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Big Idea 2015: The Future of Work Is Already Here

Work isn't just work, it is an integral part of who we are as human beings.

The future of work is already here—that is one thing I've realized with great certainty. Whether we meet this form effectively, and with grace, is unfolding as we speak. We'll all play our role to meet that future—whether we are CEOs, recruiters, mentors or managers.

Steven Denning aptly borrowed a quote from Winston Churchill that describes where organizations are at this very moment: It is "the end of the beginning".

Connectivity has changed our view of work and workplaces, thanks to the lightning speed of information sharing and an increasing level of transparency that none of us anticipated. In terms of talent and organizations—this brings us to the edge of a great canyon, looking beyond. Whether we traverse the topography with ease, or with great stress, depends on our commitment to that new world of work. Work environments need to evolve with the times (now multigenerational), and organizations must keep pace.

It's time to roll up our sleeves and make the changes that are truly needed. We can either hold on to the old—and stagnate—or drive ourselves directly into the future feeling empowered. From the metrics we choose, how we learn within organizations, to selecting/supporting the managers that guide us everyday, a change in perspective will help us move forward.

In December 2012, we discussed the evolving social contract that was developing between employees and employers. (That element must be respected in organizations today. See The Alliance, here). That is one step in the right direction. However, we must stop harping about the identified issues that we face (engagement levels, misalignment of work with strengths) and start doing. That means building the programs that address the nuts and bolts behind the known issues. This is also about sharing what is working within organizations, and what is not. We can move forward more quickly with that open forum in place.

Here is where we could focus going forward:

  • Address the psychological contract. Work isn't just work—it is an integral part of who we are as human beings. When we come to work we enter an exchange agreement with our employer, that is often left unexplored. We need to pay more attention to the elements of that exchange. This includes identifying our "mission critical"—what we are to accomplish during our tenure—and what we take away career-wise. This "give and take" dynamic, can provide the energy we need to drive organizations and careers forward. (See the concept of the Tour of Duty here.)
  • Develop and sustain healthy cultures. If we can learn anything from the missteps of Goliath organizations (consider the recent troubles at General Motors, for example), it is that squelching the truth about our work can be devastating to all involved. Culture needs to support the strengths of its contributors—and trust in their expertise. This includes embracing metrics that emphasize not only shareholder value, but excellence in thought and action.
  • Prepare the next generation. We are learning there may be a critical gap between what our students are learning—and what they need to become effective contributors in modern organizations. Whether it is developing leadership skills much earlier (including the HERO skills outlined by Luthens) or increased business acumen (see the TED Talk here), we must prepare them for the future.
  • Respect individual differences. From the assumption that we all thrive in open office—to the notion that we all aspire to manage others—the workplace mostly ignores the diversity of our character. If we begin with respect toward our individual differences, and build from there, our power base increases infinitely.

Where do you feel we should focus our attention going forward? What is working? What practices should be left behind?

Marla Gottschalk is an industrial/organizational psychologist. She is the director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

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