Building the Next Organisation

This article is an end-of-the-year reflection about the future of organisations and the future labour market. I wish everyone who reads this the very best for 2018, a year that will be disruptive.
By clicking on the pictures you can read more on 

The Future of Work is Hybrid and Agile.

The ideal career

Not so long ago the ideal career was stable, with a fixed employment contract. Leaving an organisation was something that people should avoid at all cost. Changing a career orientation is something that was not done either.

Because changing jobs is a risk. And risks were considered to be bad. Why throw away the certainty and comfort of a job and risk an adventure? The psychology of loss is so powerful in career decisions.
Inspire of all the fuzz about new forms of employment, to most people this is still the most preferred employment status.

An Industrial Definition of Work and Organisation

This model of work started in the early industrial era, when people left the countryside to go work in the factories in the cities. They gave up their status of independent (home) worker to become salaried. By doing this they gained certainty and lost the responsibility to “hunt” for work.
The organisation became bureaucratic: hierarchy, top-down decisions, division of labour, command-and-control. And it has worked reasonably for a long time. Why? Because the environment was reasonably stable and predictable. Technological evolution was linearly progressive and took long. There were no surprises.
But there was a downside to this kind of organization. These organisations dehumanised work. People needed to adapt to the work and fit in. And moreover they needed to follow the lines others set out for them. People were seen as one of the input factors, Human Resources. And once the input and throughput were under control, output was guaranteed.

Times are a-changing: the World is VUCA-D.

Today many organisations, not to say most, still follow that model. But the context has changed dramatically. Demographic shifts (longevity, migration, talent scarcity) and Digital Disruption change the way we need to look at work.
Today organisations cannot offer any certainty. The world has become VUCA-D, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and digital. Organisations cannot know what will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. They can assume, they can guess, they can think in scenarios. But in general, we are very bad at predicting the future.
Yet, organisations need to be prepared for the unpreparable. And a long-term employment relationship does not provide the right answer to that versatility: not for organisations, and not for people either. People tend to fall asleep in a long-term employment relationship. The pampering by organisations stops them from thinking about their future, their plan B.
I always ask people what their plan B is, even when they just start. And the problem is often that they do have a plan B, that is fixed employment, but they do not have a plan A. Sometimes potential needs a push.

The Assignment Economy: A Matter of Exploitation?

We are moving towards an assignment economy. Sometimes this is called the gig-economy. Like musicians go from concert (gig) to concert, workers of the future might go from assignment to assignment. The sequence of assignments might occur within an organization or between organisations. To some this reeks of exploitation because people might not acquire any rights and might find themselves in a precarious situation.
That of course is the challenge. When Uber, Deliveroo and others enter a market, they challenge the status quo. They operate outside established rules and gain a competitive advantage because they have freed themselves from the burden of legacy rules, many of which are simply bad habits.
It’s not because they challenge the rules that they are wrong or right. The good thing is that when they challenge the status quo, a discussion can take place. A new framework can come out of the friction between old and new. And it’s up to us to decide how we can construct that new framework: what kind of flexibility and what kind of protection should we install? That is a discussion on the level of the whole society. The design of a new labour market that enables individuals, organisations and industries to remain or become competitive and that enables sufficient protection for those who are without assignment, that is the real challenge.

The design of a new labour market that enables individuals, organisations and industries to remain or become competitive and that enables sufficient protection for those who are without assignment, that is the real challenge.

The Assignment Economy: A Matter of Empowerment

So the changing nature of our economy and the changing nature of our organizations has an impact on employment and work. There will be a growing number of people who have no fixed relationship with an organization. And also within organisations the relationship with employees is changing.
As organisations need to be more agile (speed, flexibility), employees need to become agile too. And the way to do that is to give people more autonomy, a sense of purpose and the competencies to cope with that uncertainty. Empowerment not only mean giving people more freedom, it also means giving people more energy and a framework that both leaves space to take decisions and gives enough support to have a sense of direction. Empowerment entails also responsibilities!

