KEY POINTS FOR UNLOCKING SKILLS AND TALENT
Until now, organisations and labour law have built thick walls to isolate organisations from the outside environment.
From time to time, organisations drop the high bridge to let new people into the “citadel” or to let them out.
This mechanism has worked quite well so far, but it is showing its limits, clashing with people’s demands for flexibility and the need for speed and change in business models in the digital environment.
Digital work is in fact changing the way work is organised, making the ‘castle’ model seem too rigid and forcing organisations and legislators to find new solutions for the benefit of people, society and customers.
Two elements of greater autonomy, albeit within the framework of subordinate work, will in my view be important for building a work of the future that is better, freer, more productive, inclusive and a bearer of meaning and fulfilment.
1) Moving from total control and reciprocity between company and employee to greater freedom
Until now, many employers and managers believed (and to a large extent still believe) that the best relationship is one in which one has total control over the time and activities of employees rather than access to the skills needed to achieve company objectives.
This tendency stems from a somewhat superficial view of the employment relationship, and from the habit of imagining a repetitive and traditional type of work.
The exclusivity and managerial control over people in modern work, however, leads to some not insignificant problems:
Alignment with the market : Workers who work exclusively for an organisation sometimes have difficulties in being consistently aligned with the skills required by the market. Having skills required by the market is the best protection for the worker. The effect for the company is to have the certainty of having people who then have always aligned skills without having to constantly recruit new ones or without continuously investing in upskilling and reskilling.
Dependency vs. proactivity: The relationship of dependency thus established does not always allow for a growth in the autonomy of the person. The effect is diminished entrepreneurship and proactivity.
Work/life balance: The lack of flexibility of the model creates problems in satisfying some personal needs, for example related to family care or pursuing one’s interests outside work. The effect is the difficulty to include a wide target group of individuals, such as mothers, startuppers and talents, and thus the shrinking of the talent pool.
A practical solution, in my opinion, is to leave a certain margin of freedom to the individual (at least 20%/25% of their time) so that he/she can freely choose projects to work on, or learn from, inside or outside the organisation. In this way, organisations can start experimenting these new forms of work and follow their development without too much risk. I’d not be surprised if productivity will jump without any particular issues.
2) Giving more commitment to managers in building teams and buying services
Similarly, those who coordinate teams within companies today do not have the autonomy to buy professional services and consultancy and to build their own teams to achieve the objectives set by the company.
Today, recruiting is centralised in a dedicated function, just as most purchasing is centralised to exploit economies of scale, and perhaps also to purge selection of possible cases of favouritism.
However, when it comes to the rapid hiring of people on a part-time basis, as well as the purchase of cognitive and professional services, this economy of scale falters because the person who benefits from the purchase of the service is more familiar and updated with the technical and operative specifications of what is being purchased. In the end, therefore, the risk is to lengthen time without actually affecting the substance of the choices.
This model therefore leads to a number of unintended consequences:
Slowness: Even to use low-value consultancies really takes a long time if you don’t bypass the system.
Difficulty in giving clear responsibility for the achievement of results: It is difficult for managers to have control over the outcome if you don’t affect team selection.
Difficulty in serving the customer: If the customer’s need is new or special, and you do not have a flexible structure to respond to it, you risk failing to provide a response that is not standardised or improvised.
Difficulty in motivating team members: If you give confidence and tools to your team members, and use some basic tricks, you will achieve much more than just making the right decisions.
Rigidity: This model does not allow you to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities or to adapt the contractual instruments quickly according to the needs of those who work, or it bypasses them without control, putting the organisation and people at risk.
The best solution, in my opinion, would be to entrust a budget up to a certain threshold (e.g. 100K or determined by the project you are working on) to a few managers in the company so that they can select and contract external suppliers, perhaps within an existing framework agreement. These choices could be made within a set of possibilities defined a priori and subject to an effort of efficiency and search for the best cost/quality ratio.
New remedies for old problems
All these problems due to excessive control and centralisation are well known by organisations which try in various ways to solve them (soft skills training, coaching, internal communication, call for ideas, succession and career plans, reorganisations).
However, these activities risk being unrealistic and confusing if they are not supported by consistent operational practices.
Technology and digital ecosystems now provide new ways of overcoming these obstacles without compromising business continuity, but by increasing the empowerment of talented people.
The very nature of the work of the future, which is more creative, entrepreneurial and autonomous, will allow people to manage multiple tasks in parallel, potentially enriching each new collaboration.
On the other hand, teams with the same people working on the same activities can have difficulty producing new ideas and initiatives and lack the same cohesion when managers do not directly choose their collaborators (and are not chosen by each other).
In the future of organisations, team building can be freer and can better exploit the passion and alignment of workers. The centralisation processes of recent years will be softened, thanks to the technological control of processes, returning to provide greater autonomy and meaning in the relationship with the external environment and customers.
The legislator will also have to take note of this evolution in the forms of work by finding new solutions to make the work of the future flourish in the right way.