This is part two in a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 3 for holistic understanding.

Future of Work and Multipotentialites: Engage polymaths for organizational success

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, stated earlier this year that he believes we are experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. This is a revolution of networks, platforms, people, and digital technology that is “blurring the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres”.

In this rapidly evolving future, success for organization of any kind will be measured by its capability to respond to changes in the global marketplace in a sustainable way. This can ONLY be enabled by an empowered and adaptive workforce composed of teams that are self-organized, collaborative, decentralized, and globally distributed with high degree of adaptability to new roles and challenges.

A multipotentialite is someone who have diverse and deep interests across numerous domains and is usually capable of success in many endeavors. I believe that a fundamental way for organizations to win this edition of industrial revolution of will be to intentionally create an environment that enables multipotentialite individuals to express their skill, talent and interests in a meaningful way.

While the previous article identified and discussed the top five traits to spot multipotentialites in your organization — possibly someone hiding in the accounting department, this article share creative ways to keep these multi-talented people engaged at work. It takes more than employee-friendly policies to keep the polymaths engaged these days.

How to keep the multipotentialites engaged?

The global marketplaces and societies in which businesses operate have changed. Companies are being asked by activist investors, board and society to change: become agile and responsive, embrace global forces of change and reimagine how they impact people, process and profits. Sadly, the principal concepts and methods of leadership and the operating model for creating such new value in most global organizations of scale have not evolved much. It’s still about sales quotas, annual fixed targets, budget allocations, annual employee assessments, autocratic decision-making and command control management style from the top. These instruments of management are no more suitable to orchestrate a workforce full of multipotentialites.

Few books that may help anyone to get started thinking deep on how to reimagine work and workplaces

While some companies are providing free lattes, flex timing and massage at work, our experience and research indicates that creative multipotentialites want something-more meaningful than what is provided by most. Organizations need to dig deeper and build a holistic understanding of what makes multipotentialite employees give their all-star performance.

Here are 5 principles to keep them engaged and motivated. All of these principles are interconnected and do not exist in isolation. Each of these principles are simple to understand but not that easy to implement straight away — so I leave you with an open ended question at the end of each one to explore more. Feel free to reach back with comments and suggestions.

Five core principles for engaging polymaths at work
  1. Balancing Autonomy with Alignment

In a study by Harvard Business Review, employee alignment to organizational identity was found to be a critical factor (more important than compensation and performance reviews) for high employee motivation and subsequent engagement

While micro management was a necessity to foster alignment to organizational goals in traditional factory based work models promoted by Frederick Taylor and HL Gantt, in today’s knowledge based economy, workplace needs are much more different: there is a strong demand for creation of autonomous, cross functional teams composed of educated, sophisticated and digital savvy employees that are attuned to the enterprise purpose.

Spotify, the popular music streaming company created a widely respected model for autonomous work-squads, tribes of squads and practice guilds based on their internal staffing experiments that have become the go-to organization structure metaphor for many large and small organizations. While Spotify’s network arrangement is far from being perfect, it has been successful in proving that Alignment and Autonomy are not two extreme ends of a spectrum and its possible to create an aligned workforce that is highly autonomous and innovative.

Image Source: Slide snippet from InfoQ presentation on Autonomy and Leadership at Spotify http://www.infoq.com/presentations/autonomy-leadership-spotify

Multipotentialites are looking for such breakthrough organizational structures that promotes a culture of collective ownership and fosters a collaborative organizational identity.

Does your organization provide a structure that promotes purposeful organizational alignment while accelerating autonomy? Do you foresee such models in your organization in the near future?

2. Nurturing policies for learning and performance

Most multipotentialites have varied interests. It’s a tough trade-off when the conventional corporate ladder forces them to choose “something specific” as a major while giving up the ability to learn from “doing a lot of different things”.

Intellectually curious and smart learners favor fluid lattice structures over traditional strict hierarchies that offers them experiences and growth simultaneously. In lattice organizations, power and recognition flows in any direction creating distinct possibilities of increased collaboration and custom structures to inspire participation.

Learning on own terms while growing is something special for multipotentialites

At WL Gore and Associates, associates are hired for general work. They are then guided by their sponsors while they commit to projects that match their skills and offering opportunities to grow. This culture of decoupling people management from project leadership uniquely qualified the company as one of the several organizations to be marked as “Teal” organizations in Frederic Laloux’s 2014 best selling book Reinventing Organizations.

Multi billion dollar worth, forward looking technology companies like Valve and Github have already adopted bespoke versions of lattice structures to offer their polymath employees a great way to create their own career. Unsurprisingly this has not caught up yet with the large corporations who are focused on maintaining status quo rather than embracing the change.

Continual learning is attractive to all polymaths and not able to create the conditions for fostering that will be considered a failure for the Chief Learning Officer.

If you are a HR /People management or Chief Learning Officer in a large global corporation, do you have a way to create and influence bespoke organizational structures that offers continual learning opportunities for your multipotentialites while allowing them to grow in their careers?

3. Creating fluid job descriptions

Automation is changing the definition of work, workers and customers.

