Economist Paul Mills gave a remarkable speech at the annual conference of the Relational Thinking Network in Cambridge at the end of September. He examined a range of subjects, offering “relational solutions” to global financial instability.
It was fascinating to see the connections made between seemingly unrelated matters, showing that our current economic model is geared towards proliferating and exacerbating the pains of ordinary people suffering at the hands of an inherently flawed and unjust economic system.
In his talk, Paul connected the dots on a range of topics - the housing market, household debt, wage stagnation, income inequality, structural flaws in the banking model, corporate structure, the implication (and responsibility of) limited liability, taxation, the intergenerational crisis, and so on. Against each of the key areas, some relationally grounded solutions were briefly explored. Several days later, the implications of all that are still sinking in.
Why is this significant? Because growth in productivity can be regarded as one essential factor which could help to dig us out of the current global economic doldrums.
I later learned I wasn’t the only one to have picked up on it. While discussing the day’s events over a drink at the pub, several of us mentioned our surprise at the notion of declining productivity growth which we all assumed was at an all-time high, given the age of technological proliferation in which we are living.
I had asked Paul about this during the coffee break and he explained that “most of the low hanging fruit” of technological innovation had already been “picked”, and that what lay next on the technological horizon was costlier progress in areas such as energy and transport – requiring far greater infrastructural investments.
This is where I got to thinking and to connecting what Paul had said to my personal experiences as a business consultant working in the relational field, and helping organisations to achieve growth in the three domains of culture, profit and social impact.
My experience has been that individual and team performance is underpinned by engagement and motivation. We know from numerous polls (Gallup, KPMG, Deloitte etc.) that workplace engagement is roughly stagnant around 35-40%. That means ~60% of the average workforce are either actively dis-engaged or only passively engaged - with immense and perhaps obvious implications for individual productivity and company performance. My experience (and the research bears this out) has also been that engaged people represent more productive (as well as happier) people. My experience has also been that good relationships lie at the very heart of well-functioning teams and thus are critical to engagement and productivity. This is the common thread of all facets of the Relational movement, that relationships underpin healthier, happier, more productive people and societies.
In other words, we may be overlooking our greatest opportunity for growth in productivity. Instead of looking to technology alone to fuel growth in productivity, is it time we reversed the equation and looked to relationships to fuel productivity and technological growth?
Consider the invention of smartphones. No doubt, these are an outstanding technological innovation with immensely positive implications for growth in productivity. Yet, that growth in productivity, can (and has) been turned on its head when the use of that technology overtakes its intended optimum: overuse of a smartphone can cause chronic back and neck pain, especially in the cervical spine due to the lengths of time we hold it in positions which are un-ergonomic. Lengthy exposure to the electro-magnetic fields that it emits are considered by many to be harmful to health and can deplete energy. One only has to do a quick Google search to learn about the detrimental impact of smartphone overuse on face-to-face relationships, even marriages. Smartphone overuse has also been linked to sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety and several other disorders. Thus, our relationship to technology can not only serve to increase our productivity, but it can also threaten and undermine our productivity!
My point is this. The next phase of growth in productivity should come from deeper engagement with ourselves and our contexts; with our friends, class mates, families, colleagues and the strangers we have the opportunity of meeting.
The Relational Lens
Thankfully the relational model offers a clear pathway for doing this through the Relational Health Audit - a tool designed to assess the health of key business relationships and for developing those relationships to increase engagement and productivity. The 5 dimensions or pillars of successful relationships are:
- Directness – the nature and style of communication
- Continuity – the degree to which a relationship shares a common thread of past, present and future
- Commonality – the degree to which a relationship shares common goals
- Parity – the balance of power in a relationship
- Multiplexity – the variance in the contexts within which you know or have known someone
The tool measures the perception of relationships in respect of the above dimensions and the difference in perception is where the gold dust lies. As Rob Loe pointed out during his talk on the Relational Schools project at the Cambridge conference: “perception is reality”. Thus, understanding and comparing individual perceptions of a relationship provides the essential first step to understanding its strength. The differences in perception provide the areas of focus for exploration and they in turn give rise to the powerful interventions which can be applied to improve a relationship.
So while we continue to navigate the treacherous waters of global financial instability, we can start to make strides in a positive direction by expanding our relational lens to increase engagement, productivity and the raft of other associated benefits in the workplace. Perhaps a return to solid relationships will be our greatest weapon in the battle to return to long term financial and social stability.
By Nashak Billimoria