Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In the Future Your Employees Will Not Be Your Employees

By Holger Reisinger

Your future employees are most likely to be freelancers with specialist skills traveling from project to project. They will challenge your organization and traditional thinking. But they will also make you more productive and competitive. 

Frequent readers of this blog may have noticed my keen interest in how new technology, changes in demography, and the mindset of future generations will change the way we work and how our companies must adapt to these changes.

Since the employees are the core of most companies, they are always at the center of my rants. However, there is one important trend which seriously messes with that point of view. According to several surveys, most of the people working for us in the future will not be our employees at all. They will be self-employed or work for someone else and will only temporarily happen to be working for us.

The HR prophets call them “the extended workforce,” and they are part of an ever-expanding network of freelancers, consultants, outsourcing partners, vendors, and other types of nontraditional workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of temporary employees in the U.S. rose by 29 percent between 2009 and 2012. A survey of the 200 largest companies found that temporary workers represented, on average, 22 percent of their workforce, and that percentage is growing. A recent study conducted by the software company, Intuit, shows that more than 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelancers by 2020. That’s more than 60 million people.

Technology leads the way

We’ve always had freelancers and some level of outsourcing. But there are several reasons why there will be an explosion in the numbers of this type of worker in the coming years.

First of all, new technology makes it possible for people to work from anywhere. And a significant number of people are determined to utilize this facility to live exactly the lives they choose to live. Working from home or where their favorite surf, vista, climate, or whatever they crave is, counts for much more than the security of a steady job.

The super workers of the future are looking for the toughest challenges, not a steady job. They want to be free to switch from project to project and to solve their work tasks with whomever they prefer in the gigantic, worldwide web of freelance specialists, which is held together by social media.

Companies are also pushing talent into the extended workforce. Most companies are actually not very good at keeping employees happy with new, challenging projects or work. In a recent Accenture survey of 1,088 U.S. workers, only 34 percent of respondents reported feeling that they could easily move to other roles or jobs in their organization where their skills would best be utilized.

Good news for you

The extended workforce is very good news to companies all over the world. As freelancers are free to choose whom they want to work for and which projects they want to take on, they are quite likely to be happier and therefore, also more productive than your average employees.

At the same time, the flexibility for you is tremendous. Without much ado, you can assemble world-class top specialists for any job you need done. They will be masters at collaboration and will bring in additional skills when needed. And when your problem is solved, you no longer need to pay them for their services, nor will you have the burden of finding new projects challenging enough to keep them happy until the next time you need their special skills.

Top people and high flexibility is the recipe for success, so unsurprisingly there are numerous studies verifying that using an extended workforce is making companies more competitive. In one study, the majority of executives surveyed (55 percent) described the contingent workforce as highly valuable for their business. When Manpower surveyed 41,000 employers in 35 countries, 34 percent of the respondents said that non-permanent members of an organization’s workforce (including outsourced workers and consultants) were an important element of their organization’s workforce strategy.

At the same time, access to these new super employees is becoming radically easier. New online platforms are popping up where you can find exactly the skills you need. Online independent contractor talent platforms such as Elance, oDesk and TopCoder—is a rapidly growing market, with more than one million workers having earned one to two billion dollars over the past ten years in this industry.

You must get your own house in order

So, where’s the catch? Well, with the extended workforce and the contact points in place, thousands of experts are just waiting for you to call. But it will require something from your own organization. First of all, your organization probably needs to introduce a completely new, and more open, collaborative work style to embrace specialists who are not part of your own organization. You must start partnering up with networks of specialists with skills you may need some time later. And you must ensure that your own organization has the software and collaboration tools needed to stay in touch with the knowledge nomads of the new economy.

If you get that right, you are good to go. Have fun with your 60 million new (almost) employees. I’m sure you are going to accomplish great things together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is Your Company Ready for the Me, Me, Me Generation?

By Holger Reisinger

In a few years, the millennial generation will constitute the majority of all employees. The Ms are more skilled, more “networked,” and more self-sufficient than any generation we have ever seen. Here’s how you prepare your company for the Me, Me, Me generation.

With the baby boomers retiring, one of the largest generations in history will be replaced by a smaller generation with a mindset completely shaped by the Internet, social media, and the financial crisis.

In the U.S. alone, 78 million baby boomers will be replaced by only 45 million Millennials, leading to a crushing deficit of talent, skilled managers, and top performers.

