The Future of Work

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

Category: People

Education and the future workforce

There was a time not so long ago where a common line in the requirements section of a lot of job advertisements contained two words; degree educated.

Quite often it didn’t state a specific degree, but there was a desire to have candidates who had been through the higher education system come out of the other side with a certificate and letters they could append to their name (though few ever did).

But in more recent times this requirement seems to have been dropped from a lot of roles, and with the current government paving the way for tuition fees which could be 200% higher than my time in the education system, you’ve got to assume more and more people will be entering the world of work without a degree.

In my early days as a manager I used to see the degree as a filter on commitment and work ethic.  It was rarely about the subject studied.  It was evidence they had committed themselves to three years of study and come through it successfully. It is very easy to drop out of University, and the fact this person hadn’t was a tick against their name.

But more and more I see candidates without a degree to their name, and I have had to change my own viewpoint.  Moreover in the future less and less candidates will have been through the University system, and why should it matter?

The reality is, I used to look for a degree not as a basis of intelligence, but as an indicator for positive attitude and behaviours.

And conversely in recent times I find the attitude of those exiting the education system has changed.  It is a generalisation but no less a reality of my experience, that more graduates are entering the world of work with an air of expectancy far greater than I have seen in the last 10 years.  That their time in education has fast tracked them in terms of salary and role to a lofty status.

So in a future of less graduate and no declining need for a talented workforce it is time to re-evaluate the needs of your business when it comes to entry level staff.

Over the years I have come to value less measurable qualities such as passion, enthusiasm and desire above paper qualifications.  At its worse, education teaches us to remember, not to think. And I don’t know of any degrees in passion or ambition.

So it’s time to re-evaluate the value of a degree, and find ways of assessing the qualities that really matter.

Redefining failure

Failure, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as a ‘lack of success’, or ‘an unsuccessful thing or thing’.  A word which by definition and through traditional use of the English language is surrounded in negativity connotations, but when deconstructed does not actually anywhere say it is final.

However our use of the word is often deemed absolute.  ‘We failed, it’s over.’ ‘I failed.’ And this is an approach, and a view, as businesses and individuals we need to address.

Failure is rarely final, it is a temporary state where you have simply found one method which won’t let you achieve your objective.  In fact, if anything, it takes you one step closer to your goal, so long as there are lessons learnt.

In a lot of businesses, too much time is spent on deconstructing failure, pointing fingers, or finding an individual to blame.

However the future approach should be to ensure you fail quickly enough and at a level which allows for the lessons to be learned and taken forward to the next failure without too much loss of momentum.

Only through redefining failure as a critical stepping stone to success, will you ensure staff feel the freedom to make mistakes without fear of repercussion so long as it is moving you forward.

So what does failure look like for you and your business?

Trust in the Workplace

In a world where employees may be remote, self-employment may be the norm, cross time zone working is more commonplace and flexibility is the key objective of both businesses and individuals, the matter of trust becomes of utmost importance.

Employers need to trust individuals to complete tasks without supervision. And individuals need to trust companies that they will deliver against promises, and payment, without the security of a formal employment contract.

In the past week this issue has arisen twice in my day to day activities. Last Tuesday I sat on a round table for Insider Media on the subject of the workforce of the future. Where expectations are high, flexibility is expected, and the notion of the working day becomes a piece of history.

And then this article on the Guardian which quotes Reid Hoffman, Linkedin founder as saying, “Employees don’t trust their employers and have more and more options for achieving their career goals either through other companies or by being their own boss.

“The most entrepreneurial employees want to establish ‘personal brands’ that stand apart from their employers’. It’s a rational, necessary response to the end of lifetime employment.”

Trust is a key issue for the future workforce

At the Insider Media roundtable I debated with other company Directors from different industries, the need to be flexible with a workforce and how this related to trust.

In the service industry I operate in I have always struggled with the notion of flexibility of location and time of work. Purely for the reasons that our clients and team members require us to be available when they need us, not when we decide we are.

Others on the roundtable (from other industries) talked of their business not conforming to a traditional working day in terms of demand, so new working practices needed to evolve.

But how do you implement such change without trust? Trust that the employee will take ownership of delivery whatever it takes, not abuse the flexibility and maximise it for their own benefit.

