12 Keys to the Workplace of the Future

12 Keys to the Workplace of the Future

By Doug Kirkpatrick

Individual effectiveness will ultimately dictate organizational results whether the governance system of choice is holacracy, teleocracy, sociocracy, workplace democracy, ROWE, agile management, horizontal management, self-management, wiki management, radical management, lattice management or any other approach.

The workplace of the future will demand many individual competencies (effective communication, for example), but there are other crucial, and often less visible competencies that will impact one's ability to navigate and perform well in a highly autonomous environment. Here are twelve items for consideration.

1) Initiative. It's virtually impossible to deliver constructive feedback to colleagues or cause positive change in process or strategy without a willingness to take initiative. Taking initiative includes the ability to speak up when necessary. Self-managing leaders have an affirmative obligation to speak up as needed--for example, when observing situations incongruent with the mission, vision or values of the enterprise. Being a good listener is not enough. The need for initiative also applies to taking action. Alexander Hamilton wrote about the need for "energy in the executive" as a requirement for good government. The same logic applies to highly autonomous individuals in organizations.

2) Tolerance for Ambiguity. Organizational autonomy can be messy as colleagues meet new people and learn new ways of working. Negotiating peer agreements that clearly communicate one's purpose, values and activities takes time and effort. Individuals must make wise choices when seeking commitments from others, and in determining the timing and scope of requests (responders may not give poorly conceived requests a second chance). Similarly, individuals must be careful when agreeing to requests for commitments. Autonomous self-managers need to maintain the right to decline a request without fear of pressure. It must be okay to say no. Autonomy is never as easy as dumping a complaint on the boss's desk.

3) Consciousness. It takes real effort to locate the energy needed to pursue one's purpose at work consistently, every day. It's akin to the energy that entrepreneurs use to create entirely new enterprises out of ephemeral ideas. Mindful consciousness gives rise to awareness and presence, and is the source of confidence in one's ability to get things done--even in the face of adversity. It is resilience. It is the ability to focus, to be present in the moment and to execute with clarity and effectiveness. At its best, it is what performers and leaders of all kinds describe as being in the zone--a near-perfect state of focused awareness.

4) Contribution Mindset. Peter Drucker talked about a contribution mindset in his superb little book, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. A half-century later, that mindset applies to everyone who wants to be an effective self-manager in a highly autonomous enterprise. One self-managed enterprise (Morning Star), for example, declares an affirmative obligation for individuals to share relevant information with colleagues as a matter of principle, even when not requested. That's being proactive.

5) Low Power-Distance Sensitivity. Power-distance refers to the act of deferring to individuals presumed to have more power than oneself. In a self-managed environment there is an unofficial hierarchy of credibility, which springs from experience, trust, communication, and other factors. That is not the same thing as a hierarchy of power based on command authority. Effective self-managers will find ways to express themselves to anyone in the organization, and will listen to anyone and everyone who wishes to speak with them. To avoid communication with a colleague based on presumed status is to cut off the lifeblood of an organization: the flow of information.

6) Natural Leadership. In a highly autonomous environment, relationships, as well as many activities, are purely voluntary. In purely self-managed companies, no one even has the authority to direct the activities of others. Leadership is exercised through communication, respect, influence, persuasion and trust. Natural leadership is earned over time, and is not an artifact of position or title. The evidence of true, natural leadership is the presence of followers.

7) Connectivity. Effective communication will be Always-On/Always-Near. Autonomous leaders and followers will receive and respond to communication requests whenever possible. The presence of Always-On/Always-Near communication is a salient indicator of a robust self-organizing network in action. Ken Thompson, author of Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Most Successful Designs, describes this competency as driving a sense of collective ownership coupled with an effective 24x7 early warning system for teams.

8) Noncognitive Skills. Organizational leaders of the future can learn important lessons from children. In Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, the author persuasively describes the dispositive power of noncognitive skills. Describing what matters most in a child's development, he refers to evidence of the importance of noncognitive, character-related skills, which include grit and curiosity. There will be off days. Resilience matters.

9) Nurturing Networks. The organization of the future will naturally be a network of networks (in the parlance of Ken Everett, author of Designing the Networked Organization: N2N). Every autonomous leader will nurture and engage with a primary immersive network, nested within or connected with a larger network of networks. Resources and information will flow freely according to demand. Autonomous leaders will operate with agility and fluidity throughout the entire network of networks because they will have no other way to get things done.

10) Nurturing the Learning Organization. Peter Senge pioneered the idea of the learning organization. Highly autonomous leaders will nurture and sustain the concepts and practices of learning organizations for the benefit of stakeholders. In self-managed enterprises, everyone will be free to develop core competencies in strategy, financial literacy, process management, leadership, teamwork, communication, hiring, negotiation or any other management discipline.

