What the future of work looks like
While workers are becoming more and more mobile and entrepreneurial, traditional organizations are becoming less appealing. Here are seven powerful models for work that aim to redefine the traditional organization.
There is a lingering notion in the world of business and beyond that organizations are things with four walls, that employees are people who report to work inside them every day for years on end, that work is a matter of executing on defined “key performance indicators,” and that success is a product of climbing ladders and exerting an ever-greater span of control.
But the fact is, we’re in the midst of a great reshuffling of the talent deck.
Today, some 35% of workers in the United States are “contingent” — freelance, temporary, part-time, contractors — and that figure is expected to rise to 40% or 50%, depending upon which report you read. The members of the next generation of workers are expected to change careers at least 10 times before the age of 40, while solo businesses are already popping up at the rate of about half a million a year. Meanwhile, more than 70% of workers in the U.S. — and 87% of workers worldwide — report that they are not engaged at work.
In other words, while workers are becoming more and more mobile, entrepreneurial, creative, and free, traditional organizations are becoming less and less appealing. No matter how many nap pods, “hot desks,” and free lunches companies provide, most still can’t seem to shake the factory mentality that put flesh and blood, freethinking human beings into the straightjacket of institutional obedience at the dawn of the industrial revolution. To this day, the ruling management model promotes efficiency over every other goal and conformity over every other human virtue. It’s called bureaucracy — a highly effective approach … if your company’s goal is to achieve efficiency at scale. If you’re after anything else—such as adaptability, innovation, or unleashing passion—then you’re out of luck.
In this creative, disruptive economy, your share of profits is a function of your share of differentiation, which is a function of your share of creativity — just how deeply, how broadly, and how systematically you can unleash human potential — wherever it exists.
That’s a two-part challenge: organizations and leaders today must focus on designing environments and systems for work that inspire individuals to contribute their full imagination, initiative, and passion every day — and on taking advantage of new social, mobile, and digital technologies to activate, enlist, and organize talent across boundaries. We launched the Unlimited Human Potential M-Prize to unearth the most progressive practices and boldest ideas around those two challenges. Today, we are delighted to announce the winners of the M-Prize, selected from over 100 entries from every kind of organization and every corner of the world.
Zero hierarchy, maximum collaboration
The old question was: How do we get people to serve the organization’s goals? The new question is: How do we create a sense of community so compelling that people are willing to bring their greatest gifts to work every day?
The answer to that question for Mario Kaphan and his colleague at the Brazilian e-recruiting company Vagas.com is a singular design for a radically open, free, and entrepreneurial organization. In his winning entry, Horizontal Management at Vagas.com, Kaphan describes the company’s 15-year experiment in managing without managers. Vagas.com has no hierarchy, no titles, and no formal rules. Individual “members” enjoy a remarkable degree of autonomy and collegiality (the mantra is “individuals are empowered to do whatever they want BUT everybody has everything to do with that”). All work is done in small, self-managed teams, and decisions are made via reasoned debate and consensus — an initially laborious process that all members practice daily and that yields powerful results.
At Vagas, every management process — from performance reviews and rewards to strategy — is highly participative. Rather than rigid planning and budget cycles, the rhythm of the organization is set on a rolling two-week management cycle — each team meets fortnightly to review progress. The result is a fast-growing, entrepreneurial organization.
Shared values was the starting point for Wellington, New Zealand-based Enspiral, a path-breaking collective of professionals and social enterprises driven by the desire to change the world. As an entirely new kind of organization — a collective of individuals with a common ideal working on different problems with radically distributed resources, information, and control — the Enspiral team found itself tackling and disrupting just about every core management process, from decision-making and direction setting to budgeting.
Alanna Krause’s winning M-Prize story, “Collaborative Funding: Dissolve Authority, Empower Everyone, and Crowdsource a Smarter, Transparent Budget,” recounts the development of Enspiral’s approach to collaborative budgeting. Krause not only describes the development of a visually engaging and flexible approach to budgeting — an app called Co-Budget that started out as a shared spreadsheet — but also the resulting increased transparency and surprising generosity that emerges when you involve everyone in deciding on where and how to spend resources. Just as important, it offers a short course in launching a low-risk, high-impact experiment in even the most high-stakes realm — prototype a solution with low-tech tools, test it, measure it, improve it, and repeat.
All work is social
Unsurprisingly, many of the entries in this challenge focused on using emerging digital, mobile, social, and analytics tech to redesign work. Toronto-based Klick Health, the world’s largest digital health agency focused on equipping providers and patients with insight and information about care, reinvented its culture and approach to work with an organizational operating system called “Genome.” Chelsea Lefaivre’s winning story, “How We Harnessed Big Data and Social Technology to Empower and Engage Employees,” unpacks the workings of this “social environment.”
