Moving to a self-regulating world

An extract from 'Governance and Compliance' magazine’s interview with Charles Handy, author, philosopher and management guru, who shares his views on the future of society, business and governance.

What do you think the future of governance looks like?

Most organisations consider regulations as a fence beyond which they should not go. My worry is that the fence only applies to a small bit of the organisation. In terms of outsourcing, this is a problem. Take Nike, for example. Most of its products are made in China and elsewhere but Nike does not directly employ these workers. It has limited control over the conditions of work in these places, so how can Nike have proper oversight? It is supposed to, but it is difficult.

I read of one closed circuit television company, which is operated from Ghana, that provides security monitoring for an English supermarket, because they are in the same time zone. The employee is watching the camera in the supermarket but he is sitting in Accra. He is probably working long hours, but how can the supermarket control that? How can any government enforce the supermarket to control what the chap in Ghana is doing? So the control of outsourcing and the monitoring and regulation of it is already very difficult.

This gets back to a philosophical problem: why should government worry? Why not let people exploit themselves if they want to? Do we have to make sure you save for your pension? Have we assumed this welfare state philosophy, one that has too much responsibility over the individuals? The alternative to this is many more strong trade unions for the self-employed.

The government should support unions to support people, because one day it is going to be beyond the reach of government to do it. I do not see how you can regulate or control this kind of free-fall world that is emerging.

The move to a self-regulating world is really what I am talking about. That self-regulation is based on constant feedback. Many people said the idea for eBay was crazy. Nike Free XT. How can people trust people they have never met? But it worked. Now it is commonplace; we trust people because of feedback.

What does this new world of business mean for governance professionals?There has got to be a lot more individual entrepreneurship, not building big businesses. You may not have a career set out before you; you will have to build your own. If your career has been built on company secretarial work, you have skills that can be used – but they may not be used by companies. Instead, advise individuals how they should look after their own affairs.

My worry is that many people in work have a corporate mind set; coming to work and being told what to do. When I moved from being in an organisation to a self-employed writer, I set up my study. I had, like when I was employed by a company, an in-tray and an out-tray, and nothing ever came into the in-tray. I realised that hitherto, my life had been dominated by what was coming in; lists of things, requests for this, going to meetings. My day was full responding to other things, but suddenly there was nothing. It was frightening.

I had to start making calls and generating my own to do list. I was naïve, I just thought life would go on and things would come into my in tray. But they didn’t. Young people will have to ask themselves whether they can survive outside the organisation, because they are going to have to eventually.

Charles Handy, author, philosopher and management guru, shares his views on the future of society, business and governance.

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