If you have watched the movie Phir Hera Pheri, you may recall a scene by the swimming pool. Baburao is taking a bath beside the pool and drawing out water using a bucket tied with rope. Baburao used to live in a small house that had a well on the premises, and he used to draw water from well using the same technique. Well, it did not change despite having a big swimming pool in his new mansion.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, people have started working from home, doing things remotely, and using technology extensively. But I would argue, this is far from the future of work as some people are claiming. Mostly the crisis has only proven that working from home and hence lesser travel is feasible.
You must treat this crisis only as an extra push for starting your expansive thinking on this matter. There is little to no point in trying to maximize it. One critical step you must take is to take a cue and consider what is possible.
Reactions do not bring meaningful change
Reactions are often instinctive, whereas responses are thoughtful.
Think about it, although meetings have gone digital, they are no different from physical sessions. Earlier people would run for a meeting room to room; now, they are running from zoom to zoom.
Complaining channels have changed from physically in stores to over the phone through contact centers, from website forms to social media channels. And yet companies are handling them just the same way.
Reactions are often instinctive, whereas responses are thoughtful.
For many organizations, decision making is still a centralized function and happens through some sort of red (or shades of red) tape.
Adapting your business for working from home and others does not change your business for your customers. If you were to meet them, you would still have to do it at some point in time. If there is some sort of physicality in your product or service is involved, you cannot get away with that. If your product needs touch-smell-feel, that is not changing either. Fundamentally, using technology and tools is not bringing any radical changes to your value proposition.
Unless the work does not change in principle, the future of work cannot become a reality. Your operations and internal processes can and must keep adapting with time. But all of these are incremental changes, how about a step-change?
Covid-19 did not accelerate the future, it just brought forward a tiny portion of it in the form of some technological changes, and thus skewed it.
Unless the work does not change in principle, the future of work cannot become a reality.
What is real advancement?
I remember when I was consulting with one of the Telcos, and they asked for help in dealing with an interesting problem. They wanted to expand the customer support team. The premise was like this: our current base of X customers raises Y% complaints every month. We are working on to increase that customer base by 2x, so we anticipate 2y% customer complaints. Therefore we need to augment teams and use technology tools to support that demand.
Did you notice a fundamental flaw in this thinking?
When your customers complain, and if they start using website-forms or social media instead of phones, it does not mean advancement. Complaints must go down, and you must eliminate root-causes. That would be a real advancement.
For company meetings, can you reduce the use of PowerPoint? Can you minimize meeting-time and attendees per session? Or better perhaps, can you do away with them altogether? That would be a real advancement.
If you still see too many emails floating around, going back and forth, asking for approvals, perhaps you need decentralized decision-making ability and autonomous teams. How about developing teams that can always operate with minimal intervention? Of course, they must able to access senior management in the time of need quickly. That indeed would be a real advancement.
Upgrade your business in such a way that you stop repeating mistakes; efficient mistakes are not any better!
Some key ideas to consider
Technology is only “how” part of the equation, and automation without innovation is pretty much useless. So, instead of speculating about the future of work, here are a few ideas I want you to consider.
Build distributed leadership: Volatility and uncertainties are increasingly becoming routine in business environments, and for any business, decision-making capabilities often form a bottleneck. Consider democratizing the decision-making process at the cross-functional level and implement distributed leadership. How about creating a committee of decision-makers, where approval by minimum quorum is acceptable; blockchain uses the same logic for approving any transaction autonomously. It will reduce or eliminate bottlenecks and will improve agility significantly. Single point command and control structures are a thing of the past now.
Create a committee of decision-makers, where approval by minimum quorum is acceptable.
Project-based teams: When working with LG Electronics, I was introduced to the concept of TDR, i.e., Tear-Down-Reengineering projects. The idea was to create a small cross-functional team to solve a single problem with a specific budget, timeline, and adequate autonomy. It was equivalent to a homegrown and incubated startup. Outcomes from TDR projects were often scaled across different products, business units, and factories across different geographies. This approach maximized focus and minimized distractions where possible. More importantly, it helped in innovating and improving output quality and business agility by many notches. Now is the best time to make this working model reality on a full scale.
Experiment with project focussed modular teams. It is equivalent to a homegrown and incubated startup.
Shifting processes left and right: Traditional business models and structures center around single-stream processes, which they manage and execute inhouse. It not only creates bottlenecks and increases dependencies but also has an adaptability problem with changing customer demands. Shifting processes to the right by giving choices and controls in the customers’ hands is going to be the key to futuristic businesses. At the same time, shifting some processes to the left in the suppliers’ hands will also help in decentralizing risks. Now, if you do both things together, you will end up with a platform business model, where your business will manage the value chain and evolve continuously by using the intelligence gathered. Doing this will also enable organizations to restructure business models almost on the fly.
Shifting processes on either side can enable organizations to restructure business models almost on the fly.
Indeed, these ideas are not exhaustive, and futuristic businesses need many more such. However, these are relatively easier to initiate in the current environment and are executable earlier.
The point is
What you see right now is not the future of work. But it is undoubtedly a perfect trigger to change several things at once.
In the swimming pool scene of Phir Hera Pheri, Shyam tried to encourage Baburav for using the pool effectively by getting rid of rope and directly take water with his bucket. And, you would agree that despite being better than the earlier option, it was not the best one. Not until Raju told Baburao that he must jump into the pool to utilize it best, and then pushed him.
Adapt to the current working requirements with all the grace, but make no mistake; this is not the future of work. It is just the tip of the iceberg, call it a stimulus if you will.
To bring in the real future of work, you must innovate your business model at its core. You must upgrade your business in such a way that you stop repeating mistakes; efficient mistakes are not any better!
The good part is, no one has seen how the future of work looks; it is entirely a greenfield area. You can bring in transformative changes and become a business of the future, and show others what it is like to be the one.
Think seriously about the renovation of your business, the business model, sustainable approaches, and the company culture with continuous transformation mentality; then leap ahead in the real future of work!
Transformative changes are necessary to become a business of the future!