When ‘Work’ is no longer work

The future is one in which you probably won’t have ‘a job’. That is not to say you won’t work, just that you will work in fundamentally different ways.

This is the full version of an article we wrote collectively, as leaders in what will probably not be called Human Resources much longer, from Adidas Group, Capgemini, Cisco, Intel, Swiss Reand WL Gore & Associates (the handy abstract can be found here).

For a few months we pulled our heads and hands together in an effort to work out work — what it will look like in the future and what we need to do about it today — under the aegis of the Brussels-based EFMD.

Here’s what we have come up with and are keen to share.

The Revolution turns out to be Digital

When we look at the past twenty years the most dominant trend has been the rise and rise of the internet, to a near ubiquitous experience in your pocket: a technology that has transformed our businesses and our lives.

Digital is taking the world by storm and transforming everything in its path.

It drives an increasing change in almost every industry and every country, to what we are not yet sure. The future is clear only in that it is uncertain, and while many people are placing bets, the logic to place them is open to many interpretations.

  • We are seeing new entrants into mature markets who have transformed the landscape using new ways of mobile, social and new partnerships.
  • New technologies augment our reality which with the internet of things gives new ways to work.
  • Speed of innovation is accelerating, with algorithms getting smarter and using computing power and data-automating tasks, which once seemed the preserve of humans only.
  • Big data, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence development will soon enable unforeseen social/economic scenarios and business opportunities.
  • All this enabled by an ever-evolving network, and accessed by near ubiquitous tools that we cannot keep our eyes off.

This change we are living through has forced organizations to seek to become much more flexible and innovation-centric. Looking for the new before new entrants take the market, and being able to change quickly to exploit new business opportunities.

At the same time digital transformation has changed the expectations of how we work, everything from tenure to career, and how we relate to a desk to how we meet colleagues. All informed by our experience of digital in our personal lives — how we shop online, the transparency from the rating of others, the simplicity of paying.

Meeting the demands of individuals and organizations in new ways to address the digital transformation is the challenge of our time. Done well: Organizations will have a competitive advantage, and individuals will have more opportunities for meaningful work. Done poorly: Exploitation and brand damage will result.

Back to the Future

So how is the digital transformation paving the way for this future of work? What is it going to look and feel like? It can be summarized in a paradox: it will be a renaissance of the ‘world of work’ before work as we know it was invented. In the future ‘work’ is liberated from the alienated form it took on in the industrial era, going back to the deep human roots of purpose, pride, passion, community belonging and wider social impact.

We foresee the rise of a new breed of professionals who have much more in common with Renaissance master artisans than the blue or white collar workers we’re used to: proud of what they do and what they create, working with passion and purpose, creating a personal reputation and brand.

The key characteristic of those professionals and the organizations they are associated with is going to be agility. The platforms and networks enabling and enforcing agility are going to be talent marketplaces, and the form ‘work’ is going to take on in these environments is what we call a work journey. Let’s have a look at these three key interdependent components of the future of work in a digital world before drilling into the details of how we see individuals and organizations practically transition into this future.

A like in Agility

We describe agility as “the ability to anticipate, respond, evolve, thrive, optimize and capitalize in a digi­talized world”.

The main ability to embark and embrace the digital transformation journey for organizations and individuals is agility. The way to achieve that for organizations is to leverage talent in different ways and to take a different approach to how work is done. It will be made possible by a fundamental evolution in organizational structures and cultures, and a move away from the stable hierarchies many of us still work in.

To be successful, organizations and individuals need to transform jointly from a stable into an agile world. Agile organizational structures will be fueled by agile talent, embracing and thriving in new dynamic environments.

Ideas, people and work will be liberated from silos and made freely exchangeable. Rather than jobs and roles, work will be thought of in terms of assignments, with teams assembled from the most suitable and engaged talent to execute them. Individuals will rely more on their professional reputation and their visibility across internal and external networks.

The Rise of Talent Marketplaces

To enable and implement agility, organizations need to leverage innovative platforms and networks like talent marketplaces. These are transparent ecosystems that connect the work assignments needed to execute a given business strategy with the people, their aspirations, experiences, strengths and passion. They enable an organization to allocate, develop and reward talent in an agile, proactive and seamless manner while enabling talent to leverage the full spectrum of business assignments to grow and navigate their career, matching personal preferences with work opportunities — sustaining their own employability.

