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Why you should Forget about the Future of Work

I'm spending lots of time at the moment talking about the Future of Work. The number of books devoted to the subject (like Jacob Morgan - The Future of Work, Vlatka Hlupic - The Management Shift, Lynda Gratton - The Shift) are increasing. And this year the CIPD are focusing on the topic at their conference too. Despite all this, and my own participation in the conversation, it’s not an idea I’m particularly fond of.

My key concern is that I’m largely unconvinced about a lot of the suggestions made around flat organisations, managerless workplaces etc. In my view these are actually quite unlikely to ever come about in most businesses. Supporting this I worry about the growing belief in disruption. Fine, if everything around us is disrupting, and of course increasingly it is, then we do need to transform what we do. But disrupting simply for the sake of disruption is unlikely to take us very far. And no set of best practices is guaranteed to be any more successful than the last set of practices have been.

What I would like to see us focusing on is working out what value we need to provide to our organisations, and then tailoring our approaches around this source of value. Best fit rather than best practice.

Performance management is a great example. I’m personally very pleased that so many organisations are abolishing performance management. But I also worry that many more are now considering it because it seems like the right thing to do, rather than really working out the pros and cons for their own organisations.

My next set of interventions on the topic focus on the future of reward, people centred organisation design and the social organization.

The Future of Reward

Many of our HR processes have already been transformed. Recruitment in many of our organisations today bears little resemblance to how this process was undertaken ten years ago. Again I want to be careful not to suggest that all organisations should do the same thing. But the direction of travel is clear - away from post and pray advertising and towards sourcing, employee ambassadors, conversation and communities. Learning has been transformed in a similar way. And now performance management is transforming too. In fact the one area which does not seem to have changed at all is reward.

That situation may have to change now too. Reward is being impacted by a number of legislative requirements - integrating the national living wage, mandatory equal pay reporting and now potential pay differential reporting too. There are also bigger strategic issues to deal with including increasing concern over executive pay and ongoing reports of reward failure (eg Wells Fargo, Alton Towers, school head teachers…). Also see these two recent challenges over reward in HR Magazine (paying bonuses, part two).

People Centred Organisation Design 

Organisation designs are also changing. Peter Cheese at the CIPD recently commented that ‘new organisational models are appearing all the time’. However most if not all of these fit into just four main archetypes which are outlined in my own organisation prioritisation model.

The best example of this point is probably Zappos and their use of holocracy. This model and its  implementation have been well reported on. However most of the reporting suggests this is something new and novel, and contrasts with most of today’s organisations because of its lack of hierarchy. But actually it is really just a specific example of the use of horizontal teams. And it is certainly hierarchical. The only thing which makes it really special is that it focuses on self managing teams, consisting of roles rather than people, called circles.

Zappos made three mistakes in the selection of this model. Firstly they offered their existing bounty payment which they offer at the end of the onboarding process to people who had previously been managers but would no longer be managing people. More people than expected took the payment and left.  Secondly, they really selected the wrong model - Zappos is a people centric organisation but holocracy is a process centric organisation structure. The two simply don’t fit. Zappos were led astray by focusing on the future of work rather than thinking about what would make sense for their own particular organisation.  Thirdly, you should never just implement a standard organisation model. It’s a mistake HR functions sometimes make when they implement the three legged stool HR model rather than thinking through exactly what their own organisation needs.

The Social Organization 

I put all of these ideas on the future of work, reward and people centred design and development together in my next book - The Social Organization - which will be published by Kogan Page next June. 

This, my second book, will describe how organisations which want to be more collaborative can implement this specific intent through tailored organisation and workplace design, transformed HR activities, group facilitation and organisation development, supported by social leadership and social technologies. I also explain how organisations can develop a specific approach which works for their own organisation rather than copying other businesses. 

Speaking on the Future of Reward


I’ll be speaking about some of the different ways in which organisations can respond to current and future challenges, and design transformed reward strategies which works specifically for them, at this session with my friends from beqom and Microsoft on 15th November. You can book to attend this event here.

Speaking on People-Centred Organisation Design

I’ll be speaking about people centred organisation design and development at the new HR Congress in Amsterdam on 29th and 30th November. You can use the coupon code HRC800 for a 50% discount on the Summit ticket including one masterclass of your choice.

The Social Organization 


I'm still after more case studies for my next book so if you're undertaking any interesting social HR activities do get in touch.

Building Better HR Departments (together with Dave Ulrich)

You may be interested in reading an article I co-authored with Dave Ulrich earlier this year. This answers four questions on building a better HR department: Why? Who? what and How? It also provides the alternative to focusing on the future of work, or disrupting for disruption's own sake.

In brief, HR needs to be clear what it needs to achieve (why and to who?) It then needs to work though which activities lead to meeting these objectives (what and how?)

Supporting some of the other points in this Update, Dave and I also refer to the growing importance of the organisation, and within this, to the critical need to focus on relationships. You can read the article here.

Thank you


Thank you for reading my Update. I hope you have enjoyed it and please mail me back if you'd like to know more.


Jon Ingham

Executive Consultant

Strategic Dynamics 


Strategic HCM blog

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Top 25 Most Influential UK HR Thinker - HR Magazine (2011)
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