Not only has Theresa May called for employees to be represented on company boards, she wants bosses to invite their customers on board too.
She is right to do so.
Employee participation might sound like a populist refrain from those in search of a centrist sound bite, or even the policies of outmoded socialism, but it is in fact a thoroughly modern, well tested and timely endeavour.
Mrs May’s call for a democratisation of the workplace echoes Mr Corbyn’s move towards greater inclusivity in politics when he invited constituents to submit questions for him to ask at PMQs. Politics aside, Mrs May’s election was transparent and meritocratic. Her victory did not depend on a quota system but on the fact that she was the most suitable candidate for the job. I wonder if UK politicians are now at risk of being both abreast and ahead of the business curve.
Much as Mr Corybyn motivated his constituents by offering them a voice every week, not just every five years, so have organisations realised that their employees, like their customers, must be treated as individuals and engaged consistently, not just around their annual review or customer complaints. Bosses are starting to realise that marketing to the single customer, the outcome of mass customisation, and treating employees as individuals are two sides of the same coin.
The ones that succeed do so not because they followed a fad. Merely playing the race or the gender card means little, as Mrs Leadsom discovered when she sought to make political capital of her motherhood, only to see her campaign backfire. Boards should include employees and customers in their strategic thinking based on what works best for the company, and not for the sake of being seen to do so.
Employee engagement at the most senior levels is nothing new. In Germany it is common currency. UK public sector reform champions mutual joint ventures where Employee Partnership Councils participate in company governance and decision making, providing advice, canvassing views and opinions and feeding them back to management.
Firms that strike the right balance, in every sector, public, private, targeting consumers and businesses alike, achieve a holy grail. The interrelationship between contented customers and engaged employees is a virtuous circle and when the two coincide, the circle is complete.
Their starting point is data. Its collection, analysis and distribution across management, in real time. A scientific process ensures consistency and guesswork is relegated to the past. At any one time, bosses have a pulse on the customer, the employee and the interrelationship between the two. By sharing tailored insights across silos, management better understands failings in the customer supply chain, spotlights pockets of high or low staff engagement and discovers the reasons why.
Employee engagement is therefore the missing link between aspiration and achievement. A firm cannot reach its maximum potential if management listens to its customer without involving its employees, because you cannot have a customer oriented company that is not listening to its staff. Failing to capture employee insight is not a missed opportunity, it is a business risk.
This process is a two way street. Social discourse has liberated the customer and employee alike. Each is as keen to share opinion in an effort to make things better, but only when it is equipped to listen can management act, building its engagement from solid learnings, by encouraging and empowering its employees to argue their case and present their ideas, knowing they are being taken seriously
Mrs May is unequivocal. Before too long, her ideas could become government, and therefore, company policy. She is also timely, because post Brexit UK PLC has never been more in need of a motivated talent base. How can we conquer new markets without new ideas? Regardless of whether Mrs May has designed her policies to help restore trust in politicians, her thinking is just as capable of having a similar effect on companies too. Management should welcome her lead.