Slashies – bridging generations

I’d never heard of ‘slashies’ until this week. I was chatting to someone who wants to combine cake making/org design/running own business.  She told me the word. I looked it up – it’s not quite everywhere, but it is getting there, under various labels:  ‘Call it what you want’, says one writer,  a portfolio career, diversified employment, the rise of the ’millennial multi-hyphenate’ – but rather than doing one job for life, people are actively choosing to become a “slashie” (ie. actor/blogger/author/dog walker). Or so we’re told.’

There are lots of examples of  slashies:  Emma Gannon, author of a book The Multi-Hyphen Method, gave up her job, social media editor of British Glamour,  job title and the steady salary and became a “multi-hyphenate”, working on a mishmash of different jobs and side hustles.  Emma, a 29-year-old broadcaster, blogger and author, says ‘Being adaptable, moulding yourself to different roles, adding new strings to your bow – that’s a huge advantage in today’s workplace.”

And Sam Grey, a former teacher living in Torquay UK, is currently working five different jobs. In addition to her own dog-grooming business, Toodles, Sam works as a private tutor, teaches crochet and sells patterns, works security for nightclubs and bars and works two 12-hour night shifts at a local arcade.

Sarah Liu, CEO, Gemini 3 – an Australian job-share organisation describes generation slashie as people who have more than one job in a bid to ­diversify, build skills and work in an ­industry they enjoy. Work and passion need to be something that’s not mutually ­exclusive,’ Liu says,  ‘This new generation wants to create a life that’s a reflection of their passion and expertise; it’s a move from specificity to desire. The notion of juggling jobs has changed.’

What’s good about ‘generation slashie’ is that it’s not necessarily linked to age, although many of the reports about it do focus on millennials. However,  says Liu, ‘Slashies are also older workers who are looking to diversify or work part time as they stay in the workforce longer and make the tran­sition to retirement.’   More people, whatever their age want job shares, flexible hours and roles and portfolio careers that enable them to juggle multiple roles.  Younger workers, instead of looking at linear (upwards) career trajectory, ‘are looking at a ­career canvas … building a ­career reflective of what they can do, but also what they want.’ Equally ‘older workers are diversifying because they want a change from their years dedicated to the same career’.

That’s very good news and we need to encourage that way of thinking as technology and demographics change the types of work available, particularly for older people.  A couple of weeks ago,  researching for a talk on the future of work,  I came across statistics on the aging population: The UK population is ageing – around 18.2% of the UK population were aged 65 years or over at mid-2017, compared with 15.9% in 2007; this is projected to grow to 20.7% by 2027.’

The demographic shifts and costs of aging mean that more people will have to stay in the workforce for longer, and this means a different way of designing work, ‘careers’ and ‘retirement’.  The UK Government says that, ‘To address the widening skills gap, tackle age bias in work and enable people to stay in work longer, every UK employer needs to increase the number of workers aged 50-69 in the UK by 12% by 2022. The target is aimed at supporting older people who want the same range of options and opportunities as younger colleagues, and to be recognised for their experience and expertise. In recognising the skills older people bring to the workplace, employers will benefit from the breadth and depth of their knowledge.’

Some recent research from Rest Less finds that ‘Those working into their 70s are continuing to work beyond the state pension age and we see a number of reasons for people increasingly doing so. With far fewer ‘gold-plated’ pensions around and ever-increasing life expectancy, many are actively looking to top up their pension savings while they still can. There is also a growing understanding of the many health and social benefits that come with working into retirement, such as staying active, socially connected and maintaining a feeling of fulfilment.’

It’s not just in the UK, though.  It’s a global demographic shift In China, for example, the numbers are slightly higher than the UK’s – of Chinese citizens aged 60 or above reached 241 million by the end of 2017, representing 17.3 percent of the country’s total population.

The China National Committee on Aging (CNCA) projected on Monday that the figure is expected to peak at 487 million, or nearly 35 percent, around 2050, Xinhua reports.  (See English version here).

There too, ‘Exploring various ways of living in later life is being widely encouraged as the proportion of elderly people in China grows. For instance, Liaoning Province in Northeast China published a plan in early July calling for a progressive postponement of retirement and effective use of elderly human resources.’

The rise in the number of older workers in the global workforce is driven by a number of factors – social, political, and economic.   Many countries have increased the age at which workers can draw a pension, reduced the generosity of social security and changed the terms of disability insurance have also had an impact.

But it’s not all easy those who want to be an older slashie.  In the US, for example, ‘Older workers, aged 55 and over, represent the fastest growing labor group. …  By 2024, nearly 1 in 4 people in the labor force will be age 55 or over, according to the US Department of Labor. The increased workforce participation from older workers results from both increased lifespans, and financial constraints: nearly half of households headed by someone 55 or older has nothing saved for retirement.  There   currently, 3 million older adults are looking for full-time employment.  Many individuals seeking full-time might be part-time, or in low-wage jobs with limited growth opportunities, and it isn’t easy to find work, although some argue that ‘the biggest barrier to entry for older workers isn’t a lack of skills: it’s ageism.’

