Rachel Happe On The Social Organization

Rachel Happe has written a compelling vision of what the future of work may look like, in a recent post, and it seems that her thoughts about the increasing autonomy of workers in an increasingly free agent world [my comments embedded in brackets]:

So what might this organizational nirvana look like?

Employment becomes a cross between a long-term commitment and free-agency: The organization provides employee overhead (benefits) in exchange for a commitment to work a minimum number of hours on organizational projects.

[As businesses move from ‘solid’ process-based work toward ‘liquid’ network-based work, more fluid project teaming will become the norm. Workers will move from project to project, and the differences between free agency and full-time work will decrease as all involved depend on swift trust for projects to succeed.]

Managers are either focused on professional development or projects: Managers no longer ‘own’ a functional piece of the business but either manage a group of employees to help them choose projects and navigate their career or they manage projects.

[A clean split between human development (where the goal is to help workers gain skills to increase their value) and project management (where the goal is delivering value to customers).]

Employees and Project Managers Negotiate Work Commitments: Employees are free to self-commit to projects for which they are interested and have time. Project managers define project roles, time needed, and associated pay and are responsible for recruiting team members and managing the project to completion. Employees can work as little (as long as the reach the minimum required for employment) or as much as they feel they are able to at that time. Project managers can solicit specific employees or change the pay to get employee commitment. This has the side affect of paying more, not less, for tedious or unappealing jobs.

[This point is worthy of a post all on its own, but this is perhaps the central pivot of the new worker autonomy. This sounds like the DNA of Hollywood being grafted into the bone marrow of all business.]

Employees Manage Their Schedules. If an employee has a family member with an illness and needs to work the minimum required, they choose their project commitments accordingly. If on the other hand, they have time and want more hours to maximize their income, they can choose a heavy schedule.

Employees define themselves by skill sets, attributes, and experience based on a published taxonomy so that project managers can find and solicit team members.

360 Degree Reviews. Everyone on a project gets to review the performance of everyone else, with some templates and guidelines to do so based on organizational values and goals.

Executive Tasks Are Earned. Based on the successful completion of projects that represent bigger and bigger pieces of business, executives earn the right to budget or more loosely defined (risky/innovative) projects. Some executives will continue to select projects with bigger budgets and some executives will likely continue to choose more innovative projects, depending on their interests.

[Using the Hollywood analogy, project managers are the producers, and they decide to do indie films or blockbusters, and they have to convince the talent and the bankers to play along.]

A Senior Executive Team Is Still Necessary. The C-Suite will still set the overall strategic direction and priorities for the organization – with plenty of input. The C-Suite will also oversee the initiation of projects, the arbitration of issues between teams, and they will ensure gaps are being addressed.

[Top lines executives are the studio guys, raising money from investors, allocating funds to producers projects, and then collecting and distributing returns to the teams and investors.]

All Projects Are Vetted, Prioritized, Budgeted and Scheduled. Any employee or customer can initiate a project but there are various committees, depending on the size and purpose of the project, that vets and schedules them. These committees are filled with project managers that rotate on and off of them, based on the interest of the project manager themselves in participating.

[Anyone can be a producer, but you can only produce what you can convince others to back.]

Customers Can Be Project Team Members. If a customer is particularly invested in a particular project and have the appropriate skills, they are incorporated into projects.

I read this with great interest, since it lines up with my own thoughts so well:

Metaphorically, a social business will seem more like a village than an army, and where a lot of 20th management approaches will be obsolete. We can expect these features:

  • ubiquitous use of social tools, and social networks,
  • greater levels of personal autonomy,
  • self-organization of groups and projects,
  • very porous boundaries with the world,
  • high reliance on non-financial motivation, or personal meaning and purpose,
  • internal marketplaces for ideas and talent,
  • and senior management operating more like Hollywood producers or investors than autocrats.

At the same time, we can expect a great deal of push back on these ideas, that we will be called ‘utopian’. However, Hollywood is not utopia: it’s just a place where the circumstances of movie production led to a style of work that turns out to be a good fit with the new economy we are moving into.

Future Of Work Announcement!

Rachel, who is a principal of The Community Roundtable, has agreed to be a guest speaker for the Future Of Work show we will be holding in Boston, 20 June.

Rachel and I will also be joined by David Weinberger, the well-known savant, blogger, and author (Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Everything Is Miscellaneous, etc.). Our topic is ‘What? The Future Of Work, Again?’ where we will hold up today’s thoughts about where work is headed, and contrast them with other, earlier ideas. We don’t have final venue at this time, but it will be held downtown around 6:30pm. More to follow!