workforce fluidity – Ultimate Software's Blog http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com Thoughts on Putting People First in the Workplace Thu, 17 Aug 2017 13:05:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 “Charting” a New Course for the Organization http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/charting-new-course-organization-workforce-fluidity/ http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/charting-new-course-organization-workforce-fluidity/#respond Fri, 05 Aug 2016 11:20:18 +0000 http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=645 In the booming postwar Mad Men era, the predominant work structure in American companies was hierarchical. For returning soldiers, this “command-and-control structure” was something they were used to in their military service. Since the workforce was almost exclusively male, particularly in management roles, this structure conformed closely to their notions of social groupings, which also […]

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In the booming postwar Mad Men era, the predominant work structure in American companies was hierarchical. For returning soldiers, this “command-and-control structure” was something they were used to in their military service.

Since the workforce was almost exclusively male, particularly in management roles, this structure conformed closely to their notions of social groupings, which also tend to be hierarchical. Everyone had a specific place in the hierarchy, and implicit rules existed to guide communications and collaborations with others.

In time, this hierarchical structure engendered the development of the “traditional org chart,” in which the relationship between roles and positions in an organization were formulated, based on a company’s financial-accounts structure and its employees’ cost centers. A typical org chart directs how authority and information flows between people. In today’s vastly interconnected global business environment, hierarchical work structures and their unbending progeny, org charts, have very little to do with how how work actually is conducted.

At Ultimate, we believe org charts can serve a larger purpose—helping people connect with others whose skills and interests they share, using visualization to help employees discover and form relationships across the organization, much like a social network, with the individual as the initial point of reference rather than the highest point in the formal hierarchy.

Workforce FluidityTechnologies like social media, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, 24-7 mobility, and the cloud have unleashed extraordinary possibilities for people to work better as a group, rather than in rigidly assigned job roles as per the org chart. People can now move fluidly from one assignment to another, organizing around the work that needs to be done, in concert with others engaged with them in the particular task.

This freedom of thought and action is what I refer to as “organizational fluidity,” one of the three components of “Workforce Fluidity.” It recognizes the reality of how work actually gets done, which has little to do with formal organization structures that confine a person’s breadth of talents. Rather, the assignment, creation, and even choice of work is increasingly determined by a person’s competence, curiosity, and ability to effectively collaborate with others in self-organized teams, when the organization is forward-looking enough to recognize the benefits of such a dynamic way of working.

Today’s far-flung global workforce comprises more than just full-time employees, including such non-permanent workers as independent contractors, temps, freelancers, and other contingent workers. These individuals enrich an organization by bringing in specific expertise and new ideas from outside the organization. They help fill skill-set gaps and the temporary void caused by an employee leaving the organization. The irony is that these non-salaried workers have more organizational fluidity, thanks to their flexible and virtual work schedules. In a global workspace with constant connectivity, everyone should have the same.

Imagine when this is indeed the case, as it will soon be. People with wide-ranging skills participate in teams, flowing between initiatives and supervisors to maximize their contributions. No longer is someone with multiple talents restricted to employing a single skill, simply because that’s how the person is defined and subsequently tasked by supervisors. Without a hierarchical work structure, the value of everyone’s big brains and breadth of experience comes together in a brainstorming whirlwind of ideas, concepts, discussions, and debates to grow the business.

Already this is occurring in a growing number of companies, many of them startup enterprises where workers have the opportunity to fluidly move from one project to another, one task to another, even one job role to another, and then back again. Each time they make these journeys, they enliven parts of their multifold talents that otherwise would have remained dormant, while learning new skills from others in the collaborative work environment. In such organizations, employee engagement is not a problem.

Small wonder that many younger employees are demanding a fluid organizational structure and culture as a condition of employment. If you don’t hire them, the competition will. Timing is everything in life and business.

In my next blog, I’ll dive into a related form of fluidity bubbling to the top in many companies—job fluidity, embracing how work actually is accomplished today. In a business world where job titles are less important than teamwork, people will have more control of the assignments they take on—to the betterment of their lives and the business success of the organization.

Once again, my goal with these blogs is to inspire deeper thinking and the startup of conversations. Please respond—affirmatively or negatively or somewhere in between.