Given that there will be more older workers in the workforce, that the trend is towards a slashie work pattern, and that older (and younger) people want interesting work that gives financial security what are the organisational design and development shifts that organisations could consider?  Here are five ideas:

  1. Re-think jobs and job titles, ‘Whether you like it or not, traditional job titles are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Employees no longer feel the need to attach themselves to a common job title.’
  2. Re-examine your organisational assumptions and cultural stereotypes of what older workers in your are, common ones are:  they can’t learn new things, they are less productive, they take more time off sick, they are overqualified (a bad thing!),  they are not interested in learning new things.
  3. Discourage notions of ‘upward’ careers and career trajectories and head for career canvases (this may involve re-thinking status symbols, positional power, etc).
  4. Develop your flexible working strategies.  Many people are caring for children/grandchildren and aging parents, sometimes simultaneously, and need part-time or flexible working patterns.
  5. Develop your managers to ‘ensure they have good, proactive age management practices in place to meet the needs of all staff as their workforce ages … many older workers report feeling undervalued and not respected by managers and their co-workers.

What organisation design shifts will you have to make to accommodate generation slashies (old and young)?   Let me know.


Blindspots, productivity and value

Three different concepts intersected this week – blindspots, productivity and value – although it took going for a run to work out the intersect points in order to make sense of them.  The concepts came from different meetings.

Blindspots came up three times this week.  Once as a book recommendation  – I’ve downloaded a sample chapter to my Kindle.  The book is Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It. The blurb about it says ‘When confronted with an ethical dilemma, most of us like to think we would stand up for our principles. But we are not as ethical as we think we are. … From the collapse of Enron and corruption in the tobacco industry, to sales of the defective Ford Pinto, the downfall of Bernard Madoff, and the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the authors investigate the nature of ethical failures in the business world and beyond, and illustrate how we can become more ethical.’

The second time blindspots came up was in a meeting on the future of work when we were talking about employee surveillance and some of the blindspots in recognising the upsides and downsides of it.

And the third time in relation to the concept of linkages and interdependencies between workstreams in a project.  Each of this project’s workstreams is operating as a silo. The person I was talking with had noted the blindspot around the benefits of mutual support and collaboration and was wondering how to talk about it to workstream leads. As one blog writer on the topic says, ‘When a work stream cuts itself off from the other work streams and thinks of itself as a fully autonomous independent entity, it turns into a silo. Silos are great for storing grain, but, in organizations, silos are dysfunctional.’

Productivity came up in a meeting where we were wondering how to increase it.  I wondered what our individual assumptions are around it.  How would we recognise increases in it?  And what constitutes it?  On the last, The UK Government calculates labour productivity, ‘by dividing output by labour input. Output refers to gross value added (GVA), which is an estimate of the volume of goods and services produced by an industry, and in aggregate for the UK as a whole. Labour inputs in this release are measured in terms of workers, jobs (“productivity jobs”) and hours worked (“productivity hours”).’

That’s not an easy calculation to work with if we’re thinking of redesigning an organisation to increase productivity, the calculation misses some of the complexities of it, which are  illustrated in a post  by Rick, ‘Productivity and Bad Bosses’, and his follow up one ‘Productivity: why worrry?’.  Rick mentions the Mayfield report, How Good is Your Business Really, commissioned by the UK Government.  The report notes that  ‘the UK went from having the fastest growing productivity in the years before the recession to the second slowest growing in the years since’, and says ‘We need more of our businesses learning from our high performing frontiers in the UK, thinking afresh about what they can do to make workplaces more competitive, more innovative, more high-tech and smarter, with workforces that are more motivated and ultimately more productive. A key question, then is how to create the conditions for this to happen to transform business performance in scale and, in what areas do we need to focus?’

Good organisation design is not mentioned as one of the transformation conditions, but developing management capability is.  The report notes that ‘Evidence from the World Management Survey shows that managers’ intuitive evaluations of their own business practice are often wide of the mark’ – they have a blind spot.  This is picked up in a speech by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England, who says that ‘not only is there a long tail of [of low-productivity non-frontier] companies, but that many are unaware of that fact. For the same reason most car-owners believe they are above-average drivers, most companies might well believe they have above-average levels of productivity.  In fact, we know most companies have below-average levels of productivity and a large fraction of them have seen no productivity improvement for several decades.’

But some companies do measure productivity. The third concept ‘value’ came up when we were discussing employee engagement and voice.  Someone mentioned an article about Amazon where reportedly ‘fulfillment center workers face strenuous conditions: workers are pressed to “make rate,” with some packing hundreds of boxes per hour, and losing their job if they don’t move fast enough. … productivity firings are far more common than outsiders realize. … Critics see the system as a machine that only sees numbers, not people.’   We wondered if Amazon, in its drive for productivity, has a blind spot around the value of people. See also the 996 organizations that appear to value productivity over human value – is this ethical? What blindspots are in that equation?

We debated how to balance the Amazon-type tension between productivity and human value moving on to discuss what constitutes organisational ‘value’ anyway.  If we are thinking that value is about productivity – what is the ‘product’?  There are endless papers and arguments about this.  The World Economic Forum offers five measures that are better than GDP (the standard measure of productivity) and veers into value territory: Good jobs, well-being, environment, fairness, health.   While the Bank of England’s definition of GDP  makes the point that ‘some things have a lot of value but are not captured in GDP because no money changes hands. Caring for an elderly relative would be one example of this. As Einstein once said, “Not all that can be counted counts”.

