UK Coalition: Married, But Not Engaged?

Last Updated May 12, 2010 6:52 AM EDT


"Where there is uncertainty, there's hesitation," observed WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell at the IoD's Annual Convention. Post-election, there's a need for decisiveness -- whatever the result.

Now that the result is in and we have a coalition government, though, are we any more certain? There are already rumblings of concern regarding how a coalition government -- not to mention one comprised of such apparent opposites -- can ever be decisive. How, say, will the new government handle the public sector deficit -- with quick Tory action or the slower response the LibDems favour?

LibDem leader and now deputy PM Nick Clegg's describes the alliance as a "new kind of government" and maybe it will be. But like any merger of two un-matched organisations, the work begins now, with both sides needing to learn the art of compromise (and when not to) while bringing along their own parties and making them feel as if their work still matters.

There are a few valuable workplace lessons to be drawn from watching the coalition's progress (hopefully more 'do's' than 'don'ts').

1. Engagement
Forget the top brass, what about the rank and file? There'll be some engagement work to be done if the two parties want to play nicely together. It's particularly relevant in politics, where ideology and integrity are major motivators at work. But who's got time for bonding when you've got a country to run?

A valuable tip comes from a LinkedIn discussion on engagement. When asked what was the single most important consideration when trying to introduce an engagement strategy, Jonathan Berry, director of Camrose Employee Engagement, responded with "pragmatism".

His explanation: "Few people have much discretionary time on their hands these days, so the engagement strategy would need to realise a lot of benefit without a huge time commitment." Using existing opportunities -- meetings, for example -- to bring together opposing forces makes the most sense for time-poor organisations. A singular leadership vision would seem a prerequisite, so this may be the making/breaking of the coalition.

2. Decision-making
While a government's decision-making process can only offer limited lessons to a business leader, there are some 'red flags' any leader should watch out for, as authors Jo Whitehead, Andrew Campbell and Sydney Finkelstein outline in their book, "Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You".

Decisions based on misleading experiences, prejudices, inappropriate self-interest and inappropriate attachments can blinker any boss. Whether Cameron, Clegg and their parties can arrive at decisions without falling into these traps remains to be seen. The fact that they've already compromised to create a coalition government bodes well.

3. Consensus
Tamara Erickson, author of "What's Next, Gen X?", believes X-ers (and Cameron and Clegg both fit the age group) will bring about considerable change as leaders. Gen X-ers are more open to different opinions and more comfortable with diversity, making their leadership more consensus-driven. If we don't know what a consensus-driven organisation looks like, it's because it's supposed to be new. But one slight worry already visible: Cameron announced the coalition using "I...", Clegg spoke of "we".

Will it work?

(Image: Acid Rabbi, CC2.0)