Central to the way a talent marketplace is fostering organizational agility is the idea of work becoming assignment-based rather than role-based. Talent with the appropriate skills is then brought together into dynamic teams to fulfill the assignment.

A new marketplace is emerging — for Talent

As a consequence organizational structures will flatten, and an individual’s professional reputation will no longer be solely a gift of his or her leader. Professional reputation becomes the means by which individuals shape a career on their terms, acquiring, developing and trading on their strengths and experience as they go.

Reputation — of an individual, a leader, an organization — is going to be the currency of this marketplace.

And transparency about it is vital for both the supply and demand side to see what each other has to offer.

Agility works both ways then: It allows for organizations to quickly assemble teams of the right people with the right skills for a particular assignment, making more efficient use of talent rather than having it stuck within ‘jobs’ or departments that remain static regardless of the spring tides of business needs. It allows for individuals to choose the assignments best fitting with their career plans and aspirations, and be able to alter the intensity of work and better balance it with other factors in their lives.

The Work Journey

As organizations move from stable hierarchies to agile, open networks, thecorporation as such turns into a network of networks, a ‘wirearchies’ (Jon Husband). The enterprise talent marketplaces will open up to external talent. “Employees” will become part of shared talent pools and work on one or more assignment for one or more companies. On the other hand companies will become part of a “consortium” established on the basis of shared talent management agreements and requirements.

This open talent marketplace — shared and leveraged by multiple companies — will make the traditional employee lifecycle become obsolete. It will drive a transition towards an employee journey through multiple assignments in multiple companies — some of them likely at the same time. The key ticket to employment will turn from an exclusive permanent employment contract with a single employer into an inclusive professional passport (literally to pass through different ports) — created and validated by the different employers of the “consortium”. It will provide access to assignments in all companies leveraging the open talent marketplace.

Take-off for Transformation

What seems to be simple at first sight — adding agility to the way we do and deploy work — strikes at the very heart of the relationship that formed the traditional bond between organizations and their talent. Therefore the starting point for organizations and individuals is to understand how agile they are — which took us to consider the people and business case for transformation.

The People Case

Why would individuals step away from the value of working for an established business and seek the liberated but risky professional life of an agile worker in an open talent marketplace?

Traditional workplaces have “promised”:

  • Arranged and available work that employs one’s experience and capabilities
  • Training and development provided to ensure one could meet current and future business needs
  • Reliably occurring compensation and occasionally recognition for contributions
  • A sense of community and shared endeavour with others under the banner and brand of a single company
  • Some degree of safety net to guard against the risk of illness, disability, or obsolescence

However, the same shattering changes that have opened new risks and opportunities for business have opened up in kind for individuals:

  • Automation and Artificial Intelligence are obsoleting the full spectrum of jobs from assembly to the C-Suite.
  • Technology has completely altered markets, business models, and entire professions — eliminating more as the new ones being created.
  • The discrete, cognitive tasks of work in the digital age are awakening longings for balancing work with family, experiencing nature, and the satisfying human act of “making”.
  • The previous securities from working in an established business have been disrupted, and new platforms that allow any business anywhere to locate talent anywhere anytime have shifted many risks to more likely rewards from working as a self-determined agent.
  • The pervasive availability of assignments made visible through a talent marketplace is awakening the entrepreneurial spirit of the prepared worker who is willing to combine continuous learning with the careful tending of reputation while delivering quality work.
  • New virtual communities of practice are more inclusive and vast than any single company could have been.
  • When and where and how much to work is determined entirely by the individual, and the promises of the traditional established business are replaced with an individual’s ability to create these benefits for oneself.

Our proposal for more agile organizations based on a transparent adaptive talent marketplace has the ambitious objective to converge the corporate world benefits with the freelance talent platforms’ advantages.

Social Implications
We recognize that globalization, the growing strength of emerging economies, and industrial decline in some western countries have created divides between those perceived to have opportunities and those who have not. This disenfranchisement has helped feed the rise in populist politics across the Western Nations, and their economies are struggling to adjust and adapt to changes wrought by global trends. It is clear that the responsibility of minimizing the divisions and making change benefit the many rather than the few calls for the definition of a new social contract forged from the combined efforts of employers and political institutions.

The scale of these changes means their impact will be felt far beyond business models, organizational structures and the conditions under which most of us work.