Others link productivity (doing more with the same) with efficiency (doing the same with less). For example, The Economist makes the point that ‘A better measure [for productivity growth] is multi-factor productivity (also called total factor productivity) which tries to capture the efficiency with which inputs of capital as well as labour are used. If workers are given better machines and equipment, this will automatically boost output per man-hour, even if there is no gain in overall economic efficiency once the extra capital spending is taken into account.’

Roger Martin picks up some of this in an HBR article The High Price of Efficiency.   He says ‘Smith, Ricardo, Taylor, and Deming together turned management into a science whose objective function was the elimination of waste—whether of time, materials, or capital. The belief in the unalloyed virtue of efficiency has never dimmed. … Eliminating waste sounds like a reasonable goal. Why would we not want managers to strive for an ever-more-efficient use of resources? Yet as I will argue, an excessive focus on efficiency can produce startlingly negative effects.’   (Another HBR author argues for productivity over efficiency).

All of this has left me asking whether organisation designers have blindspots around  sufficiently considering and discussing how their designs impact and relate to value and productivity.  I’m wondering if we make assumptions around the concepts and what we’d learn if we opened debate on the topic.  What’s your view on designing for value and productivity, do you think we have blindspots around it?  If so, what are the ethical implications of that? Let me know.

Image: Baseball tee

Inclusive organisation design

On Wednesdays I look after my 20-month grandson.  Last week we had to do a complex journey on the London Underground, with a couple of changes of line.  It’s a good job we weren’t in any kind of rush, as navigating the system with a pushchair and bags takes knowledge, skill and experience.  I am a beginner in this particular activity and it takes a beginner’s mind to maintain calm in it.

‘Step-free’ is a bit of a stretch concept when, even if it’s possible, you have to take multiple lifts many walking-steps distance apart from each other (to get from one line to the next) through the underground passages, with sometimes confusing signage, masses of people, buskers and public alerts.  This all take alertness, concentration and focus – not easy to keep hold of,  when I also needed to divert my companion from the intriguing number of push/pull buttons, handles, interesting things to poke/touch/yell at on the route.

In the middle of the transport process, and feeling somewhat stressed and  weary of it, I remembered a piece I’d read and then tweeted about a couple of weeks ago:  ‘Everyone needs better design, especially older people. And making ‘things that are functional, stylish, useable, accessible will benefit not only them but people of all ages’.  It’s a good point-of-view paper from Don Norman who wrote the book, Design of Everyday Things, on user-friendly design.

Inclusive design is a great aspiration.  As, Norman says ‘Do not think that thoughtful design is just for the elderly, or the sick, or the disabled. In the field of design, this is called “inclusive design” for a reason: It helps everyone. Curb cuts were meant to help people who had trouble walking, but it helps anyone wheeling things: carts, baby carriages, suitcases.’

He references a book Mismatch: how inclusion shapes design, by Kat Holmes I took a look at it, the blurb says ‘In Mismatch, Kat Holmes describes how design can lead to exclusion, and how design can also remedy exclusion. Inclusive design methods―designing objects with rather than for excluded users―can create elegant solutions that work well and benefit all.’ I’ve downloaded a sample chapter.

The Inclusive Design Toolkit, answering the question ‘What is inclusive design?’  says ‘Every design decision has the potential to include or exclude customers. Inclusive design emphasizes the contribution that understanding user diversity makes to informing these decisions, and thus to including as many people as possible. User diversity covers variation in capabilities, needs and aspirations.’

It’s a lot easier to consider inclusive design if you are in a situation of creating something from scratch.  But often, we are adapting existing structures, objects, processes or whatever.  As an analogy, Transport for London is alert to inclusivity and accessibility issues and has great info/resources for travellers, but the possibilities for true inclusivity are limited by the original design of the system, and the over-the-years modifications to it.   Now, the system is not easily transformable to a fully inclusive accessible design.

However, if Crossrail’s Inclusion Policy is anything to go by, it looks as if the new Elizabethan line will be fully inclusive, (or at least in the new parts) which means all travellers will benefit – a point Don Norman makes – when he says,  ‘Some of us have permanent disabilities, but all of us have suffered from situational and temporary problems. When outside in the sun, the text message that just arrived is unreadable: wouldn’t it be nice if the display, whether cell-phone, watch, or tablet, could switch to large, higher contrast lettering? Are elderly people handicapped? Maybe, but so is a young, athletic parent while carrying a baby on one arm and a bag of groceries in the other (and perhaps trying to open their car door). Ride-share bicycles and scooters cannot be used by people who need to carry bulky packages. Everyone has difficulty hearing people in noisy environments. Noise-cancelling headphones are for everyone, not just the elderly. Almost anything that will help the elderly population will end up helping everyone.’

Although this is said in relation to products and services, and customers as users, I wonder how we would design organisations differently if we were truly designing or re-designing our organisational systems, processes, and operations through an inclusivity lens – not just including our customers, but our employees and other stakeholders.