And what about the trust from the other side as pointed out in The Guardian article? Trust that the business will act in the best interest of its workforce, either PAYE or otherwise, and also that it will build a sustainable company and not disappear at short notice leaving you out of pocket.

Trust exists between people

For my part I think trust is a personal thing between humans which is built up over time. I trust individuals not necessarily organisations or groups en mass. So whilst I trust one person I couldn’t blanket trust a whole group under the same terms. And whilst I may trust an individual at a company, that cannot be applied to the whole company and the individual I trust may not always be in control.

So for my part it would require wholesale change of working practice, systems and processes to install an infrastructure to facilitate the management of more flexible working and so it isn’t all dependant on trust. But one thing is for sure; trust is going to be a big issue in the workforce of the future.

You don’t need a race of super chickens

I’ve worked in some cutthroat environments. Where there is a pressure (spoken or otherwise) to be better than the person next to you. Where the attitude of the leaders is to pit people against each other and that ‘only the strongest will survive’. This type of approach is especially prevalent in sales teams where businesses over recruit on the premise that only a certain percentage will make it out alive.

But as covered by Margaret Hefferman in her recent TED talk, experiments with animals have proven this might not be the best way.

She describes an experiment with chickens where this approach was taken to breeding a race of super chickens. Where only the most productive were selected for breeding in each generation. The result six generations later? The super chickens had all been wiped out, pecking each other to death.

At the same time the control group who were left to bread in the normal natural manner had thrived.

But as Hefferman points out, we continue to run most companies in the same manner as the super-chicken experiment. Trying to breed a race of super-productive, super-effective workers to maximise profits. Giving the resources and power to the brightest super-chickens in the hope this will produce the best results. What this can result in is oppression, aggression and power struggles leading to the opposite of the desired effect.

In contrast, experiments by MIT showed that IQ (collective or individual) or individual capability doesn’t define the most successful teams. The most successful teams were those with high social sensitivity or empathy, those that gave each other an equal voice, and those with more female presence.

She goes on to explain how other studies have proven a culture of helpfulness is the real key to productivity and effectiveness in the workplace. Environments where people are working as a team and are left to motivate each other to a common cause.

Anybody involved or interested in sport will recognise this and how it regularly occurs in real scenarios. The team that works together with a combined effort and potentially less individual capability, will quite often overcome opponents with better individual capabilities.

So maybe its time to stop looking for individual superstars and starting looking at how you can build a helpful team with common goals.

You can see Margaret Hefferman’s TED talk below, its well worth a watch.

The Death of Retirement

Retirement as a concept was invented through a combination of factors in the late 19th and early 20th century.  In 1883, German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck introduced a state funded pension for all of those over the age of 65 (of which were were few!) as Marxists threatened to take control of Europe (for more information see this useful article)

Then in in a 1905 valedictory address, world renowned Physician William Osler proclaimed that after that age of 60, the average worker was “useless” and should be put out to pasture. Over the next 50 or so years, and through numerous political and economic changes, retirement was born as a societal norm.

So now we live in a world where in the majority of economies, somewhere between the age of 50 and 65, people are expected to pack up their brief cases, toolboxes, or uniform and live a non-working life for the rest of their days.

Enter Pre-tirement

But what about a future where we don’t have a single job, one individual source of income, and a life which doesn’t involve the traditional Monday-Friday 9-5 working week?

Last year a new term emerged into the world, that of pre-tirement. The stage where an individual enters a transition from working life to retirement when an individual may start to reduce working hours but still generate wealth and contribute to an economy.

But even this works on the basis that retirement is a point in time where all work stops, and that every individual is working towards a date in time.

So what future for retirement?

Whilst I don’t believe the term retirement is going away any time soon, its relevance and significance will certainly diminish.  The phase people will actually reach is that of financial freedom.  The point at which they can be more selective about their working decisions.

The point where their financial position is such that they need to work as regularly as previously, but may choose to do so for the right challenge. They will still take on work, but will not feel the pressure to take on everything they are offered.

The age at which this point arrives will be completely decided by individual, their financial needs, and their personal desires. Not by their employer (as they will have no single one), not by the government and not by society.

So if you’re of working age right now, best start thinking about what your Point of Financial Freedom is.  And how you plan to reach it and what lies beyond it.

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.

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.

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