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Our Discontent Mapped

November 4, 2013 in Future of Work by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

The Harvard Business Review has produced an interactive map of employee disengagement: Workplace Engagement Around the World. You can leisurely tour the world noting the degree of our discontent country by country. Illuminating.

EmployeeDisengagement

Rise of Reputation Management

November 4, 2013 in Future of Work, Reputation Management by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

I came of age in a time of riotous change when cities burned and soldiers confronted citizens in the streets. I watched Watts burn on television and from the sidewalk, looking south, saw the clouds over LA burn with reflected flame. I saw communities and generations sundered by dissension as old ideas surrendered—or were sacrificed—to new.

And now, at the other end of my life, I’m witness to another time of equally dramatic, if less violent, change. The very nature of work is being redefined by massive forces like the collision of tectonic plates creating new mountains and valleys, a new landscape, but in quick-time. When these forces have played out and reached equilibrium, our working lives will be far different from what they are now.

Like Shiva, technology is the creator and destroyer of worlds.

Dion Hinchcliffe, strategist for the Dachis Group, is a man who’s thinking I admire. His keynote at the Leadership Summit 2013 on Workplace 2020 provides a laundry list of trends effecting the future of work.

The life expectancy of powerful companies is declining at the same time human lifespans are increasing. Standard & Poor’s 500 is an index of what’s considered the best US stocks, the companies that represent a bellwether for the U.S. economy. In 1940 a company in the S&P 500 could expect to survive 75 years. Now 15 years is more typical. The future workplace will be even more volatile than today.

Technology continues to evolve exponentially. Like Shiva, technology is the creator and destroyer of worlds. New business opportunities appear like mushrooms after a rain while existing opportunities wither as suddenly. To thrive in this volatility companies will need to expand or collapse, pulsing with the rhythm of change and opportunity, rapidly scaling operations up or down. That includes their workforce. No company can achieve the agility required while anchored to a large number of full-time employees, especially middle management. Individual contributors—the productive workforce—will be required to manage themselves for the benefit of the company but even individual contributors are likely to coalesce around particular projects, particular outcomes, and then disperse.

Cloud technology will enable companies to scale in either direction and compete against much larger companies than themselves. The metaphor for the cloud is usually meteorological. Perhaps a better metaphor is a cloud of mayflies rising from a pond on a summer day. That is the level of competition I envision.

The new, liquid workforce required by such fierce competition is also enabled by technology, the ability to communicate and collaborate across vast distance without inhibition. Your competitor for a job no longer lives within driving distance of the office—or willing to relocate. They now live anywhere serviced by broadband. Competitive workers will need to be expert in the use of communications technology enabling a virtual workforce, collaborating with team members from different cultures, navigating complex networks and meta-networks, working in self-directed teams that produce end-to-end outcomes, and managing their digital reputation.

Managing your digital footprint can contribute value to your company and yourself.

This last bit—digital reputation—is a skill set previously expected only of marketers. Managing your digital reputation will be critically important in finding work and maximizing your contribution to an employer. Increasing your digital visibility for key concepts (keywords) involves marketing yourself, identifying your goals and desired outcomes, creating content optimized for search engines (SEO), and tracking results (web and social analytics). It means everyone is ultimately self-employed, an indivisible business of one.

And the relentless memory of the web doesn’t distinguish between your personal and professional life online. Eventually, perhaps, we’ll be able to buy personal software agents that will negotiate with content consumers what we’ll allow for publication. Eventually, but not now.

In Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact, a seminal article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review, the authors explain “…how a workable new compact must recognize that jobs are unlikely to be permanent but encourage lasting alliances nonetheless. The key is that both the employer and the employee seek to add value to each other. Employees invest in the company’s adaptability; the company invests in employees’ employability.”

Peer Management?

November 2, 2013 in Corporate Culture, Future of Work by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

In fluid dynamics, drag represents force opposing the direction of flow. Reduce drag and you increase the speed of flow. Hierarchy is often introduced into business to ensure control but it also introduces drag. An organization with less drag might be more competitive. But can we realistically expect to be managed by our peers in the future of work?

The End of Bosses

Making Sense of Work

October 30, 2013 in Future of Work by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

Future Work Skills 2020, a research study by the Institute for the Future, identifies six trends driving change in the way we work.

1. Increasing global lifespans changing the nature of careers and learning;

2. Workplace automation nudging human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks;

3. Massive increases in sensors and processing power making the work a programmable system;

4. New communication tools requiring new media literacies beyond text;

5. Social technologies driving new forms of production and value creation;

6. Increasing global interconnectivity putting diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations.

New skills are required of the workforce to respond to the emergent trends. The study names 10. The first of these is sense-making, the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance, making sense of change.