Indeed, most organisations want to design organisations to be inclusive.  Many have an explicit value around inclusivity.  Starbucks, is one example, saying they live the value of ‘Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome’.  The UK’s National Health Service has ‘Everyone Counts’ as one of its values, saying ‘We use our resources for the benefit of the whole community, and make sure nobody is excluded or left behind.’

We could start small with thinking about designing meeting protocols.  Someone sent me an article by Bruno Kahne, who teaches hearing people to communicate like deaf people. Kahne’s a consultant and trainer who ‘realized that through their “handicap,” deaf people had developed certain communication skills more thoroughly than most hearing people, which made them uncommonly effective at getting their point across. Thus, a radical experiment was born: to work with deaf people as communication consultants for our corporate clients’.  Here, the teachers are deaf people, and hearing people are the students.

Kahne’s realization is similar to Don Norman’s – that inclusivity benefits everyone.  Kahne points out ‘Hearing people can see deaf people in two different ways. Either as people who have lost something – their hearing – or as people who have gained something – the ability to communicate without sound.  In the first case, hearing people will express at best compassion towards deaf people, which will be perceived by them as offensive. In the second case, pity will be replaced by curiosity, respect of the difference, and desire to learn skills which are not found in the hearing world.’

He started working with deaf and hearing people, saying  ‘I was surprised to find out that thousands of books and papers had been written on all the sufferings and misfortunes of deafness, and on all the things that deaf people should learn from the hearing world, but nothing on what the deaf world could bring to the hearing one. I was stunned.’

This work led to Kahne writing a book containing 12 lessons from the deaf world to help hearing people improve their communication skills.  Five of the lessons are described in an article Lessons of Silence, headlines are:

  • Look people in the eye.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Say what you mean, as simply as possible.
  • When you don’t understand something, ask.
  • Stay focused.

It sounds easy and straightforward, but observe meetings that you are in.  Do people practice the 5 lessons?  Would you have a more inclusive, better designed meeting if they did, what would it take to adapt/redesign your meetings to role model those lessons?

This week, my travel experience, and the reading of the Kahne articles have highlighted for me:

  • We must design our organisations and interactions for inclusivity – everyone will benefit
  • It’s hard to adapt existing design (and mindsets) to make them inclusive
  • Inclusive design is more than the built environment, products and services, it is systems, structures processes, protocols and interactions
  • We can learn how to design inclusive organisations looking at other disciplines that strive for inclusivity
  • Starting small (e.g. with meetings) will illustrate the complexity of developing inclusive organisation designs.

What’s your view on inclusive organisation design?  Let me know.



Are some organisation design concepts redundant?

A tweet last week from @NickGMRichmond, reads, ‘Great evidenced based provocation, “are some leadership concepts redundant?” see … the same is probably true of managing change and organisation development concepts. What do you think?’

I read the Oxford Review piece he linked to, which tells us ‘A new (2018) study by a team of researchers has conducted an extensive review of research literature to discover the extent of construct redundancy in the literature around leadership behaviours.’

I tracked down the source paper  ‘Construct redundancy in leader behaviors: A review and agenda for the future’,   and George Banks, one of the research team, kindly sent it to me. Their abstract reads, ‘Leadership remains a popular and heavily researched area in the social sciences. Such popularity has led to a proliferation of new constructs within the leadership domain. Here, we argue that such construct proliferation without pruning is unhealthy and violates the principle of parsimony. Our purpose was to examine construct redundancy via a comprehensive review of task-oriented, relational, passive, and inspirational leader behaviors as well as values-based and moral leadership behaviors.’

You might wonder why I’ve tried to locate the source document before I answer Nick’s question?  I’ve found that the whisper effect often amplifies any distortion as things get handed on.  I saw some distortion from the source article to The Oxford Review question is, ‘There are too many leadership concepts… but which ones are redundant?’ and then on to Nick’s question ‘Are some leadership concepts redundant?’  Both questions are useful but are likely to generate different discussions and outcomes, and they may well be different from any questions posed in the source document.  Whether or not this matters is also a question.

As a diversion, I also looked up the difference between ‘concept’ (Nick), ‘construct’ (source paper) and ‘concept/construct’ used interchangeably (Oxford Review).   Concept is a loose term representing a cognitive grouping that cannot be defined readily. ‘It has come to refer, in common usage, to any idea, process or thing that cannot be defined readily in another way.’  ‘Constructs are a way of bringing theory down to earth, helping to explain the different components of theories, as well as measure/observe their behaviour.’  Thus, leadership is the concept and leadership behaviour (the topic of the source document) one of the constructs within leadership.

At this point I decided that rather than quibble over concept, construct, either/both.  I would re-interpret (distort further?) and interpret Nick’s question as ‘Is there stuff we use to do organisation design work that is redundant’, thinking about this in three categories:

  • The process of designing – models, methodologies, approaches
  • The outcome of the process – the design (popularly believed to be an org chart)
  • The tools organisation designers use in the design process

The process of designing:  organisation designers often refer to a model e.g. Galbraith’s Star Model, McKinsey 7-S, Burke-Litwin, etc.   PeopleWiz consulting has done a nice job drawing on one of my books to construct a slide share comparing 5 popular models.  I think all five of these could be contenders for redundancy (though I did not get far with making this suggestion about 2 years ago).  None give sufficient visual attention to the organisation in an interdependent system of other organisations. There’s the missing piece of interconnectivity, not across the elements, which is there, but across to connected systems.

