The Future of Work

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.

Month: June 2015

Gender Equality – Quotas aren’t the answer

Personally Ive never experienced first hand gender equality being an issue, although I know some peers would vehemently disagree. Maybe its because of the digital world I work in, or maybe Ive been fortunate enough to work at modern companies with forward looking views.

But the debate still rumbles on. Are women given equal opportunity to advance in business or are there barriers in place which stop them doing so? Certainly in
some industries there appears to be a lack of female representation at the highest level
, but whether that is down to institutional sexism or just a natural order in certain sectors is difficult to determine.

One thing is for sure though, the way Labour Leadership Candidate Andy Burnham has set about addressing the balance is not the way to do it. In a bid to win the party leadership seat he has announced he will have a forced 50/50 gender split in his shadow cabinet should he win. And will also guarantee he has a female deputy leader, regardless of who should win the vote.

No doubt Mr Burnham has thought this through, and worked out this wouldn’t be too far from the natural order anyway, making this a PR stunt aimed at winning votes. However forced quota of gender in either direction is not helping anything, and he is setting a poor example in his actions. Jobs, promotions, senior positions, pay-rises should be based on one thing and one thing only, merit. The best person for the job, or the person worthy of the promotion or pay-rise, regardless of gender, race, age or anything else you can come up with.

One of the worlds largest advertising agencies, MediaCom, has a senior team in the UK which is largely dominated by females. The roles of Chairman (Jane Ratcliffe), CEO (Karen Blackett), CSO (Sue Unerman) and Managing Director (Claudine Collins) are all held by women.

Did they need to enforce a quote to achieve this? No, they just created a business and a culture where individuals are rewarded on merit. No doubt some of these women have had to battle through discrimination in their careers, but none needed a quota to get where they are and I would like to think any challenges they have faced in the past, are not going to be faced by the workforce of the future.

The prevailing thing that all of these successful women had, and continue to have, is work ethic, drive, determination, and a belief that nobody is going to tell them they cant do something they set their mind to.

If you want gender equality, don’t focus on forcing it. Focus on building a generation of individuals who have no predetermined limits to what they can achieve, and the drive and determination to achieve their goals. The rest, I am confident, will take care of itself.

IOTs – now and in the future

Steve Wozniak came out recently and warned we could be experiencing an Internet of Things (IOT) bubble akin to the dot com bible of the 90s. Where ill thought out ideas and companies secure huge valuations due to them utilising the technology of the moment.

What we need to be careful though, it assuming that comments like this are taken as a criticism of the technology or theory. With his comments Wozniak was not suggesting IOT was a fad, far from it. He was merely commenting on the volume of companies entering this field, and the senseless valuations they were being given. Just like the dot com bubble wasn’t the end of the Internet, if a bubble does appear for IOT, it will far from a death knoll.

More the exciting and furore around IOT right now is purely part of the evolution of the technology. Ideas like the bluetooth toilet aren’t going to have any major impact, now or in the future. But by playing around the fringes of technology, before starting to really push its boundaries, ideas and uses will emerge which add true value.

Consider products like the INSTEON Hub Pro, which enables you to remotely control all of the lighting, heating and electrical sockets in your home. Or the Danalock, Smartlock which allows you to remotely control locks on your doors and we start to see more practical applications.

Connected devices are coming to our homes and work places and will begin to affect our day to day lives more and more. Its far from a fad, or a phase, it is the future. If nothing else, so you can start the kettle off boiling from your desk!

Work life balance doesn’t exist

Marks phone pings. Its a slack message with a document for proof reading. He opens it up on his smart phone before giving the OK for it to be distributed.

He then turns his attention back to slide deck for next weeks big presentation. The coffee he has ordered arrives and he takes a sip as the sun creeps around the corner and adds a glare to his laptop screen.

Half an hour later he is playing in the pool with his two children before they head off to kids club and he gets his head into some bugs in the code for the tool he has been building.

Did I mention Mark was on holiday? No? Thats because it doesn’t really matter.

The concept of work life balance is very quickly becoming a myth and something which doesn’t fit with the current world, and certainly not in the future.

A balance requires two opposing forces, each at odds with each other. But for success now and in the future this cannot be the case. Success in life will depend on a blend of work and play, the two intermeshing and coexisting regardless of time of day or location.

Of course, balance in life is always important. Balance of diet, health, and time spent on certain activates. But work and life cant be two separate entities in the future which are fighting against each other for your time.

I much prefer to think of life as a blend. Recipe of things I spend my time doing regardless of time of day or location.

Of course achieving this requires a certain amount of freedom. Not everyone can decide where they are and what they do from one minute to the next, which is where the divide of times comes from. But the autonomy which comes with work int he future will change this and people will need to find their own blend of life.

The clock is ticking to a world without employees

Imagine a world without employees. The same commercial world we live in now, but where everyone works for themselves and chooses who to contract their time out to.

As extreme as it sounds it feels as if this could be a reality if you look far enough into the future. The generations which are starting to dominate the global working have a passion for freedom. In recent surveys 27% of students planned to start their own business before they had even finished university, and another found Alice Weightman, founder of freelance platform
recent article for Minute Hack
that 65% of the UK labour market will consist of contractors by 2020. Thats just 5 years away.