The so-called ‘gig economy’ brings freedoms and flexibility, but also the potential for employers to side-step their obligations.

Traditional employment laws must be overhauled where they no longer protect workers from onerous terms and poor treatment. The opportunity here is for corporations, lawmakers, legal experts and workers’ representatives such as trade unions to begin intense discussions on how to keep pace with such rapid shifts in the labor market.

Agile and flexible ways of working present opportunities but also significant challenges that must be addressed in a holistic way through a new alliance between people, enterprises, regulators and governments. This article is our first contribution to this discussion.

The Business Case

On the business side, there is already an emerging trend for more dynamic, project-like structures in many organizations, which are starting to compete with the more static traditional hierarchical structure of departments with leaders and set objectives. Working in projects has great benefits, but the need to set out these benefits suggests rightly that there is a cost.

To counterbalance these costs effectively, the method by which resources are allocated to projects is important. We have assumed the use of a market rather than a more traditional resource management function and assumed that market is transparent and adaptive — meaning both workers and those seeking workers have complete information, and the market can change to provide workers with different skills.

Three core categories of benefit arise from this kind of market:

Securing scarce resources and key skills

  • Changing demography
    We assume that workers at different stages of life have different time and work preferences. Where employers cannot match these preferences skilled workers find other employers. Transparent markets make visible work that can be part time or assignment based, and so appeal to demographics otherwise excluded from the traditional full time work place.
  • The impact of automation
    The impact of automation is broadly expected to affect tasks rather than whole roles. To gain the benefit of automation, workers must be assigned tasks which can be reallocated.

Aligning labour cost to demand which changes faster than the traditional hiring cycle.

  • Proactive resourcing the peaks
    Visibility of demand drives movement in the internal market, broadening the market to include external workers gives greater supply.
  • Reducing cost of non-deployed staff during the troughs.
    Using external workers gives a simple method to reduce supply, offering ‘off time’ to permanent workers reassured by visibility of future demand.

Effective management of workers stuck in low value roles

  • Low employability — driving self-realization
    Greater visibility of the market will help workers understand when they are close to commoditized skills and roles. Self-realization drives better engagement and avoids other management actions which carry significant cost.
  • Pre-Skilling — enabling the business case
    Training people proactively for a new role — leaping to the new — has clearer benefits when the workforce is deployed to projects. This approach improves productive time allocated, and gets greater value from an individual worker.

These benefits from a transparent and adaptive talent market drive new revenue, reduced costs, and lower future risk of cost. They rely on the enterprise measuring the cost of labour, an essential management metric in a project organization.

Enablers & Inhibitors

We believe both business and people perspectives provide powerful cases for agile transformation. the transition from a stable into an agile environment for organizations and individuals is about understanding their agility — and how they can seize the opportunities of an increasingly digitalized environment.

Most of the talent policies and procedures still in place were designed to support stable businesses and an equally stable work setting.

The agile world will require a revision and evolution (if not a revolution) of all of our HR practices including the underlying organizational structures and cultures.

We identified multiple external and internal enablers and inhibitors for an organization to leverage a transparent and adaptive talent marketplace. Practices for each of these already exist in all organizations, and most will need to transform them significantly to turn them from inhibitors to enablers.

We focused our analysis on the eight most critical internal ones: Assignment Attributes, Culture and environment, People Attributes, Reputation and Brand, Reward and Recognition, Role of the Manager, Talent Journey and Training and Learning.

Per each of these areas we laid out the journey trajectories from a stable into an agile world short-, mid- and long-term. A compelling picture what “work” — enabled by a transparent and adaptive talent marketplace — will look like 5 years from now; along with two intermediate steps we suggest to take, relative to the technology maturity of the organization.

Find here a high-level view of the main characteristics for each enabler.

Assignment Attributes
The talent marketplace will support the description of discrete tasks or singular performances with precise requirements for capabilities, estimated time to complete them, and a price tag for the organization to pay the worker who wins the contract.

Turning ‘jobs’ into assignments and making them visible and accessible is a critical prerequisite for the marketplace — providing one side of the coin. It requires business leaders to use a different mode to describe their demand — starting from the outcome of an assignment

Click Here to view more about Assignment Attributes

People Attributes
In a platform-based Talent Marketplace, technology will enable vast access to individuals who offer descriptions of their unique combination of attributes. Individuals will create their own profiles about the experiences and capabilities they choose to put forth that will substitute for traditional resumes.

