Evolution of Work

(First published on my original site amydouglascoaching.com January 2015). 

Work has evolved. Now what? Do you know how to thrive here?

Creating and experiencing next level work: that's our opportunity. That's my goal.


So where are we now? What is the new world of work? An illustrator colleague of mine created the attached image to help explore this. We've moved from the mechanistic industrial era of tools, factories, and vast income inequality, through the 1950s/60s of relative properity. There, single family incomes with working fathers were bolstered by the proliferation of the office and early hierarchical office management practices. Through to the 1980s and the emergence of women in the workplace (in a big way) and communicative technology tools. Then came the dot com era of more flexible work, personalized technology designed for us, and growth coming from creative and technology industries.


The surprise, though, is that while organizational structures and demographics in the workplace (gender, race and otherwise) have changed over time, the underlying management assumptions, processes, and design structures governing the flow of knowledge and access to power, have maintained parts of all the systems that came before. Remnants of the mechanistic industrial era where employees were treated as appendages to machines. Elements of the early management era that relied heavily on controlling hierarchical structures with concentrated power and top down decision making. Work has evolved, but systems and assumptions from days gone by persist. When we resist replacing what no longer works, we find pain points (decreased engagement, productivity drops, increased turnover, decreased innovation and market success). Today, we are relatively safe. Or we no longer expect to be. It's the organizational equivalent of Carpe Diem.


We are at a critical turning point. Evidence that we've outgrown historical work systems is everywhere. The psychological contract of work has evolved and both employer and employee expect different things. Purpose, meaning and development become key drivers of work (instead of security and predictability). Diversity becomes a resource to be leveraged for the kind of creativity and innovation required to solve modern day problems and generate growth. But diversity produces a challenge when we're used to mechanistic, controlled environments with predictable inputs.


Expectations of work have evolved as multiple generations come together with different mental models, training, and experience in a context of speed, competition and interconnectedness. Employee engagement is at a record low worldwide. Trust has eroded. All this makes coming together in change challenging. Our issues may be familiar but our sense of how to approach them has changed. What used to work no longer does. That's the exciting part. We are now at a place of transformative creative opportunity for leaders at every level.


This is a full ecosystem evolution. Everyone must shift their thinking and behaviour to create what comes ahead, own the new system and ultimately, get more out of it. There is a lot of work to be done. It all starts with having more honest conversations about what works and what doesn't - from a truly equal and non-judgmental perspective. Good ideas come from anywhere. Possibilities are opening up. Career paths are broadening. There is no 'one best way' anymore. There are many. 


So what's ahead? 


Co-created, flatter organizational ecosystems created by all those within them. Cultures that mine the differences in groups to innovate at every level. Candid conversations that are more honest - about expectations and length of time you will work somewhere - and for what purpose or goals. Work that honours the individual and the organization. Next level leadership is balanced, creative, and dynamic.


Dr. Marla Gottschalk has helped lead the conversation on the changes that have taken place at work - outlining ways to meet the changes.  It's time to start doing things differently.


This is the biological evolutionary equivalent of the moment man stood fully upright. It's time to stand up for the work we want. To create it. To own it. To integrate practical needs with deeper psychological needs,  rational and emotional; to be more than we have before at work and in life. This is big. Work is different. It's full of opportunity. Stand up, walk forward, and do something about it.