Organizations are more boundary-less, agile, global, and transparent — and will be even more so in the future. Work and workers (yes, humans) will always be essential to organizations, but organizations themselves will be more diverse, and work will be organized, structured, and done in new ways, increasingly through arrangements outside of regular full-time employment. How can leaders navigate this new digital work ecosystem? How should your organization plan for the changes ahead?
Important clues are emerging from a unique consortium of human resource executives and other leaders. They have gathered through CHREATE (the Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise) to map how organizations must evolve to meet future challenges, to identify pivotal initiatives to accelerate that evolution, and to design the actions needed to make the future a reality.
To help frame where the world of work is going, CHREATE leaders identified five fundamental forces driving change:
- Social and organizational reconfiguration. Organizations will be increasingly transparent to stakeholders and more flexible, shifting toward more power-balanced forms and more project-based relationships. Talent will engage on aligned purpose, not just economics. Beyond traditional hierarchies and contracts, networks and social and external collaborations will make leadership more horizontal, shared, and collective.
- All-inclusive global talent market. Women and nonwhite ethnicities become talent majorities, and greater longevity increases multigenerational workforces. Social policies support boundary-less work beyond traditional full-time employment. Work and worker segmentation enables increasingly differentiated policies, practices, work designs, pay, and benefits, and workers choose organizations based on the opinions of socially connected peers and opinion leaders.
- A truly connected world. Work is increasingly virtual and occurs anywhere and any time, through mobile personal devices with global real-time communications. Boundary-less work partnerships and networks augment capabilities and redefine careers, learning and workplace fairness and attractiveness.
- Exponential technology change. Robots, autonomous vehicles, commoditized sensors, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things reshape the work ecosystem so that flexible, distributed, and transient workforces adapt to rapid business reinvention. Organizations and workers balance long-term bets and flexibility under uncertainty by engaging automation to adapt to frequent changes and rapid skills obsolescence.
- Human-automation collaboration. Analytics, algorithms, big data, and artificial intelligence increasingly abolish work previously performed by humans but also create new work at the interface of humans and automation. Organizations and workers conceive and design their work to optimize rather than resist this interface.
These trends will not affect all organizations equally, so it’s important for leaders to understand where their organization is right now, where it’s going, and how their approaches to strategy, organization, and talent will have to change to keep up. The CHREATE teams developed a topography based on the degree of the democratization of work (the impact of the first three trends above on an organization) and the degree of technological empowerment (the impact of the latter three trends), shown in the figure below.
Each of the four quadrants describes a different kind of organization, with different approaches to strategy, talent, and work:
- Current state. Work resembles today, with similar technological connections and work arrangements, relying heavily on regular full-time employment. This quadrant might include work where employees are colocated and the operations and workers are easily accessible through physical connections. This could be work that requires a specific time and place (like hospice care) or work that occurs where it is prohibitively expensive or illegal to connect workers to the cloud, such as technical work in secure facilities, clean rooms, oil rigs, retail locations, etc. It could also occur when such work arrangements are required by political, regulatory, or social norms. This quadrant is optimal where work is stable and traditional rewards and performance systems are adequate.
- Today, turbo-charged. Technology evolves, but management and workplace arrangements evolve more slowly. Traditional work relationships are supported by faster, better, and cheaper technology and systems such as personal devices and cloud-based human resource information. This quadrant might include call centers operated with traditional employees but in remote locations or working from home, like JetBlue’s. IBM’s “Watson” AI collaborates with employed oncology physicians to assist with research. Many of today’s HR technology products focus here by automating traditional employment systems and work relationships through devices and cloud-based learning, smartphone apps, remote performance observation, etc.
- Work reimagined. Here, new employment models evolve to include platforms, projects, gigs, freelancers, contests, contracts, tours of duty, and part-timers, but largely supported slower-evolving technology. We see this scenario today in freelance platforms such as UpWork, Tongal, and Gigwalk. It also includes innovations within employment systems, such as including freelancers, contractors, and part-timers in organizations’ employment planning systems, augmenting traditional recruitment systems to constantly track and communicate with passive job seekers using existing social tools, or staging innovation contests using today’s social media platforms.
- Uber empowered. An accelerated cycle of technology advancement and more democratic work arrangements fuel one another. New work and technology models include on-demand artificial intelligence, extreme personalization, and secure and accessible cloud-based work repositories. These repositories will reside outside any single employer and provide a searchable location where work and workers can be identified and matched using a common lexicon. They will contain worker capabilities and qualifications, organization work requirements, constantly updated work histories, knowledge and learning sources, and reward systems. IBM’s Open Talent Marketplace allows managers to deconstruct work into short-cycle events, publicize those events to an internal and external population of players who use the platform to bid for and form communities to complete the work, and track their work history and capabilities, supported by common work language that constantly evolves through a partnership between Watson-like artificial intelligence and human judgment.
All four quadrants will be a part of the work ecosystem for at least the next 10 years, with organizations moving from one to another depending on the strength and timing of the five forces and their effect on the organization.
One way to use the map is to apply it to your entire organization, asking questions such as, “Is there a better quadrant to be in?” or, “Should we aspire to the upper right hand quadrant?”
However, your organization more likely has a topography that includes many different pockets of work, each of them optimally fitting different quadrants. Your manufacturing work might optimally reflect the “current state.” Your distribution work might optimally reflect “today, turbo-charged.” Your professional staff and software development work might optimally reflect “work reimagined.” And your highly creative and inventive work might optimally be “uber empowered.” Deconstructing your organization may be the surest way to reveal the patterns.
How can you use this map to navigate the evolving work ecosystem? Plot your current position on the map, then plot your likely position in one to three years. Then ask, “Where can we create the greatest value (or mitigate the greatest risk) by evolving from today to the future?”
Taking a page from the book Beyond HR, you can use the map to inform these questions at all levels of your strategy and work:
- What will define strategic success and stakeholder value?
- What strategic positioning must we define, execute, and protect?
- What vital processes and transformations must we execute?
- What vital resources must we acquire, leverage, nurture, and protect?
- What are the pivotal organization structures, networks, relationships, jobs, and talent pools where improvement or change will make the biggest impact?
- How must our approaches to work, culture, engagement, and human resource management evolve?
The pace of work evolution is increasing, and its implications can be daunting. Start building your navigation system and asking the hard questions now to navigate the changing topography.
“Your comfort zone is a place where you keep yourself in a self-illusion and nothing can grow there but your potentiality can grow only when you can think and grow out of that zone.”
― Rashedur Ryan Rahman