It’s not a skill I’ve ever seen required in a job description. Mostly job descriptions are about the past—known terrain. Where we’re going there is no map. We’ve never been here before. We each need to make sense of the future of work before the future is upon us.

 

Darkness Visible

October 27, 2013 in Corporate Culture, Future of Work by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

Forbes recently profiled ING Direct Canada (Banking On The Future of Work: Four Tips You Can’t Afford To Ignore), a company that manages 25-30 times the number of customers per employee and four times the assets of their competitors. ING Direct Canada has 1,000 employees. Their competitors have 40,000-70,000 employees.

Peter Aceto, the CEO, believes the company’s stunning success should be attributed to its culture. A company’s culture determines who is hired, how you make decisions, and how you work together. At ING Direct Canada, the company’s core value is transparency.

Conversations happen between individuals irregardless of seniority. No one pulls rank. Not everything is revealed, of course. Some information remains sensitive and is safeguarded but otherwise knowledge flows freely. The collective intelligence of the organization can be applied more broadly, providing better decisions, better for the organization’s productivity and better for its community—employees, customers, and stakeholders. As a result ING Direct Canada is more responsive and more productive than its competitors.

The opposite of transparency is, of course, opacity. Secrecy is often used to maintain power and hierarchy. A decision made in secret can’t be examined by others without access to power. It can’t be reviewed or improved. For example, how a company rewards or punishes its employees.

Every company needs to encourage the outcomes and behaviors its values while discouraging those it doesn’t. At Microsoft—the only large company I know intimately—the process is known as stack ranking. A thread on Quora asked What is the worst thing about working at Microsoft? The thing most reviled by employees and alumni alike was stack ranking, especially the arbitrary 10% of the workforce that is annually targeted for attrition. At the end of the year a person can fall form the middle of the bell curve to the bottom without warning, without any decline in performance, simply because the system requires someone be sacrificed.

The actual process of ranking employees occurs in secrecy at Microsoft. The attributes of that process—the written review, peer comments, and the amount or lack of financial reward—are communicated to the employee but not the process itself. What was the discussion? What was surfaced? What remained submerged? Who said what and why? The annual review is critical to an employee’s reputation. Reputation influences access to future opportunities. It impacts self-esteem. It affects how you work with others. Something so important shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy.

What harm would result in making the process public? The knee jerk objection from HR would be privacy but in reality individuals are responsible for managing their own reputation. That will become increasingly true in the future of work where there are fewer full time employees and more fluid project workers that coalesce around a specific outcome and then disperse. Reputation will be critically important for landing the next project. Without understanding the decisions that resulted in their ranking an employee can’t realistically manage their reputation or their career. It’s being managed certainly but behind closed doors.

The more candid objection might be that making the darkness visible would reveal the dysfunction in decision making. It’s more difficult to believe the illusion of the great and powerful Oz when you’ve seen behind the curtain.

But the benefits could be substantial and practical—more accurate feedback, more candid conversations, increased understanding of the corporate culture, reduced need for expensive hierarchy, greater productivity per employee, and a healthier company.

It’s no longer vanity, it’s survival

September 21, 2013 in Analytics, Digital Marketing, Social by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

Everyone with any presence on the web eventually searches for themselves. We all do it. There’s even a name, a vanity search. How does the web see me? More specifically, how does a particular search engine see me? What do they know about me? Who do they mistake me for?

Simply Measured offers something comparable to a vanity search jacked up on steroids, a free analysis of your Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn presence in far more colorful detail than you would attempt yourself.

SimplyMeasured

As social media becomes increasingly important in marketing, reputation management, and the future of work, social analytics become crucial in managing your social presence personally and professionally. In fact, the distinction between the two is rapidly vanishing.Work-life balance was always a false distinction. It’s all life.

And it’s no longer a vanity search. It’s surviving and thriving.

The new normal isn’t

September 19, 2013 in Change, Knowledge Work by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

The McKinsey Global Institute recently published the report Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy which included this graph. Notice that the impact is measured in trillions of dollars annually by 2025. That’s trillions. To borrow from CNN, if you spent a million dollars every day starting the day Jesus was born, you still wouldn’t have spent a trillion dollars today.

image

The potential value of mobile technologies is staggering but not unimaginable (if you can wrap your head around truly large numbers) but look at the impact on knowledge work: $5-$7 trillion. As an aside, in 2012, knowledge workers represented 9% of the global workforce and 27% of workforce costs.

The increasing sophistication of machines to manage knowledge work, including unstructured, natural language queries, will dramatically alter the nature of knowledge work by human beings, potentially freeing them from drudgery, allowing them to address uniquely human challenges like innovation, imagination, and cooperation. Or maybe it will enable Skynet.