In 2020, Generation M will represent some 44 percent of the U.S. workforce, and in 2025, they will constitute a whopping 75 percent. The same goes for most of the rest of the western world. So, it’s time to adapt to their new ways of working. Here’s my take on how you can become the Millennials’ preferred employer and beat the competition in the hunt for top talent:

  1. Create a compelling company cultureFirst of all, your will not have an everlasting relationship with the Millennials. They change jobs often and will switch in and out of jobs, freelance work, and off periods, spending time on themselves. They are driven toward interesting cultures. Cool people want to work with other cool people. So, you should create an engaging and cool workplace with a strong and compelling company culture to stay on top. They want to be in a community where they are understood, included, accepted, and respected. Think of Google and Twitter and you are getting closer.
  2. Create powerful networksThe Millennials are formidable networkers. And with the rise of digital social networks, they can change these networks into very powerful change agents. Therefore, they will seek networks, not workplaces. The future belongs to the companies that think outward, building strong networks, not only in the industry but across industries, disciplines, borders - you name it. In the future you will build your business through networking, recruit through networking, sell through networking, etc.

  3. Build a new reward systemGrowing up with videogames and being constantly “on,” the Millennials are used to instant gratification in all elements of life. When they need or want something, they react spontaneously and require an instant response. In the future you must secure constant feedback and rewards to make your employees desire to strive. The smartest companies will turn their work processes into “games,” where employees will be able to reward themselves and each other for a job well done.
  4. Create a “me, me, me” workspaceThe Me generation will require a “me” workplace. The opportunity to pick and choose will be important. All work must be changed into projects where employees can join the ones they want to work on. The old school cubicle must also go, leaving room for more personalized workspace, should they choose to go to work instead of working from somewhere else. And you can throw the employee handbook out – they will not read it anyway.

  5. Quit the patriarchal management style
    Finally, the Millennials will not follow traditional leaders. Instead they will seek inspirational managers that help them to navigate rather than to direct in a predefined way. Being used to ever-changing networks and solving challenges in network groups, they will not respond well to traditional hierarchies, but will prefer informal dialogue built on mutual respect. 

Overwhelmed? Don’t be, because I have some good news. If you ensure secure, constant dialogue, the Millennials will help you build this perfect workplace themselves. Because that’s what they do: they set their hearts on something, find the people that can help them anywhere in the world, and create wonderful things.

All you need to do is say goodbye to your old school thinking and enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Are Your Ideas Nine (Yes, Nine!) Times Better Than Your Colleagues?

By Holger Reisinger

Today, we have the tools to make our employees more productive and work fewer hours at the same time. It’s just that we don’t use them, and now the psychologists know why. We simply have to try nine times harder!

As frequent readers of this blog have probably already figured out, I believe that the way we work will change dramatically in the next few years. It will be a wonderful future, I promise you.
Modern technology and new ingenious ways of working, managing, and collaborating will help us all make the most of who we are. Most importantly, we will all become more productive. Hence, we can all work fewer hours (unless, of course, we choose to invest all that extra time on work as well). 
Innovation will also soar. New online collaboration tools will make it possible to crowdsource ideas with thousands of like-minded people all over the world. And as new technology will free us from any physical constraints, we can choose freely where we want to be when we work. Most people, I guess, will choose to stay at home close to their kids. But you could choose to bring your family to Hawaii or the Maldives - if that suits you better.

There’s only one tiny challenge

It’s all in the making. The technology is there, and companies and societies will soon follow with the necessary infrastructure and job types to help this new, powerful revolution proceed. There’s only one tiny challenge left to overcome.

That’s ourselves…

Changing habits and adapting to new lifestyles is not exactly the core competency of the human race. To be more precise: we suck at it! In recent years psychologists and economists have spent quite some time figuring out why. And they have come up with a surprising answer: we hate losing the old stuff. We already have so much of it that we are blind to the grazing pastures of the new, better stuff waiting for us, just ahead.

It’s called the endowment effect. And researchers from Harvard University have even managed to put a number on it. In order for a behavioural change to be adopted, the value of it must outweigh the status quo by a factor of nine. New ideas have to be nine times more compelling than the old ones to make us embrace the changes.

