The world we live in today is changing, and changing fast.
Some call this the next industrial revolution.
Whatever it is, this revolution is driven by the disruptive and incessant impact of technology.
It’s impacting each of us, businesses, economies, and society overall.
Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Ebay, Menulog, Fitbit….the list is endless.
Next week in Australia we have a virtual census.
(What a shame we couldn’t have virtual elections and Pokemon Go a few politicians along the way! 🙂 )
And the change is relentless.
And it’s fast.
What used to take years, now happens in months and weeks.
Airbnb will undoubtedly be disrupted by a faster and more nimble competitor! And soon.
Let’s be very clear – it is TECHNOLOGY that has driven this change.
Moore’s Law, the principle that computing power doubles every two years, has been operating consistently now for almost 50 years.
That is an exponential rate of change over a long period of time.
And its changing everything.
New technologies such as seriously powerful mobile devices, sensors on and in us, 3D printing, cognitive computing, AI, the internet of things, and cloud computing platforms have created a global ubiquitous environment enabling rapid change.
And in organisations, technology is no longer a single function; it is an integral part of every organisation and is generally the heart and lungs.
This facilitates rapid business models change.
Every competitive advantage is temporary – they always have been, actually!
But temporary now means weeks and months, not years.
Disrupting organisations are getting disrupted themselves!
AirBnb and Uber with no hotels and cars will be disrupted by brasher and bolder small companies.
Because barriers to entry are low and lowering.
And capital is readily available. Lets face it, it’s attractive to put money into something where valuations include multiples of 5000x ! (don’t ask me to explain that logic!)
But there’s more going on than just technology forcing change.
Globally, millennials now make up more than half the workforce according to Deloitte.
And they come with their own specific focus on a rewarding, purposeful work life, and the usual demand for fast and consistent career progression.
But at the same time, medical advances and superannuation/pension fund deficiencies mean people are working longer – in to their 70’s and beyond.
This creates not just new models for mentoring and skill transfer, but an even broader array of workers creating cross-generational work-forces, and more diversity challenges. It’s not just about gender any more.
And the need to focus on diversity creates another dynamic – sometimes over 4 generations in the one workplace with different values, beliefs, and styles.
And that’s before we shrink the world with lowered barriers between countries and cultures. This has further increased complex integration in the workplace.
Large shifting demographics changing the workplace.
And then there is also the SOCIAL change underway.
The career plan, only a generation back, was that a person would work for the same company for the whole of their working life – it no longer holds true, of course.
This creates two disruptive situations.
Firstly, a shorter period of time working for a company means challenges in getting people to productivity sooner, AND having them remain ambassadors of the business when they leave which they will do!
Secondly, an increasing contingent workforce forces the need to integrate those freelance workforce into multiple organisations. Sometimes at the same time.
Today the contingent workforce is almost a third of the total.
In 20 years it could be closer to two thirds.
So we have some real drivers of change:
– Technology driving exponential disruption and innovation
– Demographics creating increased complexity, and
– Social changes driving structural challenges and opportunities.
So here are my views on a few of the interesting workplace trends that come from these drivers of change.
The world is shifting to a freelance employment model.
Someone recently described it as the “gig” economy
There’s good reason for this.
The barriers to entry to become self-employed have dropped.
The tools have become ubiquitous and low cost:
- Ultra-thin laptops and tablets
- Powerful and integrated mobile technologies
- Cloud based software and storage
- and ubiquitous and VERY, VERY fast connectivity.
These have empowered people to work anywhere and at any time.
And many people don’t want to work in the old way any more!
Let’s face it. A very large portion of the world’s organisations are not really great places to work. They’re not really employers of choice.
And, of course, they can’t, in and of themselves, satisfy worker’s life requirements.
This applies to white collar workers in particular who can now work from almost anywhere. Think about:
- App developers
As I said earlier, global studies indicate 1/3rd of developed country work forces are now freelance or contingent workers, and there is an expectation this will increase to more than 60% in the next decade or two
And since, increased connectivity, personal computing, real time language translators, advanced virtual reality, gamification and cloud platforms all make global barriers lower, contingent workers can operate in a global market from anywhere there is decent connectivity
I recently joined the board of an ASX listed company called Nvoi.
Nvoi is a cloud platform designed to take advantage of this massively growing contingent marketplace.
There are challenges in the market.
Employers of contingent labour don’t control the workforce the way they once did, so having a relationship with a contingent worker who has a great deal of your IP is actually very important.
And contingent workers can be lonely, and ill-prepared for the challenges of running a business.
Nvoi’s platform is designed to address these issues.
It brings employers and talent together in a mutually beneficial marketplace.
Educators need to also play a part in this model.
People coming out of school and universities, now more than ever, need to be cross skilled in their core technical area, plus adept at running a small business because that’s precisely what contingent workers are – small businesses.
And larger organisations need to play a part, as well, in recognising the looming issues of their less-than-permanent future workforce.
The growth of contingent workers also has other implications.
Contingent workers and freelancers can become very lonely and emotionally disconnected.
This is not a minor issue
It is potentially a socio-economic and cultural issue.
Humans are social creatures by their nature – let’s face it society is about being social, notwithstanding some of the behaviour we see on a Saturday night.
There is a therefore a growing trend to develop co-working spaces to partially address this issue.
Co-working spaces provide an innovative eco-systems for collaboration, networking and socialising.
These spaces are akin to incubation hubs for start-ups such as Stone & Chalk and its Fintech hub in Sydney.
These are shared and useful spaces, with a fun and vibrant environment, facilitating innovation and creativity and networking. They also drive synergies and cross-industry collaboration.
