I have little doubt that industrial management and all that it has created (chain of command, human resources, line & staff, production, etc.) are the wrong models for the emerging, networked workplace. This is a workplace with increasing numbers of free-agents and permanent employees who don’t have a job for life, especially as the average lifespan of corporations decreases while those of workers increases. Many workers, including white collar ones, can’t afford to retire. Existing management models and support functions were developed to keep things stable and ensure that people conformed to corporate culture. There is much less time to do that as workplace culture evolves with society, markets and technology.
Look at what Web 2.0 and the resulting network effects have already changed in our workplaces:
The job search has become fluid; no longer a discrete event, with social communities like LinkedIn providing a platform for ongoing conversations between those offering to work and those looking for workers. A job seeker one day may become a hiring agent the next day and vice versa. The roles and boundaries in recruiting and hiring are blurring, just as the reverse job post is on the rise.
Learning has become part of work. Access to much of the world’s information, coupled with online professional social communities has turned us into grazers and foragers, no longer content to feed our intellect only at the corporate trough. As anthropologist Michael Wesch has said, “when media change, then human relationships change“. People of all ages are now digital content creators, no longer satisfied with being supplied with learning programs but creating tutorials, explanatory videos and everything that can be conceived and explained. This empowerment is changing how workers value and perceive professional development.
Today, workers need the workplace less for their social needs. Even when we change jobs or communities, we can now keep our social networks. It used to be that the only place you could meet new people was at work or through family or perhaps at church. Today, our social networks are an always-on connection to trusted friends and colleagues. That means less influence from employers.
These three examples are indicators of a changing relationship between workers and employers, enabled by the Web. In larger companies that relationship is the responsibility of HR. However, if asked, few of us would consider ourselves “human resources”, but that’s how workers are officially viewed by many employers. That top-down, controlled relationship is getting strained. You can learn about this from the thousands of “human resources” who are blogging, podcasting or vlogging, like the articulate Starbuck’s employee. This memo to the CEO was not massaged by any manager, because hyperlinks subvert hierarchies, no matter how many internal policies are created to the contrary. Just ask United Airlines about their policy on damaging guitars. It’s probably changed a bit in the last month.
To get work done in this networked, Web 2.0 environment, a more resilient organizational framework is required, like wirearchy (a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology). Based on such an open framework, support functions like HR have to figure out how they can best help the organization. Here are some suggestions:
- Think and act at a macro level (what to do) and leave the micro (how to do it) to each worker or team. The little stuff is changing too fast.
- Engage with Web media and understand how they work. The Web is too important to be left to IT, communications or outside vendors.
- Use social media to make work easier or more effective. Use them to solve problems for you.
- Make yourself and your function redundant. Teach people how to fish and move on to the next challenge. If you’re maintaining a steady state then you’ve failed to evolve with the organization and the environment.