Up to now, the economists have spent most of their time studying the endowment effect.  Although it’s by no means logical, most people would actually demand a considerably higher price for a product they already own than they would be prepared to pay for the same product. One famous study showed that, on average, randomly assigned owners of a mug required significantly more money to sell their possession (around $7.00) than randomly assigned buyers were willing to pay to acquire it (around $3.00).

Adapt… or lose

The same goes for introducing new IT systems or changing the way we work. Every time we introduce something new – and expect people to embrace it – managers must be able to convince the rest of us that this new idea is at least nine times better than the old one.

In my opinion, it’s time for the larger companies, especially in the western world, to start looking the nine times effect straight in the eyes. Despite the fact that the financial crisis is still nipping at our heels, we must invest more in the skills and the mindset of our employees to embrace new technologies that will liberate our workforce to become more productive, creative, and happy. Otherwise, we will never be able to compete with the booming low-wage economies. We will continue to haemorrhage our best people, who crave this mindset and flexible work environment, to a freelance life or smaller companies who provide these work conditions. And, we will have a tough time drawing in the next generation of multi-tasking, highly mobile workers, who take the new flexible workplace for granted.

Sounds a little overwhelming? Then I have to try harder to explain myself. Nine times harder, to be precise!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Meet Generation M – Your Future Employees!

By Holger Reisinger

The baby boomers are retiring, and the Millennial Generation is taking over. Here’s the brief wiki on the generation that will soon take over the (corporate) world. That is, if they want to…

If you don’t like receptions, then you’re in for some extraordinarily tough times in the next couple of years.

The reason? Well, the baby boomer generation is retiring, and considering their remarkable accomplishments, they certainly deserve a cheer and – of course – a decent glass of chardonnay and some nice hors d’oeuvres.

While these receptions mark the end of the working life of the largest generation ever to set foot on the face of the earth, they also mark a very interesting beginning. Because the exit of the baby boomers also marks the entry of a new generation which is very different than anything we have ever experienced before. And they will change our perception of working more than the very successful 60s generation ever managed to do.

It’s time to say hello to the M (Millennial) generation. Here’s a short intro to the generation about to inherit the (corporate) world.

The “Me, Me, Me” generation

The M-generation was born sometime between the early 1980s and the year 2000 and is somehow a more refined version of the generations before them. Growing up in wealth and security and – more importantly - with the Internet, has given them completely different norms and values than their parents and grandparents.

Scientific studies of high school and freshmen students conducted since 1966 show that the Millennials consider wealth a very important attribute (45 percent for Baby Boomers and 75 percent for Millennials), don’t think it’s important to keep abreast of political affairs (50 percent for Baby Boomers and 35 percent for Millennials), and do not require a “meaningful philosophy of life” (73 percent for Boomers and 45 percent for Millennials).

Enter the “Me, Me, Me generation,” as TIME magazine teasingly designated them.

The M-generation have been told that they are special from the very beginning. But with the rise of social media, the Millennials have a platform for self-expression never seen before. And they embrace it vigorously, finding their position in life while the rest of us are watching. The M-generation is less concerned with privacy than any generation we have ever witnessed.

While the M-generation may seem very obsessed with themselves, they have good reason to be so. Living their life on social media, most Millennials have grown gigantic networks by the time they hit the labor market. Here, they shape new ideas and solve any challenge at hand. They do it alone – but with the backup of their ever-expanding global network. However, being constantly exposed to new ideas, new people, and a huge diversity of interests, nationalities, and needs, staying true to themselves becomes more important than ever. They simply need to know who they are; if not, they go crazy trying to cope with the immensity of information in their networks.

Meaningful Moments that Matters to Me

However, Millennials also love the connectivity in its own right. And over time, connectivity becomes meaningful in itself. It’s the relationship – not hierarchies or the content of the conversations – that matter. The Millennials will pick and choose whoever and whatever might catch their interest. That’s why some researchers call them the “Meaningful Moments that Matter to Me” generation (as a Harvard blogger wrote with a flair for the poetic in 2009). And that makes them hard for companies to handle.

On top of that, most of the Millennials may not be that interested in working for anyone but themselves. The first Millennials hit the labor market at the beginning of the financial crisis, forcing them to walk the paths of non-traditional employment and education. With no job security, this generation has completely different notions of what “work” really is. And that has, unsurprisingly, also prevented them from just “falling in” with the way most companies traditionally define a job, a career, and “workplace loyalty.”