All Klick employees start their day by logging into Genome and spend their day connecting via its many features, including: “tickets” or tasks; project homepages and wikis; the “gene sequencer” program, which creates a personalized plan and support for any individual starting a new project; and dynamic dashboards to help individuals set, prioritize, and track goals on a moment-to-moment basis. Every aspect of Genome is designed to give the right information and tools to people at the moment they need them. At Klick, work in progress is shared and visible, which allows people to step in and offer help to colleagues. Crucially, Genome evolves with the organization — some 70% of its features have been suggested and developed by employees, and anything that doesn’t get adopted enthusiastically dies off.
Lukas Masuch’s winning hack, “Enterprise Knowledge Graph—One Graph to Connect them All,” offers a design for a powerful platform to structure, simplify, and render immediately accessible all the relevant knowledge and data so often dispersed and hidden across large organizations. Using the latest Big Data and graph technology, Masuch imagines a platform that sits on top of existing corporate wikis, document sharing systems, and social networks, with a rich menu of possible applications. One example: “enhanced enterprise search,” which immediately assembles a total view of related content, experts, and connections for any query.
While Genome and the Enterprise Knowledge Graph seek to switch people on, connect them together, and extend autonomy and accountability to the far edges of an organization, Andrew Jones’ Nomatik Coworking hack aims to build community and connection beyond the walls of any particular organization. Nomatik is a clever social platform designed to extend the spirit of coworking beyond actual coworking spaces, to engineer productive matches between individual talents and organizations, and to reimagine the boundaries of the organization in the process.
Jones’ approach acknowledges that no single organization will ever be able to directly employ all of the relevant, talented people who could make valuable contributions. And, just as important, that colleagues aren’t necessarily the people who sit next to you at work, but rather the people who are working on the same problems with the same passion that you have. The organizations and leaders who figure out the most clever and compelling ways to connect those people and organizations will be the real winners in the creative economy.
Big company, individual impact
Now, it’s one thing to cultivate a culture of innovation, participation, and collaboration in an organization. It’s another thing entirely to make that journey as an older, bigger, more entrenched organization. Global IT consultancy Cognizant took on this challenge a few years ago. As Shyam Sundar Nagarajan recounts in his winning story, “Incubating Intrapreneurs to Revitalize Customer Business,” the leaders of the practice sought to equip individuals across its 9,200-person organization to act as innovators and entrepreneurs.
Cognizant’s “InsuranceNext Premier League” challenge was modeled on cricket’s Indian Premier League, with a competition for a championship title. The initiative utilized every innovation tool in the book — from storyboarding to prototyping to role play to app building — to engage every single employee, produce 88 viable business ideas from some 968 “players,” and ultimately offer 10 fortune-flipping business concepts to some 40 different customers.
While the Cognizant InsuranceNext initiative represents a sweeping approach to encouraging entrepreneurial behavior across an organization, Accenture’s Clare Norman’s entry, “Developing Tomorrow’s Talent: A Girl, A Blog, and 30 Days to Business Impact,” advocates for a purposely narrow, tactical approach: rethinking “people development” as a continuous project that’s woven into the fabric of everyday working life rather than an isolated process that only the HR department handles.
How? The deceptively simple “30 Day Challenge” — a program of 30 “micro-actions” that can be integrated into daily work and take less than 10 minutes to accomplish. These tasks are intentionally micro — from writing a short note of acknowledgement to a colleague, to introducing yourself to someone new, to stepping back to write down three things that went well this week — the 30 Day Challenge activities had an immediate and widespread impact at Accenture, with some 8,650 direct participants interacting with 61,000 colleagues. Participants reported long-term positive effects and changes in behavior, and the 30 Day Challenge has since resulted in a series of spin-offs, including a coaching challenge, a culture change challenge for a client, an on-boarding challenge for new recruits, and a learning challenge, among others.
Polly LaBarre is a bestselling author, speaker, and entrepreneur who has worked for nearly 20 years to embolden and equip leaders in every realm of endeavor to make their organizations more resilient, innovative, inspiring, and accountable. She is an inspiring and provocative voice on the big ideas and important questions that will shape the future of organizations, work, and success. In her speeches Polly showcases her brilliant storytelling ability and takes audiences on an inspiring journey – bringing to life the people, organizations and ideas on the fringe that are creating the future.
For more information on Polly LaBarre, please visit: The Sweeney Agency