Six Steps To Adapt To The Future Of Work

Guest post by Jacob Morgan

When I was writing my book, The Future of Work, I created a framework for adapting to coming changes that I call “The Six-Step Process for Adapting to the Future of Work.” (It was inspired in part by John Kotter’s well known “8-Step Process for Leading Change.”) I will be exploring my six-step process on a webinar in a few weeks, but here are the steps and what they entail (They’re best thought of as a never-ending loop):

Challenge Assumptions

The simplest, easiest and most common way that some kind of a new initiative around the future of starts off is by looking at one aspect of how work has always been done and asking “why?” Why is it that we have to review employees once a year? Why is it that employees have to sit in cubicles? Why is it that various departments work in silos? Why do employees have to work 9–5? Why…? We haven’t changed most of our work practices for decades so this question really starts the conversation around why change needs to happen. At Cisco their flexible work program started with this very concept and exploration of “hey, wait a minute, our sales guys are always on the road and don’t always have to come into an office, why can’t we do this across the company?”

Create A Team To Help Lead The Effort

Sometimes initiatives around the future or work are led by HR, IT, a specifically designated task force, or other mix of employees. But the point is that someone needs to be driving these efforts across the organization. More recently I’m seeing HR teams actually lead this change within progressive organizations which is part of the evolution that this function is going through. Whether it’s HR or not, this group will be tasked with things such as experimenting with ideas, educating and training employees, and researching trends shaping the future of work. Companies like Xerox work with ethnographers to truly understand how and why people work.

Define Your “Future Of Work”

The next step in the process is defining what the future of work is going to look like for the organization. A great starting point here is defining a few things: what does it mean to work at your organization? What does it meant to be an employee at your organization? What does it mean to be a manager at your organization? What does your organization value and stand for? Mars Drinks does a great job of this by trying to create a “coffee shop” culture across the entire organization. They revamped their physical space, revisited their values, explored new leadership structures, and everything in between.

Communicate Your “Future Of Work”

Once the organization goes through the “define” step it’s crucial to actually communicate this to employees. The Daily Telegraph has recently been written about quite a bit recently after they installed workplace monitors on the desks of employees to monitor whether or not they actually use them. This effort was quickly killed off after employees revolted against this idea. This was a poor job on behalf of the Daily Telegraph to communicate what the purpose of this was, why they were doing it, and if employees are on board. Unilever is a great example of a company that does this well with their agile working initiative that is proudly displayed on the company career page and is actively promoted and marketed inside of the company.

Experiment And Empower Employees To Take Action

As I’ve written about many times, the only constant that exists is change. So how do you adapt to that type of environment? You have to experiment. Our organizations are structured to be very luck like factories; linear process-centric institutions that don’t care about innovation, engagement, empowerment or the like. Instead we have to think of our organizations like laboratories where employees are empowered to experiment with ideas, get access to resources, and can potentially turn their ideas into products or services. Adobe does a great job of this with their KickStart innovation program where any employee can take a course on innovation and then get a $1,000 pre-paid credit card to build a concept prototype. I’ve written much more about that here.

Implement Broad Based Changed

After running experiments or tests around a particular concept the next step is to implement it across the organization (assuming the results of the experiment were positive). Adapting to the future of work only makes sense when it is looked at across the whole organization. Accenture is a great example of this with their recent initiative to abandon annual performance reviews. What started off as something for a pilot group within the company is now being scaled across hundreds of thousands of employees in under a year which is phenomenal for a company of that size.

If you will notice in the image above this process then repeats by going back to step 1 and then step 3–6. At the most forward thinking and progressive organizations this process is continuous and the questioning around how work gets done occurs regularly. Organizations that follow this process will definitely be ahead of the game when it comes to adapting and preparing for the future of work. If your organization doesn’t think about and prepare for the future of work, then your organization will have no future.

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