From the McKinsey report:

It is not surprising that new technologies make certain forms of human labor unnecessary or economically uncompetitive and create demand for new skills. This has been a repeated phenomenon since the Industrial Revolution: the mechanical loom marginalized home weaving while creating jobs for mill workers. However, the extent to which today’s emerging technologies could affect the nature of work is striking. Automated knowledge work tools will almost certainly extend the powers of many types of workers and help drive top-line improvements with innovations and better decision making, but they could also automate some jobs entirely.

The new normal isn’t normal at all.

Chrome Rising

August 11, 2013 in Digital Marketing, Google, Microsoft by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

The Economist has a post on browser trajectories. Long before I was hired Microsoft fought the browser wars with Netscape. Both companies suffered massive casualties. It was a Pyrrhic victory for Microsoft and, it appears, a penultimate one. In 2008, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the world. In 2013, Microsoft’s market share has been decimated by Google’s Chrome.  It feels to me a significant lesson. Innovate or die.

Browsers

 

 

The Social Organization

August 11, 2013 in Enterprise Social by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

The authors of The Social Organization categorize stages of engagement with enterprise social. Most companies range somewhere between folly and flippant with fearful holding the middle ground. At best they don’t prevent employees from forming collaborative communities but they ensure the failure of those communities by not providing leadership and resources. Without the power to execute upon the innovative solutions derived from their collective intelligence, those communities become irrelevant and wither.

Enterprise social networks aren’t like cooked spaghetti. You can’t throw them against the wall and expect them to stick. Ironically, spontaneity requires planning, persistence, faith, hard work and more than a few dollars. The end result, however, can be communities that solve thorny business problems with innovative solutions. At least as valuable, I think, is the potential impact on employee engagement and retention.

Enterprise social networks have the potential to change the way we work and the way we relate to one another at work. Considering the staggering number of disengaged employees, the alienation, emotional pain and loss of productivity, some change is desperately needed.

The Social Organization isn’t about marketing with social media. It won’t help you sell widgets using Twitter. But it is a topographic map of the social landscape inside companies. It will help you ask the right questions. Without those questions you’ll never find your way across the terrain. You’ll be lost among the 80%.

The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of your Customers and Employees Anthony J. Bradley, Mark P. McDonald

Volunteering Trust

August 11, 2013 in Volunteering by Charles Thrasher

by Charles Thrasher

In his article “Cognitive Biases in Times of Uncertainty” John Hagel eloquently describes the descending spiral driven by the perception of scarcity. We naturally magnify risk and discount reward during times of high uncertainty. Our timeline shrinks to the short-term. We surrender the future and struggle only for immediate advantage, our own advantage, which reinforces our bias toward risk and reward.

Because we feel threatened we acknowledge only the opinion of those who agree with us. We can’t afford diversity or divergence. It’s “America, love it or leave it.” Conformity is required. Our horizon collapses further. You’re either for or against with no middle ground. Distrust feeds greater uncertainty and the spiral descends another turn, self-confirming.

We know the likely scenario if we don’t develop a strong sense of community and trust. It doesn’t end well for any of us.

That isn’t the only future possible. That descending spiral is countered by a single behavior—trust.

There is an emerging sense of global community, of human community. This sense of community isn’t irrespective of national identity or cultural heritage but superimposed upon it, a recognition that what divides us is less important than what unites us.

volunteer

It’s easy to dismiss such hope as unrealistic, to scoff as its idealism, but to dismiss something as impossible simply because it’s never happened before misses the point widely. We have never been here before. What’s emerging from the complex reality we’ve created isn’t simply our previous experience remixed and recycled. It’s something entirely new and unpredictable. There is something new under the sun. Who would have thought the Arab Spring possible?

I believe there is a crucial behavior that significantly contributes to the possibility of such community, that counters the cognitive bias natural in times of uncertainty, that allows us to think of another rather than simply ourselves and permits us to trust. Volunteering.

I know it sounds too simple to be serious. And I don’t even think the cause matters as long as it’s altruistic, volunteering without expectation of personal gain or lobbying for political position, just doing something for another.

To follow a different path requires a first step, a simple step, but one with profound consequences. I believe that step is a small act of selflessness, followed by another.

That simple act widens our horizons, extends our timeline into the future, opens the possibility of trust, connects us to another human being and another and ultimately the whole human community. All these behaviors cascade from the simple act of volunteering.

It seems logical that scaling the act of volunteering to increasing numbers could have an exponential effect upon the way we conduct our companies, the way we do business, our political agenda, our diplomacy, our cooperation across national boundaries and our response to the challenges that face humanity.

We know the likely scenario if we don’t develop a strong sense of community and trust. It doesn’t end well for any of us. To follow a different path requires a first step, a simple step, but one with profound consequences. I believe that step is a small act of selflessness, followed by another.