11) Capitalizing on the Power of Weak Ties. In the workplace of the future, not everyone will be lucky enough to work in a Dunbar-limited workplace of 150 colleagues or fewer. Even in those workplaces, not everyone will be a friend. Many relationships may be evanescent. But the leaders of the future will need to know the people with whom they work well enough to successfully broadcast clear, well-received low-energy messages that keep initiatives on track without resorting to undue pressure or coercion.

12) Locus of Control. Psychologists refer to an individual's internal or external locus of control. A person with an internal locus of control takes personal responsibility for his or her own circumstances. An individual with an external locus of control believes that his or her life is buffeted by external forces and blames fate (or other people) for failures large and small. A preponderance of blaming behavior is a serious performance obstacle. Effective self-managers will have an internal locus of control.

If this inventory of items is anywhere close to being on target, then the job of visionary future leaders in a hyperconnected world will be to embed the fundamentals of effective, autonomous self-management into every people process: recruitment, selection, hiring, orientation, onboarding, curriculum design, coaching, performance management, succession planning, career transition, conflict management, leadership development, compensation and all the rest.

Much work lies ahead.

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About the Author

Doug Kirkpatrick

Doug Kirkpatrick is the author of Amazon best seller BEYOND EMPOWERMENT: THE AGE OF THE SELF-MANAGED ORGANIZATION and joined Forbes Books in 2017 to write about the future of work. He is an organizational change consultant, TEDx and keynote speaker, executive coach, writer and educator. Doug is also a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®) with the…

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    Marcus Cake

    Much work does lie ahead, but it can be achieved much faster that you might expect.

    Our underlying management technologies are the same as those underlying all of society. They are fragmented and as a result the pieces need to be integrated. Every organisational and society structure is customised. However, it is more than possible for this complexity to be reduced to a simple premise. The complexity of physics for example is reduced to e=mc2. The complexity of society, organisation (and management processes incorporating your 12 point inventory) can also be reduced to the simplicity of things = books = sectors = countries = global village. We simply take the model of things into books which are shared demonstrated by social networks and apply that to other sectors of society. This applies to health ( wisdom.to/health), education (wisdom.to/education) and countries (wisdom.to/usa). It also applies to management (wisdom.to/management).

    Management/organisation Wisdom (wisdom.to/management) exchanges all 6 elements of wisdom between directors (direct), managers (review and manage) and executives (execute) within an organisation, across industries and around the world in real-time via mobile devices by applying the Network Society development model.

    Simply, every ‘thing’ in an organisation has a virtual representation in a society-wide, blockchainified, massively scalable databases accessible to everyone. It comes ‘Over the Top’ of fragmented systems to reveal, index and organisation every ‘thing’ in a social network type structure. This Wisdom Network can then organise and focus the wisdom of crowds around every ‘thing’ in society, everywhere for everyone via mobile devices. All the conventional tool of collaboration can be provided to every thing. It means that one network bring everyone and every tool to every thing, rather than bringing people to things across fragmented and isolated systems.

    The result is distributed real-time leadership, governance, management and complete transparency across the organisation (that only a social network structure could provide). The 12 point inventory can be achieved or crowd created much faster with one ‘Over the Top’ network, rather than asking people to navigate fragmented and centralised technologies of the Industrial Economy.

    It is quite possible that Management Wisdom could be a generic SaaS platform, which simply links to things across an organisation and adds wisdom. Alternatively, it could also be a download, just like wordpress.

    Management wisdom would be part of a mesh of networks (structured using the same principles) that span health, education, countries and the global village. This could all happen very fast.

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      Marcus Cake

      Just thought I’d add an appendix to my previous comment. A picture is worth a thousand words! A screenshot of Management Wisdom shows how it comes ‘Over The Top’ of an organisation and reveals every ‘thing’ and makes them available for the crowd to focus the wisdom and effort of crowds on outcomes. Things in Management Wisdom can be crowd created, user generated or formally exported from legacy systems.

      I thought this may provide another perspective of self=management using a social network structure and bring together your 12 inventory items in one place.

      Screenshot at www.wisdom.to/organisation#screenshot

      This is really just an example given that an organisation’s things may span 2 screens ... not just the one provided. The screenshot does provide an insight into how wisdom (data, information, community, collaboration, knowledge, wisdom) can all be applied to any ‘thing’ in an organisation.

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      Doug Kirkpatrick

      Excellent comment, Marcus. It is undoubtedly true that dynamic organizational self-management can be amplified and accelerated through technology like the blockchainified and massively scalable, accessible databases you describe.  Thanks for sharing.

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    What do you people think of the ‘Wobbly shop’ or ‘factory committee’ model? As in, federated delegative structures of associations, according to place/function, but with options of rotation between different associations in coordination with others?