work

defining and shaping What Comes Next

In a couple of weeks, on November 11 and 12 Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt of Talent Anarchy are hosting/leading/facilitating an event called The Frontier Project on “Designing The Future of Work.” More think tank than conference or training, this is a chance for you to get together with 50 or so other sharp, passionate, innovative, and curious folks to discuss, debate, and (re)imagine where work is headed, where it needs to go, and perhaps what you can do about it in your world. Joe recently wrote about about it here.

I attended their first Frontier Project back in May and am excited for the chance to attend this next one. Although Jason and Joe are both masters at giving the box called “status quo” a good and vigorous shaking, I’m most looking forward to meeting and learning from the other participants. I don’t know who will be there but I’m expecting and hoping to see a mixed group of thought leaders, forward thinkers, and everyday professionals looking to define and shape What Comes Next. Interested? Sign up here (and notice you have one more day for the early bird discount).

Yes, I wrote about this a few weeks back and I’m writing about it again. I love to think about the FutureNow of work and I’m very excited to see Joe and Jason hosting another Frontier Project. It, along with the Meaning conference over in the UK, are two standout events dealing with what work could be. I’m encouraged and hope to see more and more events like these in the coming years.

I don’t know what this Frontier Project is going to look like, but I know what I got out of the last one. Rather than giving you a link, I decided to make it even easier and have included the summary I wrote and posted on May 29 after the first Frontier Project.

 

 

don’t predict the future, declare it

Human Resources, like many fields, is at a cross roads where its future is at a disconnect with its past. Many of its reasons for being have become irrelevant, easily outsourced, or reduced to a minor function. Some predict the end of HR; others cling to it. Ultimately, the future of business and work will decide the future of HR.

The Frontier Project, held May 20 and 21 in Omaha, Nebraska had the stated purpose of “Reimagining the Role of Human Resources.” That’s a bold tagline creating huge expectations and it was an interesting mix of 40 or so HR pros, consultants, vendors, and thought leaders who attended.

Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt led the group using an accelerated decision making process. Normally, it’s a technique used to create a decision and action steps for a specific problem. Applying it to the future of a field while still creating individual actions is a bit trickier, but worth the effort.

So, what’s the future of HR? I’m not telling. Not because I took a blood oath of secrecy; because I don’t know. No one does. But here’s a few thoughts I took away from the two days:

Predicting the future is really, really difficult. Particularly for experts because they know exactly how things are in the field, but most innovation and change is ignited from outside the field. If one isn’t careful, focused expertise leads to being blindsided. To prevent getting stuck in what our expertise demonstrated was right, we were told to use our “imagination, not expertise.” Regardless, it’s still difficult. Could you have imagined 2013 in 1993? Could you have imagined 2013 in 2008 before smart phones and social media took off? Another bit of advice for imagining the future: “If it makes sense today, you’re probably not pushing far enough out.”

Even people who think like me don’t think like me. Oddly enough, the future I’m convinced will happen looks different than the futures 39 other people are convinced will happen. We all have biases and, although there’s some overlap, it’s really easy to get stuck in our own reality tunnels.

When people discuss the most important things the field of HR should be focused on it sounds very buzzwordy business-speak. Lots of jargon. Lots of mention of technology, big data, etc. But when people describe what makes their job great it there is a strong emotional and personal connection. I don’t know what that schism means, but it makes me wonder.

The field of HR is so divided between administrative and strategic functions it makes me wonder if we shouldn’t identify them as separate fields. I suspect much of HR’s identity crisis would go away if we acknowledged we’ve been trying to find unifying answers for (at least) two distinct fields. Much as finance and accounting or marketing and sales are split, imagine the issues that would quickly dissolve away if we could allow HR to move in two different directions.

“Us vs them” is a powerful, powerful quirk of human thinking. It carries a lot of judgment and self-righteousness. Be very careful how you define “us” and “them”. Consider the possibility that it might really be “us and them”, or even just “us”.

Some other quick thoughts (mostly shared by others):

HR needs to stop waiting for someone to ask us to do and simply find what needs to be done and get on with it. If it requires permission, make a case for it and sell it. Stop waiting.

Technology/tools can be an enhancement or a distraction from the people/business connection. Like all tools, none are inherently good or bad, but how we use them determines how much they will help or hinder.

Statistics can’t predict the individual. Ever.

Integrate HR into the business processes instead of trying to integrate the business processes into HR.

Use imagination first to play and explore and then apply expertise to make it possible.