Changes jobs all the time

Recent studies from Australia show that the Millennials have an annual job turnover rate of 40 percent, with two-thirds of Generation M workers leaving each job they hold within two years. And recent research suggests that 40 percent of all Millennials will be freelancers before the year 2020. The era of the company gold watches for long and faithful service is over.

So here you have your super-employees of the future: self-sufficient, super-connected “Me, Me, Me” types with immense networks where everyone helps each other solve all challenges. The good news is that they will probably be the best employees you will ever have. They are smart, and they constitute the first generation ever truly capable of working in groups.

But… they are also really hard to please. And they don’t take “no” for an answer, not even from a boss. So you need to hurry and find out what makes them happy. The baby boomers are leaving, and the next generation (called the Z generation) are waiting in line to get their share of the labor market. And they are not just connected – they are completely wired in.

Get the Millennials right – and you are ready for the next revolution to come. Have fun with it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Urbanization Will Stop

By Holger Reisinger

Urbanization is killing rural villages all over the world. And the new mega-cities are destroying the environment and quality of life. I have an idea how to make this development stop – by creating the perfect community of the future.

It’s the end of civilization as we know it. And it’s one of the largest challenges for most countries in the world.

Urbanization is changing the demographics and economies all over the world. People move to the major cities, leaving the rural areas empty without any prospects for the future. Village houses are unsellable, and rural communities slowly die out, leaving behind only the oldsters and the outcasts. At the same time, prices for housing are exploding in the cities, forcing people to work longer and longer hours in order to make a decent living.

This development is a major challenge for governments all over the world. The major cities are succumbing to the pollution, congestion, and the social tensions linked to rapid urban development. While the authorities struggle to build the expensive infrastructure necessary for dealing with the pollution, sanitation, and transportation requirements linked to urbanization, the cost of running the rural areas also gets relatively higher, because all the taxpayers travel to the cities leaving the welfare recipients in their wake.

Stress is killing our quality of life

The experts all agree. The megacities are coming, and they are here to stay. But I’m not so sure that the experts are completely correct. Allow me to tell you why.

New ways of working and the harshness of mega-city life will make people return to the open skies and the quiet life of the countryside again. In the future, modern technology will allow them to do that without compromising their jobs.

According to a recent survey by ComPsych, 66 percent of workers are living with sustained, high stress levels. At the same time “work-related stress” is now the primary reason why top performing employees in the U.S. are contemplating leaving their organizations, according to a report by the consulting firm, Towers Watson & Co.

Many of the inhabitants of the new megacities would love to quit the rat race to become rural dwellers again. They’re not living in the city because they want to – they’re there because they have to be.

New ways of working will allow them to do exactly that. With new technology, you can manage your job from anywhere. Broadband access, unified communication, video conferencing, and new types of collaboration platforms will give you online access to your colleagues and all the company’s resources, making you productive and able to create value anywhere in the world.

With cheap housing, open spaces, and a low-pace comfortable lifestyle, the old rural areas will be an attractive place for many knowledge workers to start a new, better life. And, I believe they will start doing so in huge numbers within a few years. That is, if we let them.

We can stop urbanization and build something better

We must help the next wave of new rural knowledge workers a little along the way, in the same way that the U.S. government inspired thousands of pioneers to conquer the wild west back in the old days. Then, the rest will follow, benefitting societies, the environment, and the quality of life around the world.

While the avant-garde of the modern knowledge networkers are ready to work from a distance, traditional thinking in most companies and rural communities is not yet ready to accommodate their wishes. Most importantly, the idea of working from a distance is not widespread enough. While working from a distance is now considered somewhat acceptable within a few job types, like call centers, etc., most employers are still a long way from taking other job types out of their conventional settings.

Today, modern software makes it possible to manage, create, and produce most products. You can even handle the telephone switchboard, purchasing, and meetings online. The technology to do so is there. All we have to do is kill the notion that you have to be in the same building as your manager to work.

And then, we need to secure powerful internet connections and infrastructure in rural areas to accommodate the next wave of (knowledge) settlers.

Let’s try it out!

