Changing the way we work

At a macro level there are many factors which are bringing about a prevailing change in the world of business, politics and economics. We have of course had the recent change in the UK government, with the promise of a new politics from Cameron and Clegg. Amongst the challenges the government must face are evaluation of individual and business taxation, and the reduction in the trade deficit. The repercussions of their appraisals and policies will be felt through the business world. Web 2.0, cloud computing, social media and new technologies are all enablers for business and yet how they are accepted and utilised needs support and guidance.

Against such a background there is the imperative for change in the work place. Enforced, imposed change is not effective and not accepted. Staff and teams need to be engaged in the process. Let us consider the areas where change is likely to be particularly notable.

In any business, if savings are to be realised, of course people costs will quickly come under scrutiny. Is it possible to cut costs without cutting people? Reduction in headcount is challenging and demotivating for those retaining their positions. There is the same body of work to complete and fewer people to do it, making the team feel overstretched. There is a double hit in terms of expense when making positions redundant: there is the cost of the redundancy package and, later, subsequent re- hiring and re-training costs when business picks up. The alternatives, where jobs are retained also bring uncomfortable aspects. There are some harsh examples of pay cuts, such as that proposed by JCB, asking its workforce to accept a £50 per week salary reduction, and at the Glasgow based Herald and Times newspaper group, which made all its journalists redundant and asked them to reapply for their jobs on less generous terms in a forced restructuring. I have encountered businesses where base salaries have been reduced by 10 or even 20% and a reward scheme instigated to potentially enable the staff to earn close to their previous salaries. Although this small selection of scenarios reduces the number of redundancies needed, without careful management and communication there could still be loss of confidence and trust among the employees.

It is likely that businesses will need to look at how their employees are organised and how they network internally and externally. The following extract comes in fact from a university’s strategic planning update and could well be typical of the considerations strategists, managers and leaders make as part of the change process:

“… we conducted a survey of administrative activities, which affirmed that many staff work as generalists and need to be knowledgeable and skilled across a variety of functions. We need to identify and restructure those activities that can be more efficiently carried out through larger scale operations without compromising effectiveness. This is a challenging task and will likely result in new processes and work relationships for many.”

The connections between people will be subject to evaluation and change. Technology and social media sites provide the tools and the platforms for making connections, however it is the leveraging of these connections which requires new strategies. Established tools for harnessing the power of relationships to achieve goals are Networlding and Knowledge sharing, which recognise that relationships and co creation are sometimes formed in unusual ways and places, and that there are more productive relationships waiting to be formed than anyone has time for. Simply put, it is based on identifying values, forming primary and secondary circles of like-valued people, and creating opportunities for success.

In the quest to make savings, eliminating waste will be an integral part of the process and indeed it is Lean Principle Number 1. Many organisations could reduce costs by 5 to 10% by phasing out wasteful tasks, processes and procedures such as those listed by Mike King:

• Repetitive communication in multiple formats

• Entry of data or documents in multiple locations/formats

• Dependencies between people waiting for each other

• Tools that make development slower or difficult

• Policies / procedures that exist but are not always useful

• Rework to fix problems caused internally

• Rewrites of software due to unexpected changes

• Failed attempts to solve a problem

With all the change underway, what will be the customer experience with business? Customers gain most impact in their interactions with a business with the front end team – such as the doctors and nurses in a hospital – rather than the back end team – administrators. Businesses should be considering how to rechannel resources to ensure the right balance of externally facing to internally facing employees.

I have already touched upon social media being a tool and enabler. The managers in today’s companies are welcoming as employees members of the Google Generation who have grown up in a world of connectivity and mobility, with the experiences of late night Facebooking and on-the-move Tweeting leading to their expectations of being able to work where and when they want. Traditional office based businesses will need to consider flexible working options to attract and harness the skills of this younger work force.

I welcome your comments and feedback.


Meg E. Infiorati-Fleming, Ph.D. says:

Dear Jean,

Great to see the article and hope this finds you well.

I have a couple of comments.

First, I think we must recognize that we (the human race) have utilized our ability to envision a different world in forced starts throughout history. We’ve done this many times over the past 150 years with dramatic results. For example, with mechanism during the industrial revolution we saw massive job losses. However this, in part, led to another round of individual creativity. The race to space is an example of another idea which spawned entire new industries. And today we see the ‘greening’ initiatives being the producers of new industries. I bring this up because one positive outcome of job loss has been and continues to be movement of the human spirit towards today’s new environmental approaches, a likely economic rebalancing (away from oil for example), and generalized human growth.

Second, regarding your comment on the ‘current’ generation being engaged with varying new tools of work approaches such as social media tools and other technologies is somewhat a part of the problem. What gets lost with the ‘newer (read younger) is better’ approach is the transitional knowledge needed to successfully convert yesterday to today. This ocures because employers look to the younger staff (to save costs as well as gain that new knowledge as part of the changing company), but when we do choose the younger over the older, we lose what was good about yesterday. This often causes us to have to recreate the wheel, so to speak, using today’s tools. In short the value that the older population gave to the company is gone with the slash of the pen as older members of the workforce are not savvy in the extended high tech usage of social media tools and are considered expendable.

Finally, you ask, ” Is it possible to cut costs without cutting people?” The answer is of course yes – but we must first begin to think and act differently. For example, the price of vehicles became affordable to all when the process was mechanized. The sad part is this. If, instead of simply cutting heads, that same company put efforts into the next generation of vehicle, not just the design and styling, it is not hard to imagine that the vehicle we have today would not be the same vehicle. Instead, as with all change, once comfort and profit arrives, we are happy to sit on our product and reap the benefits.

To answer your question with a ‘Yes’, I believe a change in human dynamics must occur. Humans must recognize that there always ‘is a better mousetrap’ but it requires that someone go looking for it. And if one key to economic stability is to retain employees which contribute to local, regional, and national economies, then investment in and planning for the loss of people’s “jobs” (not people) must be a factor in each organization’s equation across every factor of the organization. Every organization must focus on the future of the ‘person’ and their ability to contribute across the spectrum of their lives, not focus on the future of the product alone. This is a fundamental change in organizational management and psychology.

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