The Next Organisation

Next organisations will have a small core of employed people (who might own the company too), enlarged by a talent cloud, a group of independent professionals that can help an organization to achieve its purpose. There are different kinds of relationships from fixed, to long-term flexible, to short-term with people that form the talent base. The talent cloud is quite diverse and enables organisations to shift gears fast and accomplish flexible goals.
There might be parts of that organisation that still are in factory mode and governed the industrial way. But this ambidexterity is extremely difficult to organise, so companies with different speeds within, will tend to split up.
And organisations will not stand alone. They will be networked, not around a supply chain, but around a customer and a purpose. And so will people. The traditional hierarchy will probably not disappear completely, but will change and become less dominant. A different kind of leadership will be needed, one that allows for people to take decisions autonomously. I have called that sustainable leadership in my book.

The battle between trust and control

It’s clear that these organisations will have to develop a sense of purpose, but also a sense of trust. Without trust these organisations cannot succeed. Today there is a lot of discussion about self-organisation, autonomous teams, empowerment and the liberated or empowered enterprise.
And at the same time we have never had so many control mechanisms in place. Discipline, authority, compliance, CCTV … it’s all there. There’s a battle going on between control (cost to reduce risk), and trust (a risk that enhances agility). There is never 0% control and never 100% trust. But 0% trust and 100% control would be at least as catastrophic. Of course it should not be a battle, but a quest for balance as trust and control are not mutually exclusive as long as the control is meaningful to those who are subjected to it.

New Organisational Practices

These are the organizational practices that need to be reviewed:

  1. How will we decide? Top-down or more participative? This is the question about autonomy, empowerment and distribution of decisional power.
  2. How will we coordinate? Centrally or decentrally? This is the question about steering, follow-up, hierarchy.
  3. Who determines what we do and how it’s done? Who determines goals? How will we evaluate? This is again a question about empowerment whereas people who are close to the customer will define how the business is run.
  4. How will we motivate people in both the core and the talent cloud? How will we unite them around the common purpose? This is the question about identification even when people are working on assignments. This is the challenge of building rapid trust within temporary teams.
  5. To what extent can someone take decisions about how a job is done? This is the question of customisation.

Customisation

One way to tackle the future challenges in that new labour market is to customize work. In 2011 I said that we’d need a kind of iHR, an HR policy that takes individual characteristics as starting point, instead of taking rules and procedures as framework.
Of course we need to do both. But customisation is about adapting the work (context) to the individual. By doing that we will enable people to work longer and with more motivation. And through customisation, organisations can become agile.
Don’t forget that the essence of HR is to make sure that people are able and willing to perform sustainably. And as careers become more hybrid and flexible, other solutions are needed to lake sure that this happens. The old way of dealing with people within organisations will no longer suffice.

The Return of Ethics

In all this, ethics will become more important. Ethics is about dealing with others according to some values. These values steer behaviour. And so if we could build organisations that inspire to act ethically, we are half way. Ethical behaviour reduces the need for control, supports decision-making, reduces the risk of fraud, allows people to do the right thing, …

A new Labour Market: from exploitation to empowerment?

To many the new labour market seems a return to the past, when home-workers had to find their assignments and where the customer decided whether or not to pay for the work done. The direct and individual relationship between worker and customer lead to a relationship based on reputation, quality of work. This gave rise to exploitation, precarity and aleatory decisions.
The best way to avoid precarity is to work on both the individual level and on the regulation of the labour market.

The Next Labour Market

The current labour market has many defects too. It is in itself imperfect as it is not as inclusive as we would like it to be, or because there is too much distance between the world of work and the world of education.

So if we talk about the labour market of the day after tomorrow, we are still faced with the situation of today that needs to be resolved.
There will be fixed employment. Yes. But that fixed employment will be limited in the time, either because the contract says so, or because the employer will need different skills, or because the employee wants a change. So we need to prepare for that.
I strongly believe that the idea of flexicurity as guiding principle could work. We give people not the job security they want, but the employment security. By focussing on sustainable employability we can make people less dependent from the dynamics of the labour market.

The Next Individual

The concept of sustainable employability must be guiding for how we approach the individual. Sustainable employability means that a person is prepared (willing and able) to work in the future. Being employable is good for the organisation, for the employee and for society. Whatever the employment status (employee, freelance, self-employed), it’s important for everyone to develop one’s own employability. Only then, the assignment economy and the related labour market will not be a problem.