Many of the phased approaches to org design, I’d also put on the list as redundant.  It’s too easy to think that a design proceeds in an orderly phased way from contract, assess, design, plan to transition, transition, sustain (or similar).  Often, design approaches are much more of a chaotic muddle, working from someone’s new ‘org chart’, backwards and forwards (iterative?) towards a moving target, and trying to rescue processes, people and things-beyond-the-org-chart to include.   However, I often present a phased approach saying that the value is similar to that of a lifebelt in turbulence.

Organisation design attracts some some methodologies like requisite organisation or Viable System Model, or holacracy each with their aficionados.   I’d nominate some of these for redundancy as, in my view, they are too prescriptive in their application and thus are not fit for purpose in many organisations.   Now, I’ve written this I think some criteria for things being put on the redundant list would be helpful but I’m relying on experience (or bias?) as I’m on a time crunch.

The outcome of the process – the design:  believing that an organisation design is only an organisation chart is a belief ripe for redundancy.  It is much more than that.  An analogy is a vehicle in motion.  No-one would agree that only the external shell is the vehicle in motion.  The vehicle is all its processes and systems together with a competent driver, and able technicians to keep it in motion.

Many of the standard org charts might be heading towards redundancy.  As self-employment increases, automated processes do more routine work, self-organising teams grow in number,  and the rise of co-working spaces continues, an array of ‘lines and boxes’ representing ‘an organisation’ will lose value and focus of attention because we won’t really know what an organisation is.

The tools organisation designers use:  My blog – a toolkit of toolkits lists around a dozen toolkits containing checklists, frameworks, diagnostics, surveys, cards, etc  of the type organisation designers use.  Beyond the tools, designers use techniques of Large Group Interventions, focus groups, workshops, and so on.  Without trawling through them in some detail it’s difficult to highlight some that might be redundant.  It’s easier to look at those which are on the up – tools and techniques related to designing using software and data like Orgvue, Orgmapper,  intelliHR, and organisational network analysis.  I think it’s quite likely that these, combined with some of the data analytics, AI, and behavioural science tools will supersede many of the tools we have used up till now.

My view is that the way we think about organisations and their place in societal functioning and thus the way we ‘design’ them is both due for, and is undergoing, significant shifts.  There’s lots that will become redundant in the way we do it.

But I wonder whether this is ‘a good thing’.  Consider ‘Some elementary principles from reliability engineering, where engineered redundancy is a valued part of systems design. … For example, a central tenet of reliability engineering is that reliability always increases as redundant components are added to a system’.  Should we instead embrace what may appear to be redundant stuff in our design process, outcomes and tools?

What would be your criteria for things to go on the organisation design redundancy list?  What would you put on the list?  And should we embrace redundancy in organisation design work?  Let me know.

Image: Diagram of Electro-Hydraulic Control System

Shall we give up on job design?

Last week I was asked if I’d be interested in giving a conference keynote session on ‘The job design of the future – what will roles look like in 10 years?’  Unfortunately, I can’t make the date that it’s on, but before I realised that I started to think about the topic.  In two ways it’s relevant to me:

First, I have a 13-year-old friend who may be looking for employment in 10 years’ time, I say ‘maybe’ because there may not be roles/jobs as we know them today.  His brother is 9 and I read that ‘By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. (Watch a video that went viral on this in 2008 and read more in an 2018 interview with the maker here).

Second, I know I will not be in the type of job/role as I am today as I’ll be making ‘A proactive transition from one role or situation into the next.’ I will not be wearing the ‘label old or done’.  Instead, I’ll be ‘a free agent who gets to decide what’s next. Do I want to start a new career, go back to school, start a business, join a non-profit?’

In between those age ranges I have friends in each decade and they’re all facing questions like ‘will AI, robotics, etc. be doing all the work?’, ‘How will I be financially viable?’, ‘What skills and experience do I need to keep pace with stuff?’ ‘What’s a career that’s right for me?’ ‘Are there careers anymore?’ etc.

There are countless books, articles, blogs, and opinions on types of jobs that will be required (or not) in the future.  Nesta, in their 2017 report, for example, envisages 6 hypothetical roles that could exist in 2030: restaurant owner, care worker, 100 years counsellor, immersive experience designer, green construction and aerospace engineer. Hmm – these roles exist now – so what is changing?

Futurist Thomas Frey, predicting for 2040 says that ‘common jobs will be framed around common technologies like drones, robots, and blockchain as opposed to professional categorizations like nurse, teacher, or engineer.’ He reminds us to ‘Keep in mind we’re automating tasks out of existence, not entire jobs. As our tasks disappear, new tasks will get created, and jobs, work, and entire industries will be redefined.’

