10 Key Points About the Future of Work

1. Customers, employees and other stakeholders are all interconnected, and have access to most, if not all the information that everyone else has


This fact has large implications for any organization. It means that you can’t hide – anywhere.

Michael Schrage of MIT puts it very succinctly:

“Networks make organizational culture and politics explicit”

It’s essential, in this interconnected age of instant accessibility to information and knowledge, that as a leader and manager you are aware of the potent force that is contained in networks of connected information and people.

The implications are clear.

People have to understand and believe in what an organization is doing, why the organization is doing what it does, and how it’s doing it.

The messages have to be clear and believable, and the culture that carries out the organization’s mandate and mission has to be flexible, responsive and open.

Fear and cynicism, being driven to perform – as opposed to being invited to contribute your best – can’t carry the day.


2. The organization chart usually reflects power and politics in the organization … more often than not, customers and employees find work-arounds to create the experiences that delight


“Hierarchy is a prosthesis for trust” – Warren Bennis (just stop .. please .. and think about this one for a moment)

Most organization charts reflect an organizational design that is intended to deliver a strategy developed by a small group of people sitting on the top of an organization

Evaluating and ordering jobs in terms of their size and importance is often used to implement the organizational design.

Most methods of job evaluation use factors, logic and language that was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s – perfect for the Industrial Age, less than perfect for the interconnected Information Age.

Often, reporting relationships and chains-of-command get in the way.

Why do you think the Dilbert comic strip has been so successful for so long ?

Probably because people know that lots of time, energy and effort is expended keeping bosses happy – usually at the expense of customers. Many managers aspired to, and have spent the last twenty years, learning how to become “bosses”. Do you know what prison guards are called by the inmates ?

You guessed it.   BOSS


3. People interconnected by the Internet and software have ways of speaking to each other – and so they do that – all day long.


People communicate. That’s what people do.

They share jokes, they send around interesting e-mails and web sites, they help each other get things done.

The nature of work in the Information Age has changed – dramatically. And it’s likely that the nature of work will keep changing.

If you want to see what work might look like – watch developments in the usability and usefulness of blogs and wikis. Watch younger people as they bring the gaming mentality into the workplace and watch how they communicate using cell phones, e-mail, and IM and the (eventual) derivatives of podcasting.

Watch, too, for developments in telepresence.

Employees are people, too. They communicate just like all the other real people, in Social Networks. They’re the ones communicating with your customers and shareholders.

It’s essential for an organization’s success, and the personal success of each and every one of those employees, that they feel proud of what they communicate. They want to be engaged in positive ways in making a meaningful contribution – to the customers, to themselves and to their fellow employees.


4. Champion-and-Channel replaces Command-and-Control


Thousands of articles have talked about how command-and-control dynamics are less than effective in the new set of interconnected conditions found in the workplaces of the Information Age.

Remember how you felt (or feel today) when commanded by a parent or other authority figure?

All too often, going to work in today’s organizations feels like re-living the adult version of that experience.

Not all organizations are like this – but fewer and fewer of tomorrow’s organizations will be able to function effectively if command-and-control remains the dominant dynamic.

Coaching has become an important response to changing this dynamic. Coaches help leaders and managers listen better, respect other people more authentically, and become more effective at striking a balance between:

Clarity and Decisiveness AND Flexibility and Openness

As change swirls and complexity keeps on growing, champion-and-channel helps good ideas and effective responses come to the surface and get implemented.

Effective leaders and managers know how to, or learn how to, champion and channel.

Bosses are different than leaders and managers – as both a conceptual construct and in the lived experience found in our relationship with them.


5. Conversations are where information is shared, knowledge is created and are the basis for getting the right things done


Human beings have been having conversations since time began. That’s how we’ve figured out all of the things we’ve invented and how we govern ourselves. It’s how we’ve gotten to how we are now.

In the Industrial Age, reporting relationships, and the assumption that the dog on the top of the heap knew more than all the other dogs, were the formalized structure for conversation . It doesn’t work very well this way, anymore.

The only way to deal with ongoing change is to create and sustain effective conversations – with your customers, with and amongst employees and with everyone else.

Sharing information, and creating new knowledge, in order to respond to ongoing change, is the only way that will work from here on out.

The structure, tools and culture of organizations will have to honor this fact.

There’s no other way it’s going to work.