So here’s a wonderful idea for any enterprising politician eager to stop urbanization and rebuild the pride and economy of his or her rural area. Why not invest in making a super-creative, hyper-connected local community and see how it will draw talent from nearby major cities? All it takes is a progressive local community, willing to provide great schools, cheap houses, and perhaps a few cultural events; somewhere calm, scenic, and remote. Then, we can add a few technology companies to provide the IT-infrastructure and the hardware and software needed to hyper-connect the citizens. And finally, we add a number of big city companies ready to take a chance with the first vacant positions outside the traditional working-from-home jobs for the new rural elite to apply for.

On behalf of Jabra, I hereby promise all citizens taking part in the experiment a free, state-of-the-art Jabra headset to go with their UC solution, making them accessible anywhere, at any time (keeping their managers comfortable even if they are hundreds of miles away).

It may sound like an impossible dream, but unlike the time when visionaries dreamt of flying like a bird or going to the moon, we actually already have the technology to build this dream. And I can assure you, that if municipalities, companies, and the IT-giants get together and dare to try, we will build a nice, thriving community with lots of happy, stress-free taxpayers in a hurry. Soon, any rural town will be eager to follow. And the world will have changed for good.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Exit “Knowledge Worker”; Welcome “Knowledge Networker”

By Holger Reisinger

The era of the knowledge worker is over. Get ready for the new breed of super employees who believe that sharing and connecting is better than tremendous amounts of personal knowledge. Here comes the “knowledge networker.”

Just the other day I saw the most hilarious video of kids trying to explain what their parents do for a living. Never having set foot in a modern workplace, the kids clearly struggled imagining what strange tasks classical knowledge workers are actually performing behind our desks. And, honestly, I personally also struggle to understand when some of my engineering and IT friends start explaining what keeps them busy all day.

I found the clip so amusing that I couldn’t help thinking about how work has changed in the past few decades – and what it will look like in, say, 20 years.

The new breed of knowledge networkers

I guess we can all easily agree that working with knowledge is here to stay. Knowledge is the core of virtually all trades today. However, inspired by, among others, the Kotter Institute’s Ken Perlman, I also believe that a new breed of knowledge workers is on the rise. While the knowledge worker of the present is capable of collecting, refining, and thereby developing new knowledge, the knowledge worker of the future will be capable of much more than this.

The super employees of the future are interlinked in immense knowledge networks where all kinds of challenges are solved, ideas float freely, and people of all backgrounds come together to share their thoughts. These networks will be organic and ever-expanding, based on a mutual understanding that sharing knowledge and expertise will benefit everyone.

Being part of this super network takes new skills. These new knowledge networkers are constantly “connected,” both physically and virtually, sharing their own expertise and knowledge, introducing people to each other, and building new knowledge by combining data from many sources – both known and unknown via the many links in their network. The network is the blood in their lifelines – not the knowledge itself.

Sure, the new knowledge networkers know a lot of stuff. But, more importantly, they also know that they do not know everything. That’s why they are closely attached to a tremendous number of people, and have many different information sources and favors everywhere in their ever-expanding network. To them, sharing and connecting is the new currency.

The new knowledge networker is not really concerned about output, but is exceptionally interested in outcome. In the future it matters less what you can personally provide to the solution. It’s the total outcome you are capable of producing by way of your network that’s important. Crowd sourcing will be the standard – also between competing companies. We already see the frontrunners of this movement today. Just recently, a group only connected on the internet managed to crowd source the complete design for a car in just one year – a task taking most car companies up to ten years.

Data-driven evolution

It’s the current explosion in data that is driving the birth of the new knowledge networker. In 2013 alone, humans generated more data than in the previous 5,000 years combined. Most companies will suffocate from information, and in a few years, not even big companies will be able to fund enough people to track all the knowledge it needs to keep up with the speed of development in their industry.

They have to take in experts from all over the world and utilize their knowledge to be able to compete.
The prize for companies tapping into these services will be complete openness and access to the company’s own knowledge. You have to give something in return. Offices will more or less be a thing of the past. With your knowledge base spread all over the world, you might as well stay at home or meet with the parts of your network that you need to in order to solve today’s tasks in virtual meeting rooms.

As a consequence, the new knowledge networker will completely break down any borders between their work and their personal lives. Work will be done when we are in demand, and the rest of the time we will link with new people, grooming our network, making new acquaintances, and connecting with the acquaintances of our acquaintances, thereby constantly expanding our network.

If my predictions about the future are right, it will be rather easy to anticipate what the kids of the future will say when asked about their knowledge networker parents’ workplace. They will simply say: “Mom and Dad are in our living room networking!”