News and Comment

Mutual support?

Monday 21 February 2011

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The mutual model for organisations delivering public services is getting a lot of publicity, but is there a missing piece to this jigsaw?

Patrick Lewis, partners’ counsellor at John Lewis, and great-nephew of the original John Lewis who founded the best known employee-owned company certainly thinks so. His view is that time, care and commitment are required in setting up this type of organisations – but that support is the key.

We can’t expect public service managers and leaders – usually recruited for very different skills – to suddenly become experts at selling and structuring a new organisational form, marketing services in a competitive market and dealing with different forms of employee engagement and decision-making.

The recent report by the University of Birmingham into bids to set up social enterprises to deliver health services found that people leading initiatives of this sort felt isolated without the necessary support.

That’s not to say that there is no support for setting up mutuals but rather that too much of it is focused on the shape of the organisation and the legal and financial side rather than on the people ‘holding the ring’ who are vital in terms of energy and focus in making things happen. For the mutual sector to further flourish this needs to be addressed.

To help support new models of ownership, we are hosting accelerated learning groups for leaders and managers of organisations interested in or soon to become a social enterprise or mutual organisation.