On the other side of the coin the people looking to take part in the marketplace are required to open up and share their professional strengths, work history and future ambitions at a much greater level of transparency — creating a trustworthy picture of themselves.

Click Here to view more about People Attributes

Reputation & Brand
In the Talent Marketplace an organization’s brand will be defined and validated by a network. Similarly, individuals’ reputations will be their admission ticket to the Talent Marketplace; their reputation will be their currency to get the assignments they wish and — as leaders — to attract the talent they want.

Sources of insight are aggregated in an automated way and made visible to the individual and the marketplace — transparency of the brand and the corresponding reputation will be key to fuel the marketplace, for both individuals and organizations.

Click Here to view more about Reputation & Brand

Role of the Manager
Managers who focus on asserting control to create predictable results will be challenged when they no longer “own” their talent. Those managers who see agile workers as augmenting their talent pipelines and who actively help individuals build their reputations based on valuable deliverables will attract the best talent.

The well-known metaphor of the orchestrator is replaced by the curator: leadership in the talent marketplace still requires the ability to identify those individuals who will form a great team — without having to tell them what to play anymore but rather make them hungry for applause.

Click Here to view more about the Role of the Manager

Rewards & Recognition
When platforms make rewards transparent, organizations will need to enrich their offerings to attract both internal and external talent to key projects. Pay will need to vary even more widely for different assignments and varying levels of capability and reputation.

When each assignment carries its own price tag, the marketplace enables new levels of clarity and flexibility for organizations planning their staffing and budget requirements and for individuals monitoring their workload and income requirements.

Click Here to view more about Rewards & Recognition

Training & Learning
Completing even the most effective training has never been a guarantee of capability, so transcripts, or descriptions of previous work are not enough evidence of ability. Individuals will face new challenges of transporting their expertise when they move beyond working within traditional organizations where one’s track record is easily discovered and validated.

Since the information of ‘trending’ skills and experience, as well as predictive scenarios are available for everyone real-time, personal development decisions in the marketplace will be made with a much higher degree of sustainability. Individuals will be able to safeguard their employability with current and accurate data about demand for current and emerging capabilities.

Click Here to view more about Training & Learning

Talent Journey
Individuals will sculpt their work to support life choices; working when, where and how much they choose. A Career Passport confirming their contributions and learning journeys will accompany individuals through their careers, and the most agile and experienced will command the greatest opportunities.

Both people and business leaders (and the whole organization — at the end of the day) move from a CV type of documentation to a Facebook-like timeline — becoming the key to open up future opportunities.

Click Here to view more about the Talent Journey

Culture & Environment
Organizations will evolve their business models to keep pace with external markets and deploy talent from a mix of internal employees and agile workers to keep up that pace. The best will treat all workers as if engaged in long-term relationships, because the reputation of how they treated those individuals will endure long past the engagement.

“Elephants will dance”: the big benefit for large organizations in a marketplace environment is the ability to combine stability (a guaranteed continuous flow of attractive and diverse assignments) with the agility to instantaneously connect the right people with the best-fit work.

We are in the process to write dedicated articles for each enabler/inhibitor to provide more details on our thoughts and approach for taking action toward transformation.

Click Here to view more about Culture & Environment


Join our Journey

We are about to apply tailored elements of this transformational journey to pilot initiatives in our companies and to dig deeper in the implementation levers and challenges and advantages.

We welcome you to join our journey. Feel free to provide us your thoughts and comments on our perspective and let us know if you want to actively participate in our activities.

Our Team

These were the people actively participating in the EFMD Special Interest Group and authors of the ideas presented so far.

Adidas Group: Christian Kuhna (Director HR Strategy — Think Tank Future Trends & Innovation)

Capgemini: Will Peachey (SVP HR Transformation)

Cisco (Sponsor): Gianpaolo Barozzi (Sr. Dir HR), Tom Lamberty (Mgr HR) and Bill Jackson (Mgr HR)

Intel: Andrea Newman (Director - HR Strategic Office)

Swiss Re: Gian Paul Ganzoni (Head of Org Effectiveness)

W.L. Gore: Debra France (Leader and Innovator Development)

EFMD: Martin Moehrle (facilitator) and Shanshan Ge (coordinator)