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Are You Ready for True Workforce Fluidity? http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/workforce-fluidity-future-of-work/ http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/workforce-fluidity-future-of-work/#respond Fri, 13 May 2016 12:58:49 +0000 http://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=573 The composition of today’s working population is changing faster than organizations and their policies can react. For the first time in history, five different generations are in the American workforce. Their expectations vary when defining what work is—and how one conducts it—at a time of tremendous upheaval in traditional workplace paradigms. Today’s workforce comprises more […]

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The composition of today’s working population is changing faster than organizations and their policies can react. For the first time in history, five different generations are in the American workforce. Their expectations vary when defining what work is—and how one conducts it—at a time of tremendous upheaval in traditional workplace paradigms.

Today’s workforce comprises more than just full-time employees. Provisional or non-permanent workers—such as independent contractors, temporary employees, freelancers, and other contingent workers—are expected to make up 40% of the workforce by 2020. Their short-term assignments, or “gigs,” have even fostered a new phrase—the “gig economy.” Other changes include flexible and virtual work schedules, job sharing, cross-training, and a greater emphasis on collaborative teamwork.

While these trends are beginning to reshape how companies operate, and how people work, an even more profound shift is underway that will have a lasting effect on the workforce of the future.

I call it workforce fluidity: the next iteration of workplace changes, driven by the increasing importance and visibility of individualization. What do I mean by individualization? The answer is simple: Our complex nature as human beings makes each one of us a singular person. Every one of our choices to be who we define ourselves to be is legally protected by our constitutional rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 further protects these choices in the workplace, disallowing discrimination in job hiring, termination, and promotions based on a person’s race, color, creed, and gender.

This seismic cultural shift in how people define themselves can be seen as an extension of the movement toward self-definition and nonconformity that began after the 1950s, yet it has reached a point where people can now choose to reject classification entirely. Today the individual is more fluid, wears many hats, and, increasingly, blurs the lines between definitions of profession, work, and even identity. Workforce fluidity encompasses not only flexible/virtual work assignments and the emphasis on collaborative teamwork, but also considers shifting corporate hierarchies and eliminating job titles (something Zappos has already done), or even the construct of a job, valuing contribution to multiple teams and results instead. It also includes the reality that every person—each team member—is a uniquely original human being, to whom care and respect must be accorded to ensure their individualism is not diminished, intentionally or unintentionally.

These issues are not new in themselves. However, the interaction of these forces—individualization, job, and organizational fluidity—becomes a formidable phenomenon. The elements of fluidity cannot be understood in isolation because each alone only partially constitutes the issue and magnitude of true workforce fluidity.

And there is a further dimension: I believe organizations that fail to thoughtfully address workforce fluidity in all its forms—job fluidity (people not tied to or identified by a specific job description, but able to flow between initiatives and supervisors to maximize their contribution. The choice of work assigned in partnership and consideration of the person’s curiosity and competence, as well as organizational need); organization fluidity (the reality of how work gets done, alternative collaborative constructs, the absence of formal organization structures, and even team-based hiring and compensation); and, finally, identity fluidity (the self-definition of people, who may reject generational stereotypes or the limitations of binary identity categories “black” or “white,” “male” or “female,” as Facebook has by offering users 71 identity attributes to choose from when creating one’s profile)—could run the risk of becoming less appealing destinations for employees and job seekers alike.

Those of us in the HR arena are bearing witness to these profound societal changes, perhaps more so than others, as they begin to enter the workplace. Certainly, this is disruptive, as all sociocultural shifts are. As people challenge the traditional classifications of their lives outside of work, they will increasingly expect their work colleagues across five generations to understand and appreciate their individuality.

Because Ultimate’s mission is to put people first—whether it’s how we support our employees; how we operate, design, and develop solutions; or how we serve our customers—we think that nothing is more “People First” than understanding how the workplace is changing based on drivers like workforce fluidity. It is our responsibility as a people-first organization to advance the discussion around this evolving topic and its implications for the workforce at large, and to explore concrete implementations. To that end, I’d like to get your thoughts and comments on a workforce fluidity maturity model to help organizations assess where they fall on the continuum of workforce fluidity. It is clear that not all companies will reach full workforce fluidity, nor would it be authentic for every organization to do so. My aim is to start a conversation about this most human subject, thinking along with you about the ramifications of true workforce fluidity for customers, colleagues, solutions, and our own behaviors in the workplace.

Tomorrow's workforce expects more flexibility than today's. Read more on the future of work now.

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