The rapidly changing workplace

8) So what have I learned that will help us change our own experience of work? That knowledge is becoming more abstract, conceptual, distributed and complex.

9) We know what social and thinking skills are needed for complex contexts – we know how to hone these skills through practice.

Anne Marie McEwan

The Stacey Matrix. Source: GP Training

The Stacey Matrix. Source: GP Training

I agree with Anne Marie. Doing work where everyone is in close agreement and close to certainty is no longer the norm at work. Customized, unique and creative work is required to deal with complex contexts, the large grey space on the Stacey Matrix diagram above.

There is a large area on this diagram which lies between the anarchy region and regions of the traditional management approaches. Stacey calls this large center region the zone of complexity – others call it the edge of chaos. In the zone of complexity the traditional management approaches are not very effective but it is the zone of high creativity, innovation, and breaking with the past to create new modes of operating. In management we spend much of our time teaching how to manage in areas (1), (2) and (3) [simple & complicated]. In these regions, we can present models which extrapolate from past experience and thereby can be used to forecast the future. This is the hallmark of good science in the traditional mode. When we teach approaches, techniques and even merely a perspective in area (4) [complex] the models seem ‘soft’ and the lack of prediction seems problematic. We need to reinforce that managers and leaders of organizations need to have a diversity of approaches to deal with the diversity of contexts. Stacey’s matrix honours what we already have learned but also urges us to move with more confidence into some of the areas which we understand intuitively but are hesitant to apply because they do not appear as ‘solid.’ – GP Training

The Stacey Matrix shows the complex work space quite clearly. While simple and complicated work will remain, we need to focus our efforts on complex work, which traditional models of management or learning do not address. Neither learning management systems, talent management systems, nor any business management systems are going to be useful in the complex domain. The only practical interface for complexity is the human brain.

In the network era, the fundamental nature of work will change as we first transition into a complex post-job economy. The major driver of this change is the automation of all procedural work, especially through software, but increasingly with robots. Our dominant work structures will change, giving up hierarchy for adaptability. Individuals will have to shoulder more responsibility as authority gets distributed. Organizations will need to become more networked, not just with information technology, but how people create, use, and share knowledge. This new workplace also will require different leadership that emerges from the network and temporarily assumes control, until new leadership is required. Giving up control will be a major challenge for executives used to the old ways of work. An important part of leadership will be to hold the space so that people can freely cooperate and teams can self-manage. Social learning will be a major part of all work.

Anyone who wishes to flourish in this new work environment will have to become an effective social learner. As Anne Marie notes, this will take practice, and now is the time to start, as the automation steam-roller gains momentum and destroys the remaining jobs of the industrial-information-market era.

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