The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.

I need to spend more time kicking ideas around with smart, passionate people. Really can’t do that enough.

 There’s lots more from those two great days that I’m still processing and thinking about. Joe and Jason are threatening to offer it again in the future and I’m excited to see how The Frontier Project evolves. Good, good stuff.

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(re)thinking the future of work

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted; one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?” ~ Eminem from “Lose Yourself”

“The future is scary when you don’t feel you have any control. The future is exciting when you feel you are creating it; it’s threatening when you want things to stay the same (or go back to being how they were); it’s liberating when you see how it could be even better than today.” ~ Participant’s comment from The Frontier Project: The Future of Human Resources

 

You have an opportunity. A chance worth taking. A moment to come together with others who are ferociously passionate, smart, curious, insistent, pioneering, wondering.

I’m fascinated by the FutureNow of work. The seeds and sprouts of the inevitable(?) changes disrupting how we’ve always thought about jobs and organizations are there taking root and starting to grow. Technology shrinks, twists, and alters “how we’ve always done it.” Socioeconomic schisms have been opened up by tectonic shifts in the economy. Organizational structures, once certain, are being shoved aside in the quest for something better. The curtain has been pulled back revealing the illusion of control. And us humans keep being humans in all our rule bound sloppy illogically rational educated ignorance. History repeats with a fresh coat of paint and a different pattern of wall paper. Change keeps on changing. Round and round she goes, where she stops…

It’s overwhelming. But what if you could get ahead of the curve? What if you could be a part of creating the future instead of wondering, worrying, and letting it wash over you?

Talent Anarchy is at it again, shouldering their way to the forefront of disruptive thought with The Frontier Project: The Future of Work. Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt have set aside some space and time near Houston in November for a diverse group of folks to come together and think, consider, wonder, and debate the Future of Work. Jason and Joe will be setting up the framework, then poking, prodding, and asking questions, but the real work and the answers will come from the group.

So here’s your opportunity. The Frontier Project is a “think tank on steroids” (in Jason’s and Joe’s words) designed to push buttons, challenge assumptions, get past the here and now, and play with what could/should/will be. It’s a chance for you to look to the future and (hopefully) come away with some very real ideas for what to do right now.

This isn’t a training, conference, or seminar. If you crave certainty and finely crafted bullet point lessons this event is not for you. There are no foregone conclusions, inevitable solutions, guarantees where the discussion will go, or certainty where the answers will come from.

As a reader of this blog you know I’m a friend and fan of Talent Anarchy. They’ve asked me to help get the word out about the event – something I’m more than happy to do because I’m excited to attend and looking forward to what comes next. I’m inspired by Jason and Joe’s intensely thought provoking irreverence, rejection of business as usual, and the challenge they’ve laid to the world to embrace our authentic humanness. They are continually thinking bigger and have extended an invitation to join them.

I hope to see you there. The future’s coming fast and we all have work to do.

inconceivable

pedalsHow many things completely inconceivable just 10 years ago, very expensive or difficult even five years back, are ho-hum (yawn) commonplace today?

I bought a new set of pedals for my mountain bike from the UK. A great set of pedals – a brand that’s hard to find in the US – at a competitive price, $10 shipping, eight business days later and they’re waiting for me in the mail.

A quick photo from my phone and I’ve shared my excitement with friends. An hour or two later and I’m interacting and discussing the pedals with people across timezones, countries, and continents. And I’m doing it essentially for free.

Count the inconceivable impossibilities in the two previous paragraphs. Not only is it hard to grasp all the advances that had to come together to make all of that possible, but it’s even more startling how quickly such an impossibilities became just another Thursday night.

 

Pedals? Who cares? What about work?

This kind of cross-continent coordination, collaboration, and communication is mundane in our private lives, but how much has work kept up?

  • How many policies do we have that are so out of date they might as well be written on papyrus scrolls?
  • How much energy is spent blocking technology and ensuring work gets done in a certain way vs embracing how work might be different?
  • If your job were invented today, would it look the way it does now? How different would your office/workspace be? What technology would you use if you could select it (what technology do you use to get things done in your personal life that you can’t use at work)? Who would you communicate with that you don’t now?
  • How different would recruiting, hiring, and onboarding employees be if we started from scratch today? How would HR workflow be different?
  • What policies would immediately be nuked and what would they be replaced with (if at all) if we were told reinvent the business?
  • How much of an advantage does the lack of legacy give a new business over an established one right now in terms of creating more efficient work?

