future of work – Ultimate Software's Blog https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com Thoughts on Putting People First in the Workplace Sun, 17 Dec 2017 11:00:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 The Reengineering of the Workforce https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/reengineering-workforce-fluidity/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/reengineering-workforce-fluidity/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:03:44 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1156 The transformation of the workplace—relinquishing many of the entrenched work and leadership structures that many companies and HR leaders hold dear, such as org charts and hierarchical management roles, in favor of promoting more fluid ways of people working—is a sea change that, unfortunately, has not gained widespread momentum. Many companies understand the value of […]

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workforce fluidityThe transformation of the workplace—relinquishing many of the entrenched work and leadership structures that many companies and HR leaders hold dear, such as org charts and hierarchical management roles, in favor of promoting more fluid ways of people working—is a sea change that, unfortunately, has not gained widespread momentum. Many companies understand the value of workforce fluidity, but they struggle in their resolve to make it happen.

Workforce fluidity is an all-encompassing term I coined to describe job fluidity, organizational fluidity, and identity fluidity. Job fluidity describes a workforce where people are not tied to or identified by a specific job description; rather, they flow among initiatives and supervisors to maximize their contributions. Organizational fluidity accepts the reality of how work gets done these days, generally through collaborative efforts with diverse minds and skills coming together. And identity fluidity encourages new levels of self-definition and expression, with the knowledge that feeling safe in our authentic uniqueness will foster innovative ideas.

These tenets of workplace transformation stand in sharp contrast to yesteryear’s rigid organizational structures, regimented ways of working, and uniform definitions of what constitutes a leader. Certainly, those ways made perfect sense in the post-Industrial Age, when small shops gave way to large, unwieldy business organizations with a need to control the labor force. The use of divisions, departments, and jobs based on a person’s specific expertise ensured that work was appropriately doled out, supervised, and completed.

The problem with this static structure today is that it clashes with the dynamism of the global business environment and the current needs of people in the workforce. Thanks to distributed technology advancements, today’s business is conducted in real time. Layers of management and delegation authority slow down the required speed and flexibility of work.

At the same time, employees are increasingly being asked to participate in different projects and other initiatives under different supervisors. Titles and job roles seem almost superfluous in this multi-skilled, multi-task setting. Yet, most companies are still stuck with org charts, trying to shoehorn these modern workforce realities into an inflexible hierarchy.

Why is this the case, and how can HR become more nimble and lead the necessary change? According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders from 140 countries, 88% of respondents say building the organization of the future is an important or very important issue; yet, only 11% understand how to do it. To get a better sense of why this is the case, I reached out to Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Josh began by recounting his own workforce trajectory. “When I joined the workforce out of college in the late 1970s, I was given a job description and title and told how much I would earn,” he recalled. “My boss told me what to do and wrote up my performance appraisal at the end of the year. The goal was to stick around and get a promotion to buy a house, have kids, and retire in comfort. This workforce concept was based on the old industrial-scale model, which is now a disadvantage for companies, as it slows them down from reacting quickly.”

Josh’s view is affirmed by Deloitte’s survey. Only 14% of respondents believe the traditional hierarchical model involving jobs based on a person’s expertise in a specific area is effective. “It’s pretty clear to me that just about everything in organizational management needs to be reengineered,” Josh said. “The ways that work gets done are fundamentally changing, with leading companies moving to a more agile, collaborative, and flexible way of working. Instead of a hierarchy, there is more of a network organizational structure.”

When asked for an example of this work type in action, Josh pointed to the now-common practice of forming a team of people from across the organization to take on a specific project. “People are collaborating with others who are not from their business area, lending their unique expertise and experiences to the task at hand,” he said. “They jump on and off such projects on a routine basis. Yet, in the background, there still is the hierarchical work structure that has little to do with reality.” I wholeheartedly agree and would add that, as a result, people’s work is often evaluated by someone who isn’t seeing the whole picture, also removed from reality.

Today’s new ways of working are good for companies, increasing employees’ sense of purpose, engagement with their work responsibilities, overall productivity, and personal happiness. People feel more in control of their lives. Hopping from one initiative to another also puts them in close proximity to others who have different talents, increasing everyone’s range of skills.

Best of all, people are able to coalesce around what is most important in business—serving the customer. “Instead of focusing on efficiently executing the same task over and over, employees are empowered to make the customer happier,” Josh said.

What will it take for more companies to let the sea change happen? The first step is to realize that workforce fluidity is already underway. The digital transformation of business is a powerful undercurrent tugging the organization toward more fluid ways of working.

Once this reality is accepted, business leaders can make the most of it, and HR agility can truly take hold, ushering in a more fluid, inspiring, and modern workplace. Some of Josh’s suggestions for navigating this shift include creating mission-oriented project teams composed of individuals from marketing, sales, customer experience, and other functions, and empowering them to make decisions that benefit customers. To that, I would add the need for empathy—the capacity to sense how people around you in the workplace feel about their work.

