posted 18 Jan 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 5
A world without jobs
By Verna Allee
A few weeks ago I was at a small gathering of human resources vice presidents. Our purpose? To explore the future of talent at their organisations. The session kicked off with a series of video interviews asking people of all ages what kind of job they would like to have in the future. As the film started, it suddenly struck me that this was completely the wrong question to ask. The idea of a “job” was born with the industrial revolution. What if our future is a world where there are no “jobs” in the traditional sense?
In 2000, in an interview with Fast Company magazine, legendary business guru Peter Drucker predicted that “the corporation as we know it will not survive the next 20 to 25 years. Legally and financially yes, but not structurally and not economically”. His forecast is a reminder that we invented the whole idea of the corporation – and jobs – primarily as a legal and financial convenience. So, if our old organisational structures are not serving us, we should feel perfectly free to create new ones.
We have only to look to the natural pattern of organisations – the network – to see the new possibilities. Traditional organisational structures are fragmented into small business units, functions and jobs to gain greater control and local efficiency. However, when viewed from the perspective of whole system flexibility or as a network, these structures are cumbersome, slow and ineffective. In today’s more complex environment, people must be more adaptable and skilled enough to be effective in many different types of situations.
Yet jobs are still defined as if they are simply a list of tasks with simple outputs, despite the fact that today, we play many different roles in our ‘jobs’ that often require very different types of outputs. For example, the leadership team of a customer contact centre serves several distinctly different networks. They act as knowledge providers to customers, as analysts of trends for the strategic decisions network, as advisors to production, and as planning partners for design and development. Yet the primary role of providing knowledge to the customer is often the only role that is seen, appreciated – and funded.
To be more effective people need to move away from traditional ways of talking and thinking about work as a “job” and begin to define the roles that they play in different networks. One person or group can play many roles or they may choose to play just one role. But not being clear leads to confusion, work overload and missed opportunities to provide and gain value.
Once the real roles and networks are defined it becomes much simpler to manage the key value-creating interactions with those in other roles. ‘Value interactions’ involve both the contractual business activities and intangible value exchanges of knowledge, benefits and supports. Intangible interactions build enduring relationships where people can readily work through issues and renegotiate deliverables, yet these factors are too frequently not considered when it comes to allocating responsibilities. We can only be successful when we have clearly defined the networks, our roles and the real value we provide.