What are the inconceivable things at work that are completely possible right now? What are we not doing because it was impossible five years ago, but would be cheap and easy to do today?

What thinks you?

 

the future-now of work: a review of “Culture Shock: A Handbook for 21st Century Business”

This book is Will McInnes’ (@willmcinnes) invitation to make a difference in your organization and change the world. He extends a hand and asks you to join him in considering what business could be, should be, and – in several cases – already is. This is the future-now of business and work.

I am fascinated with the humanness of business. I like business and I believe that business is people and people are business. Humans – and humans alone – create business results. It seems so obvious, but gets overlooked, ignored, and dismissed in the forever pursuit of the short-term shortcut. We remove humanness thinking it will create greater results. Instead it creates disconnects between people and their contributions; it chokes off engagement. What if work had purpose and meaning? What if it were different? That’s this book.

Democracy

Imagine if your business was driven by a “purpose of significance”. What would work look like if your business wanted to do great things beyond cut its own throat to make a quick dollar for shareholders? It works for Patagonia, Noma, Grameen, and of course Apple and Google. Purpose sounds all gooey new agey soft but it is simply the “why” your business exists.

What if your organization was more democratic and got more input from more of the right people? What if we could (finally!) ditch or at least minimize the hierarchy and move decisions from a narrow few to a broader many? Interestingly, this is a no brainer method for running a country, yet freakishly terrifying to many as a way to run a business. So much of this “new” way of doing business that Will describes underscores the idea that we have to give up control to get influence because, ultimately, influence has far greater reach and power than control. If we move past the idea that we have to control and create every good idea, we are able to tap into a much broader and deeper pool of ideas, insight, and perspective.

Progressive Business

If it’s true that “the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience” (and I believe it is) then the most competitively rational actions a business could take would be to radically bolster the employee experience. Yet, what tends to happen? Businesses strive to gain an advantage by cutting, narrowing, dehumanizing. It’s as though they are saying, “We’ll gain new business and create customer loyalty by doing everything in our power to ensure that they are served by the most unsupported, undertrained, worried, demotivated, disconnected, disengaged, and uncaring workforce we can possibly create.” Lunacy.

What if – play along with me here – we did the opposite and created a workforce that was supported, well trained, secure, fired up, passionate, and cared about creating great results for their customers, co-workers, and company? Nah, that’s too crazy. Or is it?

Having Fun With Humanness

Zappos is a tremendously celebrated and studied company. They are at the heart of a huge number of articles and case studies of how they do business differently and get different (better!) results. Yet for all their fame, glory, notoriety, and profits, how many businesses have really tried to emulate them? It’s like we all cheer them and then say, “But, it’ll never work at my company.”

But what if it could? The point isn’t to be just like Zappos, Apple, etc., etc.; the point is to find ways to celebrate and inspire humanness, personality, meaning, fun, authenticity, and transparency. How much time and energy get wasted keeping up corporate appearances?

Will shares some stories and principles from Zappos, W. L. Gore, and his own company, NixonMcInnes. Some of my favorites are:

  • Zappos’ Culture Book, which is “a ‘collage of unedited submissions from employees’, that gives every employee the opportunity to say what they feel and think about the company.” That level of transparency takes massive courage, but what a great tool for building and celebrating people and culture.
  • Zappos’ Reply-All Hat. This is basically a dunce hat for those who accidently hit “reply all” when responding to an email. We’ve all done it. It’s embarrassing. Why not have some fun with it?
  • W. L. Gore’s small facilities. They discovered early on that when a facility gets above 200 – 250 people, the communication, relationships, innovation, engagement, etc. suffers. To counter this, they keep their plant size small and will build a new facility whenever their current facilities are getting too many people. What? Does this mean that relationships and people are important to business success? Is that business blasphemy or just a pretty basic understanding of the intersection of people and work?
  • NixonMcInnes’ Church of Fail. This is a ritual designed to acknowledge mistakes, bring them out in the open, and learn from them. It also helps people get comfortable with the idea of failure (a tip: there is no innovation without failure) and serves as a reminder that everyone in the company has setbacks. Rather than covering them up, drag them out and let everyone benefit from them.
  • NixonMcInnes’ Happy Buckets! I love this idea for its simplicity. They measure employee happiness every day using three buckets and tennis balls (even your budget can afford this). At the start of the day there is a full bucket of balls and empty Happy and Unhappy buckets. On the way out of the office at the end of the day, employees grab a ball and put in in the bucket that best sums up their day. The results are tracked and used as reference point for discussions. Again, a simple act that creates greater transparency and provides information for leading and managing.