Joint responsibility

But given the current imperfections of the labour market, we still need to take steps to develop this notion and to integrate all stakeholders in an active approach of sustainable employability: the education system, the employers, the employees, the unions, the government, …
The assignment economy does not have to become a problem. If we are able to build the next labour market, next organisations and help the next individual to rise.
Thank you for reading until the end. If you appreciate this free content, please like and share it. It’s my way of giving back what I have learned to my own network
 

Fear and faith, excellent Allies.

Fear and FaithTough social times

Belgium is going through tough social times. November and December have been particularly intense in terms of manifestations and strikes. And it may not be over yet.
Union leaders say that people are very worried and afraid for all the (possible) consequences of the government’s intentions. They say it was not really difficult to mobilize their members to strike. Union members are – according to the union leadership – very ready to strike.
I fully respect the worries and emotions of people but I doubt whether strike is the proper solution. We’re not going to solve that in a blog. But the aspect of fear occupied my mind this week.

Fear

Why are people afraid ? Is it fear that drives them into striking ? Why don’t they have faith ? Faith that using other ways (e.g. dialogue instead of strike) will lead to better solutions ?
And if there isn’t any faith or trust left between unions and government, how has it come that far ?
Many questions. No simple answers.
I use sometimes the “SCARF” framework, developed by Dr. David Rock in 2008.
It explains that when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF) are at stake, our brain releases reactive energy. Our brain makes us use our energy in trying to defend and keep what we have. “Let’s not loose !”
 

Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework
Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework

Whenever the same aspects seem to be improved (the opposite of being at stake), also exactly the opposite happens: our brain releases proactive energy. Our brain makes us highly engaged and collaborative to adopt the change. “Let’s win !”
So we move away from the change in the first case. And move towards the change in the second case.
Any simple communication on change can be enough to start this movement. Our brain continuously screens for physical, social threats and rewards. It tries to decrease danger and maximize reward. It makes decisions about everything you interact with in the world.
This is important to understand:

  • Resistance may take various forms. One can fight (e.g. by striking) or flee or freeze. It is not a rational process. People react out of their emotional brain. They act threatened and feel being victims.
  • We use rational statements to articulate our preferences but tend to rely on our feelings when we actually make choices.

Fear drives us away from change. What is needed to drive us towards change ? Even if the change may impact our SCARF negatively ?

Faith

The faith of winning on the long-term, if we’re prepared to “loose” on the short-term ?
The faith that dialogue instead will bring us faster and more efficient in that future ?
The faith that together (unions and government) everybody wins more and faster than each one staying on their own SCARF ?
I get the impression this necessary faith or trust is no longer where it should be between parties. Have some people chosen for radical self-destruction ? I do not understand why the efforts to restart dialogue and trust building, have been so low on the priority list for such a long time

What is needed to reinstall this faith ?

  • Vulnerability

    So far we’ve seen very “macho” behavior: government versus unions and unions versus government. What is going on behind the macho-masks ? Fear at both sides ? The feeling of being powerless ? The conviction the “other side” needs to take the first step ? An honest and vulnerable declaration, like “please, let’s stop this, please let’s listen and talk to each other” may help. No matter from which side it’s coming. Let’s hope these things do happen behind the screens.

  • Empathy

    Does the one side really cares for the other ? And for the general benefit ? Is the government truly feeling the worries of people ?
    Are the unions truly worried about the economy on the long-term and about necessary efforts to be made ?
    We need both to survive: happy, engaged people, embracing change, and an economy to work in.

  • Listening

    In stead of yelling to and fighting with each other on the streets, one could consider to listen. Listen, not to reply, not to give solutions on the short-term, not to recommend, not to decide, and certainly not to judge. But listen, just to listen.
    And even if we do that, I think there is still a long way to go. But at least we will be going towards each other, and not away from each other.

Fear and Faith are Allies

Fear and faith could be excellent allies to make us move from the “away” side to the “towards” side. Vulnerability, empathy and listening are the keys for a successful marriage between fear and faith.
 
 
 
In this movie David Rock himself explains the SCARF framework.

Connecting the dots – present and future

Connecting the dots, looking backward.

