set the social partners and company managers against each other in terms of the objectives pursued through the implementation of collaborative governance,” says Laurent Ledoux.
In support of this point, Laurent Ledoux recalled that, in the 1940s, French trade unionists were already promoting approaches similar to what is known today as collaborative governance. This is the case notably of Hyacinthe Dubreuil who, in 1948, wrote “L’Equipe et le ballon: l’ouvrier dans l’entreprise organisée” (The Team and the ball: workers in organized companies). This reference is important because it implies that if the leaders of organisations must imperatively change their stance before launching a transformation project, this is also the case for the social partners.
Yannick Bollati, who moderated the webinar, then asked which indicators would best assess the success of implementing collaborative governance. He also questions Luc Bretones and Laurent Ledoux on the impact of such a transformation on the company’s business model.
Transformation, business model and impact
Luc Bretones explains that the transformation of a company towards collaborative work is not necessarily aimed at solving a crisis or a problem. “Many companies decide to go ahead because they feel they need to move towards a new model,” he says. “Sometimes it is by implementing a new organisational approach that they realise that they can also change their business model or, conversely, that the transformation of their business model must go hand in hand with a new, more collaborative way of organising themselves,” he describes.
The question of impact has become central to any approach. Organisational transformation is no exception to the rule. When an organisation embarks on such a process, it takes into account the “classic” indicators of financial performance and productivity, but also evaluation criteria related to the well-being of the staff, as well as the societal and environmental impact of the company.
About ten years ago, Google created a tool that is now very successful in the collaborative sphere: the Objective & Key Results (or “OKR”). This system makes it possible to make the link between the organisation’s purpose, its objectives and performance indicators.
“This system is extremely simple to describe and cut out. It focuses the organisation’s energies on achieving its purpose. Everyone’s objectives and results are known and visible to everyone in real time thanks to online collaborative tools such as Holaspirit. It is a very concrete way of approaching the question of impact and materialising it in an organisation in a transversal way“, explains Luc Bretones.
As Luc Bretones describes how indicators are set and monitored in the collaborative enterprise, a logical question appears on the Q&A of the webinar: how will this new type of monitoring of an organisation’s results lead to changes in the employee compensation system?
Remuneration in collaborative organisations
This is probably one of the most challenging issues for organisations that have implemented collaborative governance. In fact, it is not a subject that is advisable to address at the beginning of a project. However, the implementation of collaborative governance inevitably goes hand in hand with the need for greater transparency in terms of remuneration. Studies also show that collaboration is more enhanced by fixed individual remuneration, possibly combined with collective bonuses, which are conducive to mutual support and collective success rather than internal competition. Companies that succeed in changing a new remuneration model in this way activate a very powerful lever for cohesion within their teams.
“Ideally, it’s best not to broach the subject of remuneration at the beginning of the transformation process. It is not to hide such a delicate subject. It is simply because the organisation must first reach a certain degree of maturity and confidence in the transformation before it can address this subject in a healthy way collectively,” Laurent Ledoux stresses.
Collaborative governance promotes respect for people, so that their contribution to the realisation of the organisation’s purpose is fairly recognised. This form of equity does not, however, lead to equal pay. “Not everyone earns the same, but the gaps that exist between wages must be normal, fair and equitable,” adds Laurent Ledoux.
After this clarification on remuneration systems in collaborative organisations, our moderator Yannick Bollati returns to another key theme of collaborative governance: autonomy in decision-making.
Organizations where everyone makes their own decisions?
In an article entitled “Deciding how to decide”, Luc Bretones reports on the different methods that exist to change the way decisions are made within organisations. The methods vary according to the situation.
In collaborative organisations, decisions are usually made with the consent of those affected by them. Consent does not mean consensus. Consent means that the people affected have no valid objections to the actions resulting from the decision being tested and implemented, that they are safe enough to try. For an objection to be considered valid, it must be shown that implementing the decision would be worse than doing nothing. This speeds up decision-making and collective action. Again, while the approach may seem innovative, it is not new! It was born with the emergence of sociocracy in the Netherlands in the 1940s.
“I personally tested the principle of subsidiarity. When a decision was taken on a subject that was outside my field of expertise, I delegated it to the person who was most expert in the matter, closest to the field. The ability to make the right decisions is not a question of qualifications. Everyone has good and practical intelligence to propose solutions,” says Luc Bretones.
In some situations, such as a crisis, organisations sometimes revert to more centralised decision-making methods to speed up decision-making over a given period of time. They appoint experts to investigate the case and set up colleges of managers chosen from within the company to decide. In the exchanges, Luc Bretones’ message is clear: “There is no universal method, it is done on a case-by-case basis, depending on the situation and the job of each person”.
For his part, Laurent Ledoux once again insists on the nuances of inclusion in decision-making proposed by collaborative governance: “One of the principles of collaborative governance is to give everyone a voice in decision-making. This does not mean that all collaborators must participate in all decisions, only those that will impact their daily work. The key, when we decide to adopt these decision-making mechanisms, is to be clear about why we are doing so, taking into account the collective issues at stake”.
As the webinar slowly draws to a close, the debate concludes on the cultural aspects of collaborative governance and its potential to help Europe find its way in the global economic and geopolitical concert.
For Luc Bretones, there is no doubt about it. There are obviously huge cultural disparities in Europe, but there is also a foundation of common values that make us Europeans. These new forms of collaboration emanate from Europe. The most mature countries in terms of collaborative governance are the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. “The Netherlands is the melting pot of sociocracy, collective intelligence and decision to consent,” enthuses Luc Bretones. “We see political bodies, even at the highest level of government, calling on experts in the field to advise them on how this type of governance can help frame the necessary reforms,” he adds.
Looking around the countries, Luc Bretones points to the gap between Northern Europe, which is leading the way in collaborative governance, and Southern Europe, which is lagging a little behind in the field. He notes, however, that two countries, which are not part of Europe, seem to be moving in the right direction: Russia and Japan. “We are really seeing the emergence of a generation of entrepreneurs and organisations that are moving towards these collaborative models. Transformations are going to happen in the coming months,” says Luc Bretones.
Laurent Ledoux adds that if the European institutions were to adopt the techniques of decision-making by consent rather than by consensus, Europe would take a huge leap forward in terms of speed and decision-making relevance. Unsurprisingly, he believes that such an acceleration of collaborative processes cannot take place without a change of stance on the part of the representatives who sit on the Commission or the European Council.
“By moving from the defence of purely national interests to that of the common interest, European construction would become an extraordinary hope for the world by proposing a mode of governance between states that really corresponds to what we need to meet today’s challenges, virtually all of which transcend state borders”, concludes Laurent Ledoux.