So What’s it Going to Take?

Better leadership, yo. That’s what it’s going to take. Your people won’t be able to change business if you aren’t making it ok by setting the example and leading the charge.

How authentic and transparent are you willing to be as a leader? How open are you to the feedback that will help you develop yourself and others?

Are you willing to do a 360-degree survey to get feedback from those around you?(Will shows you how he does it for almost no cost. Use the money you save to buy some buckets and tennis balls).

Are you willing to share your setbacks and failures? Will you be first in line at the Church of Fail?

Are you willing to be emotionally congruent and share how you are feeling? (Gasp! A leader with emotions!)

Are you willing to use new/social technology to improve your results by gaining information and acting and deciding closer to real time, without the lags and delays that happen when leadership is isolated from the front line?

Organizational Openness

This is a big subject in the future-now of work and it is simply continuing the trend of authenticity and transparency; of giving up control to gain greater influence (and results). Some quick examples:

Culture: do people have access to almost all information (e.g., financial data), is there honest and direct communication and collaboration, are silos and info hoarding unheard of?

Work Environment: are workspaces set up to allow easy collaboration, are people allowed to choose the technology best for their job (or are they stuck with one option that works marginally well for everyone), is IT a gate keeper or a work enabler?

Innovation: do all great ideas come from just a few people or are ideas crowdsourced from employees, customers, and maybe even competitors?

Marketing & Communication: Can your organization come to grips with the idea that marketing is now two-way and they can no longer control – only influence – the message? Would your company be willing to post an unedited Twitter/Facebook feed of ALL comments made about the company on the front page of the website?

Change Velocity

How fast is change happening? [answer: very, very, exponentially very fast].

How fast can your company change? A better question: how fast can you change? Does it matter if there is an ever-widening gap between you, the company, and your customers/the world. [answer: uh, yeah, it does. A lot.]

At a time when continued success is dependent on your ability to effectively change, I’m reminded of the old quip: some people make things happen, some people watch things happen, and some people ask, “What happened?”

Will describes eight areas that affect your company’s change velocity and what you can do to pick up the pace in each area. This section will only be important to you if you ever do any planning, hiring/firing, rewards, need to deal with structures/processes/systems, or want to create attitudes that support change…

Anything Else?

Just sections on digital strategies and fair finances. I won’t go into detail here because I’m sure your org already practices open book accounting, fair (and open) rewards,  collective budgeting, employee ownership, etc. etc. Yawn, right? All old hat stuff that everyone does…

Oh wait, you mean salaries aren’t known in your company? Financials aren’t published (and your employees couldn’t read them even if they were)? Hmmm…

Finally…

My conclusion: I loved it and you should read it. But then, I’m biased. I was already sold on some of the concepts Will presents. He does a great job fleshing them out and expanding them and introducing me to companies where the ideas are actually in use. It’s a well written book with plenty of case studies and examples from current organizations, including his own.

This book inspires me, makes me a little relieved to find others thinking this way, and also torques me off to no end that this is the future-now of business and the world hasn’t arrived yet. The promise is there; the reality is slower in coming. But that’s actually good news – the businesses that make the shift to being human, authentic, and transparent will (in my less than humble opinion) gain significant advantages. BUT, in some ways these advantages can’t/won’t be measured directly with our current measures (where does “humanness” show up on the balance sheet?) This isn’t bad, but it is important to be aware of: if we’re shifting how we think about work and business we also need to shift how we are measuring and evaluating it.

All of this involves a big leap of faith. Consider the knights in shining armor: they were very well protected from swords and arrows. The weight of the armor slowed them down, but they were heavily defended from enemies. Then gunpowder came along and suddenly all that armor was a hindrance. The competitive advantage that had existed on the battlefield for years and years and years was suddenly a sitting-duck-route-to-failure. The rules for success changed completely and it was actually safer to be significantly less protected but much, much more nimble by wearing no armor. It’s obvious in retrospect, but I suspect that was still a tough decision to take the leap, give up the known safety, and shed the protection, despite the “knowledge” that it might be better to not have it.

How many businesses are at that decision chasm today? Being big, armored, controlled, and locked down – protected by layers of armor – was crucial to success not that long ago. The world has now changed and that protection now looks dangerous, counterproductive, and useless against the future-now of business.