But change like this obviously doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, infrastructure, process review and overall a change of mindset about how businesses are run. So what are you going to do in the next 5 years to adapt to a future without employees?

Creating autonomy whilst retaining specialism

In a previous post I wrote about the death of the job description and how skills are becoming far less important than attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. In order to capitalise on this, business need to rethink their ideas on business structures.

Traditional tree structures and departments don’t lend themselves to this new reality of business. Departments by their nature put people into boxes and facilitate a skills based recruitment approach.  

For most businesses of course, there are certain skills they need to make sure exist within the business.  Those that are core to the service they are delivering and without which, they wouldn’t exist.  Technical skills such as development, knowledge based businesses such as legal services.  Complex, learned skills or information which isn’t easily replicated on scale.

But moving away from skills based recruitment doesn’t mean you have to lose this.

A future of smaller, autonomous teams delivering projects is far more effective, you just need to give them the skills or knowledge base to call upon when they need it.  This is why matrix structures are becoming increasingly popular with businesses looking to move away from traditional hierarchies.

Groups of people can deliver on projects with oversight from multiply stakeholders bringing specific views and expertise.  Taking guidance from operational and skills based functions from either side of the matrix.  

It takes a while to get used to, and everyone needs to fully understand and buy into the new way of working for it to be effective, but the autonomy that such a structure allows creates a dynamism which is often lacking in more traditional organisational structures.

matrix management structure

The Death of the Job Description

I am starting to foresee a world where the traditional job description becomes redundant.

A few specific examples aside, one of the key capabilities of the employee of the future will be adaptability.  The ability to wear multiple hats depending on the scenario.They will be expected to add to the business in a multitude of ways and not just through the constraints of a job description.

Skills and behaviours over specific roles

So rather than a job description in the traditional sense, it will become about bringing in people with particular traits, attitudes and behaviours. Skills can be learned, attitudes and beliefs are far more difficult to change.

More likely, in the future, a personality profile will replace the job description to attract candidates, and responsibilities and roles will be more fluid in the day to day delivery of products and services.

Of course, in some specialist areas there will be the requirement for specific capabilities. But even the web developer and the accountant of the future will need to be adaptable to delivering in other areas in order to continue to add value.

Future proof your career

So if you are looking to future proof your career, think about how you can make yourself more flexible and adaptable, because ‘thats not my job’ is not going to be a phrase that will be applicable in tomorrows workplace.

How Can Flexi-time Work in a Service Business?

Flex-time is not a new phenomenon.  But in some sectors it is starting to become more widespread and more of a draw for potential employees.  I know of at least a handful of occasions where individuals have pulled out of an interview process I was running as they decided they couldn’t leave behind their flexible working hours.

What I have never been able to get my head around however is how flexible working can function within a service environment.  I work in the world of marketing and advertising agencies, it is a people and service business.  Our clients are contracting us for our expertise and delivery of their marketing objectives.  They also expect us to be available.  On phone, on email, in person, sometimes at very short notice.

How then can we deliver against these expectations if we don’t have an element of control of when our staff members are available?  This is the conundrum I have never managed to solve.

I can absolutely see how flexible working, and incentivised output work in piece work or where there is tangible product being produced.  Where there are volume targets to be hit, or a physical piece of work to be delivered.  So long as targets and deadlines are hit, it matters not at what time of day the work is done.

But how can you transpose this to a service based company? 

Imagine the most architypal service industry of telecoms.  How would you feel if you called your supplier only to be told nobody was around to help as they’d decided to come in late? 

Id love to be proven wrong, and if there are examples out there then let me know, but I can’t honestly see how it would work.

Future Leaders Won’t Need Authority

The common belief, the the historical view, around leadership is that it comes from the top.  Ask for examples of strong leadership and you will hear stories of company CEOs acting as figure heads for their business and employees from the top position. 

But a forward thinking, progressive business off 2015 needs leadership in all areas.  You don’t have to be in a position of authority to lead change.  You can lead through initiatives, innovation, new ways of thinking, or culturally from any position within a business.

And more than just being possible, it is critical for businesses operating in 2015 and looking to build structures and ways of working which are suitable for the future. Having people with leadership capabilities at all levels of the business.

Take David, one of our recent recruits into the Tecmark development team. From a position of no direct line management, David has shown leadership which has had a positive impact on our business.  He has arranged knowledge sharing sessions between the creative team which allow designers, developers, and anybody else who wants to be involved the cross skill and develop themselves. The effects been contagious and has spread to otters departments.

Then there is Salma, from a similar position she has embodied our mission statement “to deliver results out of the reach of our competitors” and has brought an air of perfectionism to the team that is great to see.  Constantly encouraging peers and challenging them to do better, without any need for traditional authority over their work.

If business structures are to become more fluid and non-traditional in the future, then it is critical that there is leadership from all levels.  And for the employee of 2020 it will start to become the number one requirement to be successful in their role.

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