The C-Suite's Challenge: The Changing Future of Work

Posted by Marshall Kirkpatrick on Aug 12, 2015 6:07:00 AM

The following is the first in a series of posts on key topics of interest to businesses in a fast-changing world. Over the course of the coming weeks, we'll be examining global topics and the companies paying closest attention to key thought leaders on those topics.

Today, we're starting with "The Future of Work." Click here to access the lists of top thought leaders in Future of Work who are watched by businesses and the companies that are paying the most attention to them.

Every time the world changes, the way we experience the workplace changes too.  Today, the world is changing again, in a digital transformation, and the workplace is both reflecting that transformation and driving change.   

There’s incredible potential for companies to seize new competitive advantages and grow their bottom line, all while benefiting the people who work for them like never before.

The future of work is important now

The Future of Work is a hot topic, and some companies stand above others in creating that future now. How can your business harness this opportunity? Start by paying attention to the leading thinkers on the topic. This information is now more accessible than ever thanks to the social web. You can catch the wave of collective social discovery about this topic and put context around your company's place in the conversation.

Let's start with comments from the most-watched Future of Work thinker in the business world today, Altimeter analyst, Charlene Li. “This is likely the most pressing issue concerning the C-Suite today. They've optimized the supply chain, digitized marketing and communications, socialized customer care and service. Where else can they get a competitive advantage? Fundamentally changing the way they work, implementing change -- especially culture change -- faster and better, will be the source of competitive advantage going forward.”


The imperative to participate in the changes underway suggests even the terminology may be holding us back. "There's a reason I don't like the 'Future of Work' label -- this is NOW,” says Li.  "You don't have the luxury to do this in some distant or even near future. You can make these changes now, with the technologies that you already have. This has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with re-imagining how you *want* to work.”

What's changing?

Change in the workplace is affecting both traditional knowledge workers and others, as well as the most forward-looking companies that employ them.  Charlene Li says some of her favorite new work is being done on oil rigs and at family restaurants. "Every one, every worker, is a ‘knowledge' worker because we all need information and communications to be able to our jobs well."   

The change is a combination of tech and culture. In technology: It's about harnessing things like mobility, data, cloud services, automation and artificial intelligence. That tech helps make hard work easier, it make the previously impossible possible, and it turns routine work into the responsibility of computers - so that human workers can focus on higher-order creative skills.

In terms of cultural changes, it's about future-focused strategic thinking and cultural adaptation to trends like the rise of authenticity, transparency, independence, collaboration, flexibility, and effective leadership. Jacob Morgan cites examples like T-Mobile’s shift to make all job descriptions jargon-free and to show the number of applicants on online job postings. The GAP is experimenting with an automated system to help retail workers get their shifts filled if they’re unable to make it.   

The very location of work is changing. It's shifting toward mobile, the cloud, and a networked sensor-rich world. See, for example, software company Atlassian's hooking sensors up to all the desks in their office to optimize the layout for employees’ favored behaviors.

Some change is occurring now; more will occur later; it's quickly accelerating thanks to the exponential evolution of technology.

Why is this happening?  It's about profit, and it's about purpose: To decrease business friction, pursue competitive advantage, seize opportunities, profit and improve the human condition of being alive in the world. Re-imagining work offers an opportunity to create more purpose and value in the lives of people who do the work.

Here's how it's happening. It's about networked collaboration inside organizations, organizational strategies to tap into external networks and automation of knowledge work. Charlene Li says: "This always comes down to and starts with leadership. Without it, you will never get started. Without it, it will never be sustained."

Re-imagining work

In a world where businesses compete for talent, re-imagining how people want to work is key. Jacob Morgan, one of the most influential Future of Work experts among his peers in the space, says, "the future of work is all about the employee experience: digital, physical and cultural environment. It’s about shifting away from where people need to work towards where they want to.

Morgan says that creating a future-facing disposition around work is as simple as taking two steps: “First, find out what the employees care about and what they value. Second, think of your companies more like laboratories than like factories.”

Morgan, who runs a private community for enterprises exploring future of work themes, says this thinking is already widespread: "I’m constantly amazed at the kinds of organizations interested in these themes.  I haven’t seen any industries that are less advanced than others - I’ve just seen ones that are less public about it.”

Which companies are paying the most attention?

Paying attention to thought leaders on a topic is an important step in being ready for the future. It’s also a signal that a company is paying attention to the state of an art.  That’s why looking at the connections between large companies and thought leaders on the social web can provide insight into the thinking and priorities of those businesses. At Little Bird, we analyze networks of people and companies on Twitter (then we look at blogs and other social networks) to discover influential people, communities and connections of interest.  One of our newest capabilities is the ability to cross-reference networks and determine who in one group is most influential or most interested in another group.

Which large companies appear to be most interested in the thoughts of top Future of Work influencers? Salesforce, SAP and Pitney Bowes lead this list. Which thought leaders are the most companies listening to?Charlene Li, Ray Wang, Ted Coiné and Dion Hinchcliffe are at the top of our report. Click here to access the full list of these 20 top companies and the top 20 Future of Work thinkers.

This process isn’t about tweeting at people; this is about listening to top thinkers in the field and following their tweets.  Jacob Morgan, says, for example, "At Pitney Bowes they are doing interesting things internally, I know people there, but they never talk about it.”  They may not talk about it - but they’re listening.

"Not one of these companies does what it did when it was founded so many years ago,” says Ted Coiné. “They’ve already reinvented themselves, many of them more than once – that’s why they’re in business today. It’s clear from the close attention they’re paying to the leading voices in this area that they know they must reinvent again, just to make it to 2020.

"For instance, my many contacts at SAP (reporting independently, as they span multiple business units) assure me they are deep into a seismic change in how their company does business,” says Coiné. “There's a cautionary hedge to this story, but there’s something much more positive, much more forward-thinking, right on the other side of that coin. By watching what the prognosticators of the Future of Work are predicting, these companies are ensuring that they will be in a position to provide that future to customers in the not-too-distant future.”

Exponential change & business planning

The word disruptive may be a distraction, failing to create the sense of urgency that digital transformation warrants and making it easier for companies to think it’s going to happen to someone else.  That’s the thinking of Frank Diana, Tata Consultancy Services' Principal in Business Evolution, who argues that “future thinking” is a better way to frame it than the world "disruptive."  Future thinking is something every business needs to do.

“What we think will take ten years will likely take two or less,” Frank Diana writes. “Therefore, our view of the future in the context of strategy and planning has to change. Future thinking, simulation, and the use of foresight are critical to this change.”

Here at Little Bird, we believe that the best way to take a proactive position on anything is to be informed by best practices and the best thinking of leading minds in your market. The alternative is to be surprised.

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