He offers 20 job categories we’ll see in 2040, including:

  • asteroid mining (jobs include asteroid scouts, asteroid surveyors,  asteroid mining ground crews)
  • drone command crews (jobs include drone command centre operators, drone taxi ground crew, drone programmers)
  • CRISPR, biohacking, and programmable healthcare gurus (jobs include algorithmic dietitians, CRISPR biotechnicians, biomanufacturing organ designers).

Similarly, McKinsey in a 2017 report tells us that:

‘Even if there is enough work to ensure full employment by 2030, major transitions lie ahead that could match or even exceed the scale of historical shifts out of agriculture and manufacturing. Our scenarios suggest that by 2030, 75 million to 375 million workers (3 to 14 percent of the global workforce) will need to switch occupational categories. Moreover, all workers will need to adapt, as their occupations evolve alongside increasingly capable machines. Some of that adaptation will require higher educational attainment, or spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate.’

The conference question asked ‘The job design of the future – what will roles look like in 10 years?’ From our currently available knowledge we may be able to hazard a guess on what roles will look like, as Frey, McKinsey, and Nesta (among others) have done.  But we can’t be sure that these guesses will be correct.

The challenge for us is how do we design jobs right now that will help people cope with future job roles, many of which may not currently exist.  There are lots of jobs that exist now that didn’t exist 10 years ago – driverless car engineer, cloud computing specialist and YouTube content creator among them, what were the people doing these roles today working as ten years ago?   Did the design of their jobs help them move into these new roles or did they have to retrain, or are they all new entrants to the workforce?  What are the new demands on their skills/experience?   What is it in current job design that has the seeds of future jobs in it?

The UK’s CIPD in answer to the question ‘What is Job Design?’, says ‘Job design is the process of determining what a job comprises, how it is carried out, and how it relates to other relevant jobs. This includes deciding on the duties and responsibilities of the job holder, the methods to be used in carrying out the job, and its fit within the organisational structure.’

To me this description implies someone deciding what someone else is going to do in an environment that is known and stable, it doesn’t imply autonomy, choice, collaboration, human/tech interaction and a VUCA environment.   I wonder if we can afford to take a pedestrian and traditional approach where the ‘purpose of job (re)design is to optimise the work process and improve productivity by reducing repetitive elements within and between jobs, as well as increasing responsibility and challenge through techniques such as job enlargement, job enrichment, job rotation and other non-monetary means.’

In a fast-moving environment is it appropriate to use techniques of ‘careful job analysis – gathering information about the job, including its content, purpose, and required outputs. This analysis should form the basis of a job description and person specification/job profile.’  Alternatives to traditional job design are several:

Take a look at job crafting – an employee driven approach to job re-design.

Think about designing around contributions statements or a capabilities spec rather than a job descriptions .

Consider role charters BCG says ‘Role charters are not job descriptions, even though they may seem similar. … [they] are active, living documents that are meant to imbue corporate strategy and vision into the daily work and purpose of the organization. They describe roles as they should be, as well as the collaboration required among them. Role chartering is generally conducted during the course of a corporate reorganization or transformation and is an integral part of BCG’s approach to organization design.’

Experiment with self-managing teams where roles change in line with employee wishes and agreements and roles are fluid and designed around outcomes.

Focus on designing skills/capabilities/abilities development pathways, not describing tasks or activities, as it is the non-machine possible, human-centred, transferable skills that people need a good stock of in order to be able to cope with changing jobs and job content.

Tim Rayner suggests six human abilities that ‘currently can’t be replicated by machines’:  empathy, ability to make a person feel acknowledged and cared for, ability to think critically about human life and society, ability to establish trust, ability to create art.   On some of these – empathy and art – machines are catching up. I would have ‘curiosity’ on a list of human abilities that are difficult for AI to emulate but even that is being eroded. (Perhaps knowing what human skills are not machine capable is itself an identification skill).

Maybe we could be even more radical and dispense with job design and job descriptions of any type altogether.   Perhaps doing that would let loose the productivity and power of employees and really gain their engagement and motivation.

Our traditional approach to job design needs, at minimum, a radical overhaul and perhaps retirement.   What’s your view?  Let me know.

Image: Artist quits day job to pursue passion for beautifully quilled paper art.

Does everyone (in organisation design) need a mentor?

Years ago, I had a book by David Clutterbuck called Everyone Needs a Mentor I couldn’t find my copy when I just looked for it, so maybe I gave it away at some point.  Or maybe I stopped thinking everyone needs a mentor so didn’t need the book anymore.  The book seems to be out of print now – I could only find used copies on Amazon UK.  But the blurb reads:

‘Mentoring is the most cost efficient and sustainable method of fostering and developing talent within your organisation. Talented employees can be stretched to perform even better by exposure to high performing colleagues. Experience can be passed on more effectively one-to-one. Employees from groups that are under-represented in the organisation can be supported and developed by talking to others who have overcome similar barriers.’

Anyway, I’m newly curious about mentoring as over the last few months several people have asked me if I would mentor them in organisation design stuff and I’m not sure what I think about these requests, leading me to start to investigate to see if I agree with Clutterbuck (again?) or have a different view.

