Friday, 18 February 2011

TRU London: Why I told Kevin Wheeler he was talking rubbish


  I was obviously still a bit irritated moving on from these previous sessions to Kevin Wheeler’s on the future of work.

Let me be very clear – I agree completely with most of what Kevin has to say.  I agree that work is becoming more flexible – being done by contingent workers, crowd sourcing, and new entrepreneurial organisations etc.  I agree that workers are changing – with more of them being based at home or working from their local Starbucks, using ‘scatter cushion’ technologies, and sometimes having more than one job.  And I agree that we’re seeing some interesting changes in organisations too.

But I also think we can overdo the case for new, fluid, network organisations.  Most companies in the UK are SMEs that’s true.  But the predominant paradigm of business is still the big, formal bureaucracy and I can’t see that organisation form going away.

So when Kevin referred to the end of hierarchy I’d had enough.  “I think that’s rubbish”, I said.

As I wrote above, it’s not that I disagree with the trends Kevin was describing.  And I do think big business needs to and will change.  But I think it will do that through adaptation rather than complete reinvention, and I think that’s probably right.

I talked about GSK and a blog post I’d read recently (it was actually this one from Anne Marie McEwan) discussing the company’s move towards smaller Dunbar number sized groups (I’d also posted on this previously).  This is the sort of change I see happening.  But it doesn’t spell the end of hierarchy.

It’s why in my previous sessions on Social HR, I’d emphasised the need to focus on clear outcomes (the strategic ones I discussed in my last post as well) rather than lists of attributes.  I don’t believe all organisations need to operate the same way, and I suspect not many of them will look like Zappos, Semcos and similar maverick organisations.

And I don’t think that matters much.  What I advise organisations to do is be clear about what outcomes they’re trying to create, and then identify the processes and ways of working that will be right for them – based upon their individual situation and context, and what they see happening in the world.  This is why we DO need to understand Kevin’s trends, but simply extrapolating what’s happening now is poor futurology and isn’t a good guide to how organisations should change now.


Also see these two posts on hierarchy:



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