The Future of Work

future 2One of my favorite magazines (not Time, by the way) had an article the other day which started some thoughts flowing about the overall concept of leadership.  Although the article never mentions the words “leadership”, the author, David Lewis, is an accomplished author and speaker who frequently lectures on the overall importance of leadership to an organization’s success. The premise of the article was an attempt to envision the future of work, in the year 2034.  For you social science majors out there, I double-checked my calculator and that is 20 years from now.  Some of you will be well into your second and third acts of life by then. (By the way, I roundly reject F. Scott Fitzgerald’s premise about re-invention. It is one of the most un-American quotes I have ever seen). For others, you will be settling into the homestretch of your current employment, looking forward to retirement (maybe) but still in the game and passing the leadership lessons on to the next generation.

With my usual premise of “it all comes back to leadership” in mind, examining the future of work suggests some pretty big challenges for the leader within.  Lewis described four major predictions of the office environment and at least a few are eerily close to my current situation.

One of the most dramatic changes Lewis predicts is a “Results Only Work Environment”.  In this world, the end product determines the compensation and not hours worked.  Consider for a moment how that might work in the first responder or civil service field.  Could it? How would performance management look under those circumstances. When tenure is no longer valued at an organization, what happens to turnover rates?  Also, Lewis suggests that in such an environment, the driven worker could have three “projects”, or “employers” going at the same time.  Who wins the competition for employee’s time?  Would deadlines even matter to such a generation? Consider the competition to get and retain qualified and quality people.  In 2034, retention of the worker is going to be a huge issue.  How big is it for you now?  Consider the investment you make in the on-board process and how the retention reality would affect that?  The military has been dealing with this issue for years.  In the Marine Corps for example, the re-enlistment rate after the first four years is around 40%.  It is also the same in the Army. Thus, each of those organizations have to have a pretty dynamic on-board process to compensate, or conversely, recognize that they only have a certain amount of time to get a lot of information (and culture) into the heads of recruits.  In contrast, a civil service outfit has (theoretically) 20 plus years to build that culture, so they can ease up on the boot camp a bit.future 3

The next issue that Lewis predicted was the elimination of the “schedule”. When things are a “results-only”, defined work hours become a casualty.  The major software and internet developers have been onto this for years but what is the future of the public sector?  How do you compete?  Lewis predicted that in the private sector, compensation would be a dynamic process that would ebb and flow with the fortunes of the store, THAT DAY.  When you combine a decrease in the importance of tenure, one of the time-honored foundations of public sector compensation theory is turned on its head.  Imagine a help desk for local government in which compensation is set by the number of taxpayers served, with bonuses (or cuts) for the quality of service, based on a real-time survey.

One of the most obvious predictions by Lewis is the demise of the “headquarters” building. With flexible hours, mobile technology, and multiple work sites, how does a leader connect with the team?  Consider that right now this future “team” is probably at story time in the 4th grade, perhaps in a charter school, and not yet even entered the world of secondary education provided by interactive computers, distance learning, and home schooling.  Imagine asking a group raised in an autonomous learning environment, to report to one location every day for 20 years, just so you can have someone to lead in person.  Not pretty. What it will take to lead in 2034 is going to take some adjustment to current thinking.

future 1Lewis’ last prediction involves the increasing sentience of computer networks. Think of Siri, only way bigger, and integrated into every thing you do.  Daily performance is a function of an app instead of a manager….”Paul, you have only completed 4 reports today…I have reduced your pay accordingly and lunch is postponed…”.

This will be a topic we come back to as it evolves but look at the people you are on-boarding today.  What will they need from you in order to prepare them for this paradigm?  How will the human element of leadership play out in a landscape where motivation, desire, and loyalty is everything?  One thing is for sure -leadership is going to involve a lot more sweat than it might generate from you right now.  You will literally be competing for your team’s loyalty and motivation. The need to connect with a team, and connect them to what it is you do, why you do it, and what it looks like when done right is going to be critical in the future, as it is now. Look at your team like a garden, and consider the following:future 4