There are two forces working in tandem to change and redefine how work is going to happen in the future. These two elements, the democratization of work and technological empowerment, are already forcing organizations to rethink how they approach human capital optimization.

In a recent webinar hosted by RiseSmart, “How to Risk-Optimize Your Human Capital Strategy”, I discussed the impact of a changing work market and how the democratization and technological empowerment of work will affect organizations. I also offered some insight into risk optimization and changing how we think about risk for human capital management. The following is a brief overview my comments around the changing work market.

The traditional work model

Traditionally, the contract between employers and employees has been limited to full-time employment. Variations to the traditional 8-hour work day, five days a week have included:

  • Contract employment for special projects
  • Part-time employment
  • Flexible work schedule

In this work model, technologies are used in a standardized way throughout the organization and according to industry norms.

The influence of technological empowerment

We’re all aware that technology seems to change everything every day. That leads to the work world and the idea of human-machine collaboration. Very often that concept is characterized by the idea that the robots are taking over and that we have to make a choice between a person or a robot or the idea that our jobs being lost to machines. If we look at that a little differently, it’s often not either jobs or robots, but much more the idea of how we blend the two of them. Using technological advances to our advantage, we can arm our workforce with the machines they need to super-charge their contributions to the organization.

Technological advances that have led to more flexibility and increased agility include:

  • Cloud storage and file sharing
  • On-demand artificial intelligence
  • Extreme personalization
  • Personal mobile devices

Work reimagined

The trend is toward work democratization, meaning that work comes from many places. Contributions aren’t necessarily embedded in a regular, full-time employment contract. The new work arrangement is based on different kinds of agreements. Since work can be based on cloud-based relationships, it’s a boundary-less work ecosystem that doesn’t depend on an employment agreement to define it. As worker relationships continue to evolve, the agreement between employers and employees takes on many forms, such as:

  • Employment via platforms
  • Project agreements
  • Gigs
  • Freelance contracts
  • Contest engagement
  • Contract employment
  • Tours of duty

The Gig Economy

Think about your job titles. Which job titles will remain in the realm of the traditional work model? That’s the work that is going to continue to be performed by regular, full-time employees being supported by current technology. It may be that quite a lot of the work in an organization will remain tied to that traditional work model.

Increasingly, we see work evolving in a way that suggests that there are areas of work in our organizations where we need to think about moving to more agile work agreements. We need to support that work with more advanced technologies. Very often, I hear the analogy, “Why can’t our HR system look more like Amazon? Why can’t the system remember the thing that I did last time and put me into the system at a place where I can continue that work the way Amazon remembers my products? Why can’t I have access to the information that I need on every device that I have?”

What kind of work might take your organization from a traditional employer to an agile employer? In an agile environment, work may get done by workers that are not necessarily regular, full-time employees. Where social networks and cloud-based networks become the vehicle through which we engage workers that work for us sometimes and maybe not work for us other times. Considering these new approaches to work might open up opportunities for you to think about optimizing risk and not just minimizing risk.

Instead of asking:

  • How do we create traditional employment or jobs?
  • How do we minimize the risk of turnover?
  • How do we minimize the risk of bad performance?
  • How do we avoid hiring people that are not ready for the future?

Ask these questions:

  • How do we prepare our workforce for constant change?
  • How do we engage with workers in a way that makes them more flexible?

There are some good examples already where large enterprise companies are changing how they manage their workforces to take advantage of specific talent that would not normally be available to them. One of the best examples I know of is a collaboration between Siemens and Disney. While I explore this unusual partnership more in the webinar, each of the two companies used the expertise of the talent that resided in the other company to create messages and marketing around hearing aids for children. In this unusual partnership, both entities benefitted from looking outside their own corporate boundaries to find a solution to an opportunity.

The people at Siemens needed to entice kids and parents to consider Siemen’s hearing airs when they’re at the doctor’s office. While Siemens had the technical expertise, they didn’t have the experience in creating messages for children and families. They needed a storyteller who could tell the Siemens story in a way that resonated with children and their parents.

On the other hand, Disney is world-renown for its ability to appeal to children. Disney already has the culture and expertise in storytelling and appealing to young audiences. Instead of hiring a team of storytellers to market hearing aids to a new audience, children, Siemens “borrowed” story tellers from Disney to come up with a great story that would make wearing a hearing aid less clinical and more acceptable to children and their parents. The result was the Disney Kit for Siemens’ hearing aids for children. The Disney Kit includes a cuddly Mickey Mouse and storybook. Reading and playing with Mickey helps younger kids gain confidence in their hearing aids. To keep their aids in top condition, the kit also provides all the maintenance essentials parents need like a battery tester, drying set, listening stethoset, and a cleaning tool.

By making their organization boundary permeable, Siemens was able to meet a short-term challenge. Their ability to look beyond their own borders will make the company better able to deal with risk and uncertainty in the future. Siemens can’t be sure where its products are going to come from in the future, and it can’t be sure exactly where its innovation is going to take it. In a world where hiring a group of people on a full-time basis to solve one short term problem is not practical, Siemens was able to relax their assumption that everything has to be done by a full-time employee. Instead, they reached out to the best talent in the world to solve their problem.

There are many more examples across a lot of industries. Apple, for example, has formed a number of partnerships with organizations like IBM and Visa. There is a platform called Topcoder where companies can contract with a coder or web designer for a single job. Inside IBM there is a platform where leaders can post a single task on a platform and anyone from IBM can volunteer to take on the task. And finally, the example of solving the AIDS virus by embedding a mathematical problem that could only be solved by a handful of people in the world into a mathematical game that matched the type of problem they were trying to solve.

These types of collaborations are examples of when we think creatively about the work and we think creatively about our boundaries and how to make them more permeable, we may be able to deal with unexpected opportunities. When opportunities such as Apple Pay, driverless cars, and hearing aids for kids come up, we can deal with them more effectively if we’re willing to be flexible in our thinking.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • How do we deconstruct assignments?
  • How do we make the reward as individual as possible?
  • How do we think creatively about the reward?
  • How do we think about our organizational boundary?
  • Can we make an alliance with someone?
  • Can we reach out to a community of talent?
  • Can we open up our organizational boundaries?

There is no right or wrong answer. Look at the work of the organization. Some of it will always be regular, full-time employment done the way we’ve always done it. In the midst of that, look for those opportunities where risk and uncertainty in the future may give you opportunities to optimize risk by thinking out of the box.

The systems we use teach our constituents how to think about risk. If we have systems that tend to emphasize regular, full-time employment and hiring people, systems that tend to emphasize risk minimization (like reporting turnover rates and celebrating when turnover rates only go down) we may be missing opportunities to have our information systems, our data management systems, and our HR process system reflect a new way of thinking.

Think about it this way:

  • Could we have HR systems that would present lots of different options for how we get work done, not just employment?
  • Could we have HR systems that embedded our turnover rates in something that looks more like a supply chain?
  • Could we design systems to help us see places where we can tolerate greater turnover because it gives us greater opportunities?

The future is not the death of jobs, but the future is an environment we create in which employments alternatives can be created by organizations. The wonderful thing about the future of work is, if we can provide these sorts of alternatives, we provide an environment in which we can all be very, very creative, we create a world of empowered workers, a world where people get to do the work that they want to do where they want to do it.

In the first half of the webinar, I discuss optimizing your human capital risk in more detail. You can watch the full webinar HERE or read the blog recap from the first half HERE.

10 January 2017

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