My investigation finds that the European Organisation Design Forum and Organization Design Forum ‘are launching our pilot Global Mentoring Scheme.’ (with a fee for the mentee to be introduced to the mentor.)  Like Clutterbuck’s view of mentoring, the purpose of the EODF/ODF scheme is to:

assist the learning, development and network of community members including promoting continuous professional development in the field of Organisation Design’.   It will ‘introduce mentees looking for support of experienced Organisation Designers in specific or generic OD related issues. The scheme is aimed towards newer Organization Designers or those wishing to refresh and or learn new skills/knowledge from others within the field.  It will give mentors the ‘opportunity for those wishing to spread their knowledge and or support to newer entrance to the OD world or those that wish to diversify their knowledge base. In doing so it will increase individual and intra-organisational networks and connections and strengthen the missions of ODF & EODF respectively.’

Rachel Parker tells a lovely story of setting up her own business and ‘hitting the wall’.

‘A single question floated through my mind: “How am I going to handle this?” I felt like a failure.

And then I called Gail. … If anyone could talk me off the ceiling—if ANYONE could help assuage my acute anxiety—it would be her. She did everything I could have asked her to do during that phone call. She was supportive, encouraging, and educational.’  She ends the piece asking ‘Who are the mentors in your life? … Make finding mentors as much a priority as finding new business. Schedule follow-up calls with your mentors regularly, just as you would with a potential client. … securing this kind of support is as important as your business plan.’

I agreed to meet one of the people who’d asked me to mentor him.  He then asked me what I would I like him to bring to the meeting.  As I didn’t have a specific answer and had been asking myself what, if anything, I should bring to mentor/mentee meetings, I started Googling ‘what do mentors do/say?’ My search didn’t reveal what encouragement, advice, support or challenge mentors would give around organisation design – I am left with more generic, but still useful information which is applicable to both mentees and mentors.

They nearly all suggest the mentor asking a starting question of the mentee on the lines of “What do you want?”  As one writer points out, ‘Sounds trite? It is. But that’s about as basic as it gets. You must know this …  before you [mentee] can reap the benefits of mentoring.’

Developing this idea, Vineet Chopra, and Sanjay Saint, in an HBR article explores ‘What mentors wish their mentees knew’, offering 6 habits of ideal mentees. Including Clarifying what you need, being engaged and energising and minding your mentors time.

Jo Miller has 40 questions a mentee can ask a mentor grouped into four categories:  stories, self-awareness, skill building and situations.  This could be developed for organisation design mentees – for example they could ask their mentor:  ‘What do you wish you had known before taking on your first organisation design project?’  Or I’ve heard that taking a stretch organisation design assignment could help my career trajectory. What are the pros and cons?”  Or What do you see as some of my organisational design blind spots and how can I improve?’ Or ‘What lessons have you learned along your organisation design career path that you feel would be helpful for me as I consider my own future?’

In another HBR article, the same two authors – Chopra and Saint –  mentioned earlier, write about 6 things every mentor should do, including ‘choose your mentee carefully’, saying: ‘Beware the diffident mentee who expects the mentor to keep the relationship going, or the mentee who insists on doing things their way. A mentee should be curious, organized, efficient, responsible, and engaged. One way to look for these traits is to test prospective mentees.’  (I think you could substitute the word mentor for mentee and it would be just as sensible advice).

The suggestions for testing the potential mentee are interesting, ‘For instance, we often ask mentees to read a book and return within a month to discuss it. Similarly, we sometimes give a candidate a few weeks to write a review of an article in a relevant area. In a business setting, you might ask a prospective mentee to prepare a presentation in their area of expertise, or join you on a sales call or at a strategy offsite and write up their observations. This gives you a good sense of their thinking process, communication skill, and level of interest. If they don’t come back or complete the assignment, you should breathe a sigh of relief — you have avoided taking on a mentee who lacked commitment.’  (It occurs to me that the mentee could similarly test the mentor).

What I’ve got from this brief investigation is an awareness that:

  • Mentoring is not to be undertaken lightly -it is a commitment on both sides that requires a good relationship and both parties to learn from it.
  • Mentees and mentors should choose each other carefully.  If they don’t gel it won’t work for either party.
  • Mentoring around organisation design (or any technical topic) might need more preparation than general development mentoring.  On this, I wondered whether I could develop a question bank of questions that mentees could ask organisation design mentors, or talk with people who’d been in an organisation design mentee/mentor relationship and write a few case studies to help others.
  • If it works it can be a mutually fruitful and enjoyable experience.

What’s your view on mentoring – does everyone in organisation design need a mentor?  Let me know.

Image:  Mentor, Connie Geerts

Breakthrough thinking on organisation culture

Someone in a session I was facilitating last week on organisation culture remarked that what we were talking about was nothing new and challenged us to consider what the breakthrough thinking is on it.   She was asking the question, ‘What are the sudden advances in knowledge or technique that would help us approach organisational culture differently than the way we are currently?’