When I watched Steve Jobs’ historic Commencement speech he gave in 2005 at Stanford University, I got truly impressed and inspired by the authenticity of his story. For those who don’t remember or who haven’t heard that speech yet, here it is.

One part touched me very deeply. When Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots, he shared how certain events, choices and experiences in his life that seemed to have no meaning when they happened, turned to be of priceless value later on.
In his words:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

I have become a huge admirer and user of the approach of connecting the dots. It helps me to clearly observe and clarify some patterns in my own life. However I am not sure if I totally agree on what he says next:

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Connecting the dots

Connecting the dots, looking forward.

Is it impossible to connect the dots looking forward? The answer is obviously yes. Nobody can predict the upcoming dots the future may bring. And do I come out here as a very naive fool (in the best case)?
Maybe I do, but I’ve continued reading on and experimenting with using the approach of connecting dots when trying to look forward. Let me share my findings with you.
I read this blog by Subroto Bagchi commenting on Job’s words:

Here is a man I know who can connect the dots looking forward. Captain Gorur Gopinath came out of the Army and wanted to become an organic farmer – he actually did that. During his farming days, he happened to meet an old buddy, an ex-helicopter pilot, who had quit the army and unable to find any job on the civilian street, had become a manager in a courier company. DOT.
Then one day, Gopi was leading a delegation of farmers to China. On the way, he read about a young Vietnamese lady – she had fled the US occupation, migrated to overseas, grown up to become a helicopter pilot and one day, she came back to see her motherland, she cried upon seeing the devastation. She wanted to help rebuild. But what could she do? The only thing she knew how to do was fly a helicopter. But then a country like Vietnam needed infrastructure and access and there were hardly any airfields. So, she decided she would start a helicopter company there. DOT.
Gopi was very deeply stirred by the story and then it occurred to him that in many ways, India was no different than Vietnam – we had not been bombed but we had the same poor infrastructure and lack of access-ability; if Vietnam needed a helicopter company, so did India and you know what? His Army buddies, who had flown the choppers all their lives, were becoming managers in courier companies! DOT. Gopi connected them all and that is how Deccan Aviation was born.
One day, he was flying a chopper to Goa from Bangalore and asked the pilot to fly low so he could see the ground below. As the bird whirred over the vast land, Gopi saw something you and I easily miss. In every hamlet over which he flew, he saw television antennas.
Again, he was seeing the DOTs
It occurred to him that a billion Indians were not waiting to be fed and subsidized. A billion Indians could fly! The DOTS were connecting one more time, of economic liberalization, surging middle-class and the capacity of the ordinary Indian, even those from rural India, to fly a plane at least once in a life time.
When we do connect the dots looking forward, we build “memories of the future”. When we succeed, we actually live in them!

Again I was deeply touched, because the phrase memories of the future matches exactly what I discovered in another great work: Otto Scharmers’ Theory U, that literally quotes leading from the emerging future.
It is not about leading towards the future as many of us try to do, but about leading from the future that is already partly present and emerging, in the present.
Let’s return to the dots. Some of the dots occurring in the present are indicators for other dots that will emerge later on. So how can you know which dots are relevant and to be connected with future ones, and which are not ?

Attending and presencing.

The key answer to this question lays in attention, Scharmer says.
What we pay attention to, and how we pay attention is key to what we create. What often prevents us from attending is our blind spot, the inner place from which each of us operates.
A very important part of the U-process lies in the realm of presencing. This term was coined by Scharmer that combines the present with sensing. Here we are able to clearly see our own blind spot and pay attention in a way that allows us to experience the opening of our mind, our heart, and our will. This holistic opening constitutes a shift in awareness that allows us to learn from the future as it emerges. It also allows us to realize that future in the world. It enables us to very consciously see the relevant dots when they appear, and not to waste any time with the irrelevant ones when they appear on their turn. It really enables to connect the present with the future and the future with the present in a very clear and conscious way.
Coming into that state of presencing requires going through the U process. One blog is of course not enough to explain this process and presencing in detail, but I strongly recommend you to read into Scharmers’ work.
Steve Jobs was probably right that the most obvious way of finding clear connections is by looking backward, but I think you can also see and create a glimpse of the future by clearly being present in the present. The future is already here in some kind of emerging form. You just need to see it.

Connecting dots