When we use the phrase social enterprise, we all intuitively understand that is in some way different from an orthodox view of how industrial enterprises operate, how they are organised, what is their role and purpose, by which I mean whom do they really serve? And, how in part they make their money. We have to ask therefore - what is the true nature of the social enterprise?
Its nature starts with the idea that enterprise is designed around what makes us human and our humanity. The social enterprise seeks greater mutuality, serves the collective good is, adaptive, flexible and redistributive of wealth and knowledge. It uses different types of capital as a resource, human capital, intellectual capital, and social capital whilst offering multiple benefits for those that work and engage with the enterprise - to grow as an individual, to grow as a leader, to become a true practitioner, to share in the knowledge and the wealth. The social enterprise always is built upon the foundations of trusted participatory cultures. It uses different forms of human interaction, tools, technologies that are inherently social and open. As I write in No Straight Lines openness is natures default setting and openness is resilience.
Geometric shape of the social enterprise
Another aspect of a social enterprise is the likelihood that it has a horizontal hierarchy of networked relations - this means the emphasis is on collaboration not coordination, or in other words working with and for each other, not under the coordinating control of top down management.
Evidence shows that with a clear vision, common values, a few simple rules and collective commitment to well-defined positive out-comes - allows the social enterprise to lead and operate in an entirely different mode. Collectively, this seemingly chaotic diversity and creativity flourishing through bottom-up emergence can yield far more responsive, self- adapting organisational behaviour than top-down command-and-control approaches, and with much less costly management. It means we all work for each other and for the collective good.
The social enterprise in practice
This is without a doubt the case with how the health care system in Nova Scotia has been transforming itself systemically over the last three years. This large-scale organisational change of the healthcare system is happening in Nova Scotia, through a process described as 'Participatory Leadership', whereby it is the participation of the people that are the true actors (nurses, clinicians, patients, etc.) within that healthcare system that are co-designing, and co-creating how they are going to find the answers to their difficult and challenging issues. This process allows all participants to contribute and in that they embrace systems change - or in other words, people embrace what they create.
As the Director Janet Braunstein Moody told me, 'we are doing things today not possible without participatory leadership becoming the core operating process of the organisation'. She points out that in her experience after working in healthcare for many years that you can do almost anything with a shared vision - when there is awareness and comprehension of that shared vision and so the needs of the whole outweigh the needs of the individual. This translates for example into the Nova Scotia healthcare system co-budgeting together, deciding as a group how to spend the budget, something that could never have been achieved before.
Better decisions are made - faster. For example in a recent meeting on policy legislation an observer commented, 'I have been working in policy legislation for 25years I have seen people trying for months if not years without success to achieve what you have in four hours.' This today is the norm.
As a consequence of adopting a collaborative, open approach the commitment to work hard and for each other is phenomenal Moody tells me, and that work and the meaning of work has become more satisfying and more meaningful, to the point it has become fun - because it is a values led work ethic.
The social enterprise is a fertile place for people to grow themselves as individuals and into true authentic leaders, with the deep respect of their co-workers and partners. However their leadership is based upon the idea of stewardship not ownership, that for the time they are in that role it is a privilege to do so.
The social enterprise is also demonstrative of the agile organisation. Agility is related to what Otto Scharmer describes as an evolved geometry that devolves power from hierarchies to evolving networks of relationships, these are organisational models in which people, patients, physicians, clinicians, support services connect with each other in more meaningful ways in which they are all part of the process. So we move to human centered ecologies of organisation. Indeed, when the H1N1 epidemic broke out in Nova Soctia the health care system as a social enterprise was fleet of foot in responding to the unfolding danger.
Power struggles and the upgrade to the Human-OS
What is overlooked by traditional management is that human beings are meaning making creatures, narrative the stories we co-create in all aspects of our lives constructs meaningful identities and meaningful lives, it is the fuel for how we engage with the world around us and is the key to how far we will commit to a task, project, or quest. And in that act of co-creation we also construct more cohesive organisational cultures and even societies.
There is an alternative view of society that is built upon the collective participation of many individuals over the strong leadership of the few. We are saying a better world is created by what we share. So upgrading our world and our enterprises to a human centric OS (operating system) should be obvious to us all as this operating system offers us greater opportunity, freedom, empowerment, mutualism, diversity, efficiency, independence, and beauty. Yet there is great resistance to this logic as networked relations challenge the dominate logic of the organization. Indeed it is a wise leader that is able to understand that to become more powerful one must give up a dominant position of power.
The DNA of the social enterprise
However, it is clear that human centricity is both the DNA, plus the very fabric of the social enterprise, demonstrating that people will engage giving their creative best if they believe the effort is worthwhile and recognised - people's deep motivation is not monetary but more importantly it is based upon meaningful connection. The social enterprise is open, agile, can deal with complexity and is far more responsive because of the trusted interconnected networks of human relationships that exist, it is diverse and thinks of itself more as an organism than a machine. Faster alone they say but, further together.
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