6. Trust, transparency and telling the truth are the glue that holds it all together


People want to trust, they want to believe – even in the face of large amounts of evidence that the system is being manipulated in the favor of a select few.

In North America, we’re still trying to shake off the disbelief about the blatant dishonesty and fraud demonstrated by some corporate (and governmental) leaders. We actively do not want to believe things may be as corrupt as they seem … institutionalized dishonesty and deceit.

We don’t want to believe that these attitudes and behavior might be more widespread than is apparent, yet somehow we have a feeling that the common corporate culture rewards and supports this possibility.

Many people – checking their 401K’s or stock portfolios, or looking back at the job(s) they’ve lost – feel at best disrespected and at worst enraged that they have been taken advantage of.

The interconnectedness of the Web has created a means for people to challenge blind authority, and to push back. If their trust is abused, many will use this to establih their own authority or fight back

Let’s understand one thing … when people who have been abused decide to get organized and push back, they become a potent force.

Interconnectedness is a potent force for creating transparency and demanding trust, and many are just now learning how to use it more effectively.


7. The Workplace of the Future will be more diverse – in terms of demographics, various ages, values, gender, races and languages


In the midst of all the interconnectedness and sharing of information, the composition and shape of the workplace will keep changing.

North America and Western Europe are landscapes of a changing population – different waves of immigration keep coming, and each new generation brings fresh change to the workplace. The workplace of the near future will be a sea of people from a wide range of countries, cultures and languages – and they will all be interconnected.

The range of diversity brings with an equally wide range of beliefs, values and reasons for working.

This emerging mix will bring new dynamics of relationship into the workplace – both online and offline

Learning to listen, respect and champion-and-channel will be an essential competency for success.


8. New, integrated and sophisticated technologies are being developed and implemented, on an ongoing basis – and the knowledge workers of tomorrow will be more interconnected than ever


According to the experts, we’re moving into a collaborative and cooperative workplace and economy now – most organizations have by now adopted and (perhaps) implemented collaborative platforms, an infrastructure that’s decentralized and more open than that which existed until now.

Remember Napster ? (Oh my God .. like a century ago in Internet time). The workplace versions exist and may be coming soon to a workplace near you. Indeed, the wider conversation about blogs, micro-blogging, sharing and the place of these hyperlinked human activities in the workplace is only growing and acquiring useful examples.

Many forms of “smartware” are also on the runway, getting ready to take off. New tools are absolutely essential to deal with the overload of information that already exists – and grows more daunting with each passing week. This “smartware” (for example, all sorts of semantic filtering, or the use of what Thomas Vanderwal of Folksonomies fame has termed “social lenses”) will eventually find ways into the interconnected knowledge-based workplace.

Smartware will either “dumb things down” (entering information, and the system does the rest), or “smarten things up” (helping people collaborate and create new knowledge).

Many of these tools will add capability and functionality to the continuing need for effective collaboration – and so will make collaboration more and more possible.

More technology-supported collaboration will in turn increase the need for effective leadership and coaching – champion-and-channel will become more necessary than ever. The game will get sharper again.

Adapting to the new tools will require new forms of social interaction in the workplace. As change keeps coming, and work activities become more interdependent, the required adaptation will become more social and cultural – and biological, in terms of the dynamics – in nature.


9. We’re all in this together


The interconnected Information Age is beginning to show us that we’re all linked together – and that the whole system matters.

This principle applies to organizations, to networks of customers, suppliers, employees and communities, to our societies and to the planet.

New language for this principle is popping up everywhere – knowledge networks, intranets, communities of practice, systems thinking, swarming, social software, social networks, tipping points.

Awareness is the key. Maintain an “open focus”.

Being aware of yourself, others and the effects of your actions and ways of being in relation to others is a fundamental requirement in these conditions.


10. There’s no going back to “Normal” – Permanent Whitewater is the New Normal


It’s almost trite to say this – the only constant is change.

However…over the past 15 years or so, there have been enormous amounts of energy spent resisting change – waiting and hoping for things to go back to “normal”.

It won’t happen. It’s useful to acknowledge and accept this, and get started … at learning how to learn, and equipping yourself for constant adaptability.

It’s a good – but not the only – way forward.

At the same time, you won’t survive by trying to make yourself into a chameleon. You can’t be all things to all people.

Connecting to your self – your values, your ways to build and acquire knowledge, and understand and use your intuition – is in my opinion the only way to go.

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