Circa 2010. The chief people officer (CPO) is a prisoner of the “QSQT” (quarter se quarter tak) phenomenon. Focused on the near term, dousing real and imagined “fires”, managing on a daily basis, the harried CPO has no time to contemplate and plan for the future. Come Circa 2015, the CPO finds that the future of work is here and the firm has completely missed planning for it. In 2010, there were telltale signs of the contours of a future workplace, but as US President Barack Obama noted in the context of the failed Christmas Day bomber, the system failed to connect the dots.
This dynamic connecting of the dots is what organizations will need to do increasingly to shape their future strategies. What are the people roles that will inhabit this world? What are the key talent strategies that need to be incubated right now to converge with the reality of the future? Firms need to develop the ability to envision the future and “fold it in” to connect with the reality of today.
So, how will the organization of the future look? And what will be the people roles in such a world? A few predictions:
• A “go green” credo could mean a reduction in people movement and the creation of alternative workplace strategies, where either the “office” is no longer a synonym for a physical place or “walk to work” options with integrated, self-sufficient mini-townships, such as the public sectors of yore, are recreated in a back-to-the-future kind of scenario.
• A greater desire for control over the distribution of one’s time between work and other aspects of life could imply more contractual working than full-time employment.
• This could hasten the creation of “talent stock markets”, with individuals priced as efficiently as financial instruments. An IPO in this world would be the Independent Professional Offering, with online postings of the individual’s role preference, time availability and expected remuneration. Could we see a new breed of agents, brokers and advisers?
• Could professional roles such as those of anthropologists, energy efficiency experts, professional human rights consultants, political and risk analysts emerge as critical in future organizations in this interconnected, global world? What about a vice-president, people and places, with the apparently conflicting objectives of growing the people in the organization while reducing the real estate the organization occupies in parallel?
Future-proofing: To succeed in times to come, think differently.
• Work and home boundaries will blur. The implication: 9am-5pm will no longer be the norm. The workday will be global, with a follow-the-sun model. Deadlines and the unforgiving need for speed will drive the day.
• Conventional notions of wisdom requiring grey hair will be challenged in a world getting more networked by the day. The young might well rule, changing traditional power structures and organizational hierarchies.
• Self-governing teams will be the norm in managing customer interactions and handling rosters, absenteeism or attrition. Empowerment and incentivization could drive this trend, crunching the multiple hierarchy layers and redefining leadership roles further. Try eating an “air sandwich”. In no time you will realize that collapsing the two bread layers is the way forward.
• Shifting alliances will become passé with yesterday’s competitor becoming today’s friend. The traditional notions of loyalty and sense of purpose would undergo seismic change.
• Diversity will become pervasive and make for good business sense given the changing nature of work, demographics and wisdom in heterogeneity.
People strategists should consciously plan for time to dwell on these and other trends likely to shape the future world, and proactively start nudging their organizational strategies in these directions. Great football players instinctively head for where the ball will be rather than follow where the ball is.
Success has invariably come to those who thought differently about the future and adopted ideas which later became mainstream thinking. But this is not easy. For starters, one has to find time for this. There is a critical need for senior leaders to crest the avalanche of daily email, conference calls and delegate the dousing of the many official bush fires and actually get down to blue-sky thinking and envisioning. The mantra should be to replace business-as-usual thinking and do business with a difference.
Hema Ravichandar is an independent human resources consultant who is on the board of Titan Industries Ltd and Marico Ltd. She was formerly global head of HR at Infosys Technologies Ltd.
Write to Hema at firstname.lastname@example.org