Machines are good with all kind of complicated calculations and doing them extremely fast with high accuracy. In certain fields, for example, humans will no longer be customers for media buying: predictive algorithms will be deciding on where to spend valuable advertisement investments based on tooth-comb analysis of our online behaviors and deciding.

Humans on the other hand are good at speculating (than predicting) and creating memorable multi sensory experiences out of insights and information provided by machines.

We expect humans and machines to be working side-by-side soon in different stretch roles creating unforeseen value for all of us. This will demand significantly different capabilities than being taught in a traditional business school. We have seen this happen before — who knew 20 years ago that Internet marketing would be an entire industry unto itself, valued at $62 billion?

Kiva robots and humans work together in Amazon warehouses. Original picture from http://www.cnet.com/news/meet-amazons-busiest-employee-the-kiva-robot/

Multipotentialites are about learning new things. So newer the definition of work, more challenging and exciting it is for them to jump in, learn and become successful.

The predictable, the repeatable, the easy-to-replicate definition of job will become uninteresting for such employees in no time. So if you are responsible for hiring and growing talent in a large enterprise, the most important question to ask today is not who you are hiring but how can you create job roles and descriptions that allow potential hires to explore multiple facets involved in making your organization successful.

Profitable multi-billion dollar video game maker Valve takes pride in providing employees with the power to choose which projects they work on and what role they play on those projects. Valve believes that high-performance people are generally self-improving and uses this sense of autonomy as a way to attract and retain the talent they care about.

So if you are a hiring manager in your corporation, how confident are you that the current job descriptions are going to pull you the polymath candidates through the supply funnel?

4. Motivating a sense of ownership through organizational purpose

According to some experts, western capitalism in its current format have run its course and organic net new growth in the post-recession world (plagued by low interest rates and high degree of automation) lies in focusing on bigger evolutionary purpose rather than just profits and stakeholder benefits. This is increasingly becoming true for both start-ups and multinational global enterprises who get obsessed with growth and outpacing the competition at the cost of losing sight of their true purpose.

Polymaths need more than growth, profits and benefits to stick around in an organization for a long time and contribute to its growth. They are looking for a meaningful purpose.

Increasing number of CEOs and global business leaders, from Jack Welch to Jack Ma and Marc Benihoff and academic experts like Roger Martin, are aligning to the notion that corporations have a strong imperative to shift from maximizing profits for shareholders to creating value for all stakeholders.

Capitalism in its current format may soon run its course.

The competitive advantage any company can gain by becoming a caring and sharing organization is invaluable as it promote integrity in the employees like nothing else and attracts the right stakeholders committed to long term sustainability rather than short-termism.

Motivating with a true purpose is more than the bottom-line or a free bag of snack and ping pong tables: while most leaders, large enterprise or startups, love to focus on sales goals, employee hires, profitability, and preferred-stock values, Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, ignored all of those in his famous beta launch memo in 2013. He started with

“..Our job is to build something genuinely useful, something which really does make people’s working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive…..That’s why what we are selling is organizational transformation”.

Slack became a billion dollar enterprise in about a year after their beta launch. Slack, Tesla, Patagonia and few other successful companies have been able to attract and retain poly skilled and experienced employees by focusing on a purpose bigger than their products.

If you are a C-suite leader of your organization and struggling to hire and retain the talent that can propel your company and you to new heights, are you ready to hone in on your purpose?

5. Fostering work alliances over employee contracts

Large companies want their employees to help transform the company for the future, yet more often than all, the same companies and their leaders and managers do not trust their employees to do the right thing. The traditional employer-employee relationship is broken and the trust gap is widening with more people choosing to be free agent, breaking free of the clutches of long term employment.

Long tenure at employment is on a steady decrease across all verticals and professions

Lot of pundits are simultaneously forecasting a world of low employment with companies contracting to a strategic core of managers who will source labor on-demand from different crowd-working platforms like HourlyNerd.

The only way to restore this eroding trust bank is to recognize the reality. In USA, as per the Department of Labor, the average length of employment for a worker at a given company is 4.6 years. While many employees may stay more than the average duration, it is highly possible that those are leaving have the most in-demand skills.

Managers need to accept the fact that polymath and highly skilled employees possibly can achieve much bigger greatness somewhere else (especially if the organization failed to do the other four aforementioned principles) and hence might leave their company. On the employee side, there is the need to be respectfully upfront and honest about career goals and aspirations.

Reid Hoffman, the Co-Founder of Linkedin, writes extensively about the alliance between employers and employees as a necessary and sufficient condition to

“recruit, manage, and retain the kind of employees who will make your company thrive in today’s world of constant innovation and fast-paced change.”

While Reid of Linkedin and Laszlo Bock of Google have come up with bunch of strategies to hire and retain high performing teams and individuals, none of those strategies will work in an organization, if there is lack of senior level commitment to create such collaborative alliances with employees and on-demand contractors.

So if you are leader in your organization responsible for hiring and retaining talent, how are you creating such alliances?

This is part two in a three-part series. Read Part 1 — The Future of Work and Multipotentialite: Identify Polymaths In Your Organization and Part 3 — Measuring Multipotentialites

Feel free to reach back with comments and suggestions.