True leadership entails the ability to unite people in a shared purpose. Work that is personally fulfilling will always be a motivational force that creates organizational health and success.

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What is the Best Way to Lead? https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/great-leadership/ https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/great-leadership/#comments Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:48:40 +0000 https://blog.ultimatesoftware.com/?p=1126 What are the traits of great leadership for the future of work? It’s a question I am often asked by audience members during my varied speaking engagements. It’s a great question, since leadership—like everything else in today’s blistering pace of change—must be dynamic. Leaders must evolve as employees do, to direct organizations that operate and […]

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leadershipWhat are the traits of great leadership for the future of work? It’s a question I am often asked by audience members during my varied speaking engagements. It’s a great question, since leadership—like everything else in today’s blistering pace of change—must be dynamic.

Leaders must evolve as employees do, to direct organizations that operate and are managed differently. I’m referring to the movement in many companies toward project-based teamwork involving both full-time and non-permanent employees, tasks performed on a mobile “anywhere” basis, and the positive trend toward employee inclusiveness, in which each person’s self-defined uniqueness is seen as the asset it is. (See my related post, Are You Ready for True Workforce Fluidity?) Certainly, this is not your grandfather’s business to lead.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, companies were often run with military precision. During World War II, 10 high-ranking management theorists were recruited by the U.S. Air Force to enhance operations. When the war ended, Ford Motor Company snapped them up. They inserted the military’s “org charts” into Ford’s structure, creating divisions, departments, and jobs based on a person’s specific expertise. This ensured work was appropriately doled out, supervised, and completed. Other companies soon incorporated similar structures across the industrialized world.

As one might imagine, leaders of these businesses were akin to military generals. They commanded the organization from the boardroom, rather than the war room. This structure was right (for the times) and proved its merit. American companies quickly became the best in the world. And then the Internet, smartphones, the cloud, cognitive computing, and the Internet of Things burgeoned to seriously change things—democratizing decision-making and communications.

So what is today’s definition of “great leadership”? To draw a clearer picture, I turned to the source of the last century’s business leadership model—the military. I asked Lieutenant General George Flynn, now retired, for his perspective on the subject.

Lt. Gen. Flynn enjoyed a distinguished career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration and the Commanding General of the Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia. He is an advisor to Ultimate Software and many other corporations, and is a brilliant resource on leadership strategy.

You may know Lt. Gen. Flynn as the inspiration for a book by the best-selling author Simon Sinek. Sinek had interviewed him to learn more about the Marine Corps’ style of leadership. He boiled it down to these three words—“Officers eat last.” Sinek was so taken with the response he named his book after it (Leaders Eat Last). I recently sat down with George to ask what he meant by his comment.

“It’s really pretty simple,” he said. “If you treat your team as the most important resource in your organization, they become committed to you and the purpose of the organization. It shows your respect and the fact that you care so much about them that they deserve only the best. And that includes eating first, beginning with the most junior officer and ending with the most senior officer.”

He added, “That’s the ‘cost of leadership,’ as I explained it to Simon.”

This leadership philosophy seems at odds with today’s corporate guidance. Few CEOs know the names of employees other than their direct reports. Many of them eat with other senior executives in a separate part of the company cafeteria and have large offices away from the rest of their employees. Certainly, this is not an “officers eat last” approach. Rather, it suggests rank—people separated based on their perceived value and contributions to the success of the organization. There is a shift happening in some companies where CEOs are forgoing offices for shared office space, and the impact is significant for employees. As George put it, “Whoever is leading must form trusted relationships with those being led.”

Our discussion moved on to today’s millennial workers. George commented that this generation of employees tends to demand more from its leaders. “They want to know the ‘why’ before they buy into the project,” he explained. “When they believe in the value of what needs to be done, they’re very giving of their time and effort. They’ll go the extra mile if they understand the purpose behind the tasks and believe in that purpose.”

Without this understanding, millennials (really all employees) are more likely to search for new employment. To keep them, leaders must ensure they have meaningful work that leads to the development of new skills. “Millennials need to be trained and empowered to take risks on behalf of the organization, to progress in their careers,” George said. How can today’s business leaders, particularly those at the helm of large, far-flung organizations, ensure full buy-in from the “troops”? George responded that there are specific times on any given day when a leader can demonstrate valued leadership. “We call them ‘defining moments,’” he said. “The moments differ, but examples include how the person makes a difficult decision or handles a mistake. Word of mouth quickly spreads to form an opinion about the leader.”

These opinions are the basis for following the leader. “In my experience, I’ve come across three levels of leadership,” said George. “The first is when people follow you because you’ve been given the authority to control them. The second is they follow you because they trust you and will, therefore, take risks for you. The third level is they follow you because they believe in you and your mission. At that level, they’ll make personal sacrifices for you. Down deep, all people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

I couldn’t agree more. When we feel we are part of something important led by a leader we believe in, work becomes much more than just work. It becomes part of our purpose and identity.

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