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The Future of Work – Peter Drucker’s view

Fredmund Malik took Peter Drucker’s view further and discussed the implications for corporations. According to his world-view, the main challenge of the future is to manage complexity and adjust to environments. He centers his approach on the Viable-System-Model that highlights the adaptability of organizations to their environment. It requires leaders and workers to be more versed in the ideas of change, organic systems and whole-system perspectives.

Telekom HR-chief and former Lufthansa-HR-head Michael Sattelberger took his philosophy of talent development to Germany’s biggest telecommunications company: “we build a talent environment rather then a drill-based military-like complex. Talents want participation.” He highlights the need for people to not be stuck in a job too long, exchange with peers and shape the strategy of the business they work for.  “Companies have to become more democratic and give talents room to participate and create options on the future”[1]. This also means that people need to account for more responsibility for their careers, take on part-time engagements and strive for flexibility and experience. It also means that jobs will follow people and companies need to offer perspectives for the employees they want to attract and retain.(see Brand Eins 04/2010)

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The Future of Work – Peter Drucker’s view

Peter Drucker was one of the first to introduce the notion of knowledge work. Since the 1960s he advocated a shift in how we do work and what that means for corporations. He predicted that the prominence of the large corporations (1950 big business employed a third of American workforce; vs. 8% today)and its command-and-control structure will diminish in favor of orchestrating and “writing the score”. Instead of running a business in Talyorism way of fixed input and predictable output, the work is to define the results, work to your and other’s strengths,  determining how to make a contribution and accepting that knowledge workers outlive their organizations. This means, they are responsible for the own development and should create opportunities themselves.

Productivity speaker David Allen states it as this: “What’s tricky is defining what “done” means, and then defining what “doing” looks like. In other words, your work is not self-evident. You have to define it. And even though people are giving you stuff to deal with, they’re not pre-digesting it for you. I don’t know anyone who got their current job and who was given a list of the 63 projects—clearly defined—that were going to be required to fulfill their job requirements, and the 153 action steps they needed to take to make that happen. And that’s what’s new: In the old days, you just showed up and the work was self-evident. Today, everybody has to have their own individual responsibility to define what their work is—at both the outcome level and the “how-do-I-allocate-my-own-resources-to-make-this-happen” level. We haven’t been trained to think that way.”

In turn, it means that corporations have to treat individuals as if they were volunteers and accept the fact that they do not know most of the time or the details of a person’s work or how they spend it – highlighting the need for trust and self-management. In “Management Challenges of the 21st Century”, Drucker defined six factors for knowledge worker productivity:

  1. Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”
  2. It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves.
  3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
  4. Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
  5. Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
  6. Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.

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Self-directed innovator

Yesterday I sat in a presentation and heard the target group of Google’s products. They call it the self-directed innovator – the new class of workers that transformed out of the Knowledge Worker of the 1980s and the Office Worker of the 1950s. Some of the characteristics of self-directed innovator:

– Not process driven
– Collaborates with broad network of friends and colleagues
– Intermingled personal and work lives
– Needs information even when not at her desk
– Tends not to be patient

Basically, self-directed innovators want to get a job done. They don’t want to be busy, but productive. This is a great attitude, but it poses some problems for organizations. These are usually run from a central command structure and try to manage the landscape through processes. But this excactly frustrates this new class of worker: feeding an organizational hunger for reporting and compliance. Big organizations don’t seem to be a good place for self-directed innovators.

What would need to change? I think we need a shift along the axis of control & accountability. With the focus on processes, organizations tend to be high in control and low on accountability (you are responsible for compliance and business). If an organization could focus more on high accountability and low on control (responsible for outcomes and value), then it would really move towards a „network of brains“. Too often, initiative is tied to titles and stiffles the creativity and ownerhsip of employees beyond their own cubicle. Anyway, without being too much rock’n’roll here I think Google is on to something.

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