Further, Professional associations such as CPA Australia (of which I am a Director), and the AICD and AIM make their offices available for their members to use as drop-in space, collaboration space, networking space, and somewhere to belong.
They are more than offices.
They are Social space. I used one myself today!
This concept of co-working space is very much akin to the Uber, Airbnb, and Lyft sharing model.
And its an opportunity for all organisations.
For example, education institutions can become more than organisations with a large theoretical alumni and student base. They could become shared workspaces for the contingent workers of the future who are also their alumni. Or for freelancers who share interests in university research programmes or other activities being undertaken at the institution.
The whole concept of a sharing economy, with contingent workers, and less obvious organisational boundaries also raises other interesting concepts.
The sharing economy puts greater power in the hands of the contingent worker.
However, it also highlights the importance of teams and networks of teams.
In contrast to the industrial-era “process” approach where technology, low cost labour and off-shoring have disputed processes, organisations need to operate differently.
In my working life I have seen, old style payroll offices, tea ladies, ledger books, telex machines, land lines and Australian car manufacturing go!
And I’ve seen fax machines and DVD players and standalone mobile phones come and go!
Even the NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK in Australia was designed only a few years back, with a policy prefaced on some technologies that have already been superceded.
Scary isn’t it!
As people come together more and more to tackle projects, some from within the organisation, some from the supply chain, some from the freelancer community, and even some from the virtual world, there are challenges to making things work effectively and fast.
This is particularly important as teams can then disband rapidly to move to new assignments.
There are obvious issues here:
- Traditional education hasn’t really trained people to operate this way
- A large portion of the workforce is not skilled to think this way – it’s a demographic fact
- And organisations aren’t generally adept at working this way
Many newer ones are, but larger organisations, with large bureaucracies (yes, they still exist) are NOT great in this environment.
And in addition, programs for leadership development, performance management, learning, and career progression need to change to reflect this paradigm shift.
Indeed, this new paradigm demands, what I call, the AMBASSADOR approach.
Employees are merely an important subset of an organisation’s Ambassadors.
Where we have more project-based work, flexible networks of teams, a tendency for people to move organisations more frequently, and an increasing contingent workforce, THEN we confront serious organisation issues that traditional approaches don’t naturally address.
If an organisation is going to implement new work styles – and my contention is that they generally will not have a choice – they cannot assume a traditional approach to a range of normal business functions will work.
- Recruiting staff can’t take a long time.
- Working with contingent workers can’t be an arm’s length outsource approach (hence Nvoi).
- On boarding programs can’t be slow and laborious and Induction processes need to be effective, team based and fast.
- Organisation culture needs to be very clear, and very simple, and very social, and not something that needs to be discovered over long periods of time
That’s a difficult concept to comprehend
But in this new world the issue is TIME TO PRODUCTIVITY.
Project-based work is time bound by its very nature, therefore it’s critical that organisations focus on their capability to get people productive fast.
In this real-time rapidly evolving world, even induction needs to be fast.
Competitive advantage is no more than temporary, ever!
Uber and Airbnb are actually just as easy to disrupt, arguably easier, than the large and long term business models they disrupted where at least there was bricks and mortar familiarity and loyalty.
And the network and ecosystem are core to the success of the change to shorter productivity cycles.
Organisations will be attractive to people because of their reputation to get great things done.
My view is that every organisation needs to focus on its reputation – deeply and very seriously. You can’t advertise your way around a poor organisational reputation or employer brand.
Having a GREAT reputation is critical. Not just because its good for the brand, and good for morale, and for the proven principle that an engaged employee leads to a satisfied customer, which delivers great financial outcomes.
But more importantly, organisations that have a great reputation to fast track productivity will have a competitive advantage.
Hence the term Ambassador.
The goal needs to be to have every employee, past, present, and even future, as an ambassador of the organisation.
There are plenty of ways to build ambassadors.
- Focus on people managers as the core
- Insist upon every single employee deserving, and expecting, a monthly 1:1 chat with their direct manager discussing them as a person, not work! And asking 3 simple questions – How are you? How are we? And what can I do to help you realise your potential?
- Re-engaging with the alumni creating a Boomerang-effect to aggressively recruit people in to the organisation
- Re-juvinate induction to focus on creating the best on-boarding experience in the market as well as fast taking time to real productivity!
- Constantly re-induct people into the company’s direction and strategy to better engage with people already in the company
The Ambassador thinking is critical.
The world of work is changing rapidly, and organisations need to adapt to attract and retain the skills of a growing number of people interested in freelancing, and an existing workforce needing to operate in a very different way.
Tough economic conditions certainly drive change – innovation thrives in economic down turns and having a burning platform certainly focuses the attention!
But people are demanding more flexibility from their work models as well
They seek the opportunity to be more creative and innovative, with an improved work-life balance, and an entrepreneurial, flexible, self-employed future.
And this is not just for commercial organisations. This changed model will rapidly impact the large public sector and that will be a management challenge to be reckoned with!
So, we have some real drivers of change:
- Incessant technology advancements driving speed and disruption
- Demographic shifts creating a broad spread of workers and needs,
- And social change as a result
This is causing new ways of work, a large and growing contingent workforce, and new network based work styles.
And this requires a focus on time to productivity like never before, a need to think and operate beyond traditional organisation boundaries, with an enduring focus on people as Ambassadors .
This environment calls for something else!
A new breed of transformational leader.
Someone who is fundamentally competent
Who expects less of other people’s leadership and more of their own leadership skills.
Who understands that reputation is everything.
And that life is tough and not always fair.
And who is prepared to innovate and test boundaries at a speed not seen before.
What an awesome time to be alive in the professional world!