It’s a good question.  But one hard to answer.  We tend to think of ‘breakthrough thinking’ in relation to health or science, not organisational culture.  This week’s New Scientist, for example, has a Special Report on ‘the breakthrough drugs that keep you younger for longer’.   And the film ‘Longitude’, that someone else happened to mention this week, in a different discussion, is about the breakthrough of the clock method of ship navigation.  ‘A stunning technical breakthrough came when English carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison built five prototype sea clocks between 1735 and 1772.’   For a more recent scientific breakthroughs read ‘A Brief Explanation of three of Steven Hawking’s scientific breakthroughs’ or Bill Gates selection of  ’10 Breakthrough Technologies 2019’.

But look more closely at these examples and you’ll see that the ‘breakthrough’ is usually a culmination of painstaking research, false hopes, failures, multiple lines of investigation over many years, and a working through of Sam Becket’s lineEver tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’ that finally produces results.

Of course, there are some eureka moments that are instant breakthroughs. An article in Smithsonian Magazine tells us Sometimes, however, a commonly held understanding really is overturned in one fell swoop. As science fiction writer Issac Asimov is said to have quipped, the exclamation that heralds such discoveries isn’t really “Eureka!” but “That’s funny.”’  But even those are in a context when, as author Richard Gaughan says ‘preparation, opportunity, and desire come together,’ coupled with the fact that they occurred before ‘watchful eyes and scientific minds trained to observe them’. In these instances, ‘the result can be an accidental discovery that changes our understanding of the world.’

If we want to think of culture ‘breakthrough’ – in relation to the way we hope to manage or change culture (assuming that this is do-able – a discussion point we took up) then we need to consider the conditions that would give rise to the ‘breakthrough’ and the watchful eyes and minds trained to observe it.

Rebecca Solnit in her book ‘Hope in the Dark’, examplifies the watchful eyes and trained mind of a culture observer.  She asks ‘Who, two decades ago, could have imagined a world in which the Soviet Union had vanished and the Internet had arrived? Who then dreamed that the political prisoner Nelson Mandela would become president of a transformed South Africa? …  few recognize what a radically transformed world we live in, one that has been transformed not only by such nightmares as global warming and global capital, but by dreams of freedom, of justice, and transformed by things we could not have dreamed of. We adjust to changes without measuring them, we forget how much the culture changed.’

She instructs us to ‘Turn your head. Learn to see in the dark. Pay attention to the inventive arenas that exert political power outside that stage or change the contents of the drama onstage. From the places that you have been instructed to ignore or rendered unable to see, come the stories that change the world, and it is here that culture has the power to shape politics and ordinary people have the power to change the world. You can see the baffled, upset faces of the actors on stage when the streets become a stage or the unofficial appear among them to disrupt the planned program.’

One of the current tenets of organisational culture is that it is shaped and ‘owned’ by leaders.  See, for example, Boris Groysberg et al’s, HBRs article The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.  The authors tell us:  ‘For better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked. Founders and influential leaders often set new cultures in motion and imprint values and assumptions that persist for decades. Over time an organization’s leaders can also shape culture, through both conscious and unconscious actions (sometimes with unintended consequences). The best leaders we have observed are fully aware of the multiple cultures within which they are embedded, can sense when change is required, and can deftly influence the process.’

The article goes on to state that ‘Our work suggests that culture can, in fact, be managed. The first and most important step leaders can take to maximize its value and minimize its risks is to become fully aware of how it works. By integrating findings from more than 100 of the most commonly used social and behavioral models, we have identified eight styles that distinguish a culture and can be measured. …  Using this framework, leaders can model the impact of culture on their business and assess its alignment with strategy.’

Suppose we took a different view from that of Groysberg et al.  Suppose we recognised that culture cannot be ‘managed’ but is emergent via the complex systems described by Solnit?  Suppose we used watchful eyes and turned our heads and saw that culture lies not in organisational leaders’ power/hierarchy structures, or 8 styles, or a framework, (or iceberg model) but in the inventive arena outside these boundaries: would that result in an organisational culture ‘breakthrough’ in the way we approach it?

I wonder if we are stuck in the way we think about organisational culture and whether there is a ‘breakthrough’ possible on it?  Maybe we could use the set of questioning assumptions exercise that I find useful if I feel I’m getting hidebound or the person/people I’m working with are.  (I think these originally came from Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life:

  1. What assumptions am I making about the issue, opportunity, challenge  topic …?   What assumptions is my client/are others making?
  2. What am I assuming, based on previous experiences, that may not be true now?  What is my client/are others assuming?
  3. What am I assuming about available resources?  What is my client/are others assuming?
  4. What limitations am I assuming to be so—and what surprises might I find? What is my client/are others assuming and what surprises might they find?
  5. What am I assuming about external circumstances? What is my client/are others assuming?
  6. What am I assuming about what’s impossible–or possible? What is my client/are others assuming?

As I said, the challenge of the question ‘where’s the breakthrough thinking on organisational culture?’ is a useful one.  I don’t know the answer – I doubt if it’s going to be a ‘Eureka moment’ but it may well happen through painstaking research, failures, and trying again, and questioning our assumptions about it.

Have you seen breakthrough approaches to/thinking on organisational culture?  Do we need to be looking for them/it?  Let me know.

Image:  Black hole photo revealed in astronomy breakthrough