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The Future of Work Means Rewiring Your Company

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It isn’t just the nature of work that is changing thanks to the web and a generation of increasingly mobile and inter-connected workers, says John Hagel of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge — it’s the entire way in which many companies operate. Hagel, who is co-chairman of the center along with former Xerox PARC director John Seely Brown, says businesses of all kinds are coming under increasing pressure to increase their performance and become more competitive, and one of the ways to do that is by embracing the kind of change they see all around them.

I’ll be talking with Hagel and Seely Brown about these and other aspects of the changing nature of work and what we call the “human cloud” next week, at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference — at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco on Dec. 9  — along with a host of other great speakers. You can register here.

Hagel said the two factors increasing pressure on companies to be more competitive are “the deployment of digital technology infrastructure” — such as cloud computing, mobile, social software and so on — and economic liberalization, which has lowered barriers to entry in many countries around the world. The combination of these two things, he says, “have made it easier to enter new markets and move within markets, and that tends to intensify competition.” If they aren’t continually improving their overall performance, he said, companies run the risk of being marginalized and possibly even going out of business completely.

So how do companies increase their performance? Hagel said that the most effective way to do it is to improve the skills and efficiency of the employees within your company, using the same digital collaboration tools and services that are transforming many of our lives. Increasingly, however, doing this requires companies to rewire the way they operate internally, he says. “On a fundamental level, they have to rethink their entire work environment and start thinking about how they can make it as rich an environment as possible in terms of skill development, and how they can connect the people within their company with each other, and also with others outside the company.”

The problem, says Hagel, is that many companies are not configured to do this, because it requires experimentation and risk-taking and in many cases failure — and most companies value things like predictability too much to be comfortable with that kind of approach.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Louis

5 Responses to “The Future of Work Means Rewiring Your Company”

  1. One of the many reasons I am drawn to the Pull approach is that it reflects what’s already happening in this increasingly connected yet complex world where the most viable approach for any organization to maximize its productivity and innovation (Doing Both per Inder Sidhu) is to be structured to pull in the right people at the right time to optimize opportunity. This is a world where we often can’t know what we don’t know yet we can have disparate, diverse connections that can be drawn to a mutuality of opportunity and thus step forward to describe what we are missing and to suggest alternatives that we, on our own, wouldn’t discover.

    Such an approach means encouraging the T-shape collaborative behavior cited by Morten Hansen (deep expertise + wide-ranging interests & contacts and openess to their input). Because a connected world enables competition to hit faster and from more places, a pull mindset and flexible, evolving institutional systems to support it are becoming the bedrock of company sustainability.

  2. Jon Husband

    cused on the latter part of what you described: that is, changing the design, structure, functioning and culture inside companies in order to allow them to take advantage of these new tools to become better at what they do.

    Thanks for the invite, Matthew ;-) Actually, I do a lot of what’s described above as well, so maybe some other time. Not that I wouldn’t learn a ton, but ya know .. there’s books n’ clients n’ stuff.

  3. Jon Husband

    I like these guys’ work a lot, but it seems to me the argument(s) they are advancing have been set out in pretty comprehensive ways by a range of others as well over the past five + years. Yes, I can provide examples if pressed to do so.

    Goodness knows what they are suggesting is necessary, certainly. Hyperlinks and the Web are here to stay (as far as we know) and their reach and capabilities continue to grow and integrate with ever wider and deeper areas of the information-based workplace. Couple that with the general statement that not much has changed for largecos over the past 30 years org design-wise or structure / culture wise, and yes, there is and will be much dissonance in ‘today’s’ workplace.

    Re-wiring could mean taking strategic advantage of open source, web services, collaborative platforms, social CRM, and on and on, or it could me “re-wiring” in a larger sense as in org design, mindsets, corp culture and leadership / mgt processes and behaviours.

    Which do you think they are referring to ? Based on your second-to-last paragraph, I think the latter ?

    • Thanks for the comment, John — the other two Johns are definitely focused on the latter part of what you described: that is, changing the design, structure, functioning and culture inside companies in order to allow them to take advantage of these new tools to become better at what they do. If you want to find out more, you will have to come to the conference :-)