Tuesday 17 November 2015

Innovation and the Future of Work - Milan

Last week I was in Milan speaking about HR Innovation:

I shared some examples of innovated practices but also emphasised that innovation generally comes from understanding what we need to within a particular organisation, breaking free of traditional best practices and understanding new best fit opportunities.  Once we have developed this new mindset, it’s generally fairly obvious what we need to innovate.  (Of course coming up with the right innovation is still difficult, but it’d be no fun if it was easy!)

Supporting this idea, we need to get away from the idea that there’s a set and predictable future of work.  For one thing, this would just be replacing one set of best practices with another, and that’s unlikely to be useful.  Secondly, the main shift that’s take place over the last couple of decades is that people are now the main source of competitive success.  This means that we need to create new business strategies based upon our people (not just using our people to execute new business strategies!).  But it also means that we need to differentiate our strategies from our competitors and other organisations since if a strategy isn’t differentiated it’s not really a strategy.  So a strategy that aims at helping us prepare for the future of work isn’t really a strategy either.

So instead of innovating based upon the future of work, we need to understand the tools and approaches which can help us innovate the way we manage people, and perhaps some alternatives which we can pick from or tailor to support what a particular organisation requires.

An example I’ve been thinking about recently relates to the way we respond to digital business and its impact on jobs which I posted about on Friday, and also in this post on Symposium Event’s blog which reviews Tammy Erickson's inputs at the Drucker Forum in Vienna the previous week. 

Erickson also made some observations about how we need to respond to this environment which I thought were quite smart:

  1. Increasing our ability to change organising by tasks and projects rather than individuals in roles - and therefore removing job titles etc.  I don’t completely agree with this - also options for developing around people (creating value)
  2. Enabling us to take action in real-time rather than planning and co-ordinating in advance of actions.  The key for this is understanding humanity (and that real value will only come from discretionary effort from people - the stuff you can’t command them to do) and creating an environment which will stimulate this.
  3. Understanding people and the way they want to relate to work - developing multiple relationships with people in your portfolio, including contingent workers, in a sophisticated way.

These are all good ideas but they’re not the only options, or even the only good options.

Eg organising around tasks makes sense but its not very people centric.  An alternative, and perhaps even better idea is still to organise around people, but to sculpt jobs around the people rather than fit people into existing boxes in the way we tend to do now.  After all, anything which can be organised into standard tasks is going to be better performed by robots.  So the areas that we need to concern ourselves with are those based on relationships, values and change.  And these can all get done best for focusing on the whole person, not just applying part of that person to a specific piece of work.

I think some organisations will want to do this, but many won’t, which is fine.  And it is why innovation always need to be focused on what a particular organisation has to and needs to do.

See my blog post on career partnership.

And also see this post at HR Zone about preparing for the futures.

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