May 21, 2020

Digital Leadership Development

Will There Be No Jobs in the Future of Work?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become much more selective about what email newsletters I subscribe to these days (which, btw, is why I’m so honored that you consider this one worthy!). 

I don’t sign up for many new ones, but one of my recent additions is called Brave New Work by The Ready. (As an aside, Brave New Work is a case study on how a consulting company should do an email newsletter!)

As you might surmise by the name, the newsletter addresses all facets of the Future of Work and how organizations can transform themselves for the future.

In one of the recent issues, they examined the future of jobs (not work) in light of the COVID-19 induced changes. In that examination, they shared a provocative piece published in Medium by Hayley Darden entitled, Dear America: It’s Time to Retire the Idea of Jobs.

What I found fascinating about the article was that it dared to touch such a sacred cow of the workplace — one that, I have to admit, I have not addressed sufficiently in my own research and exploration on the Future of Work.

The Big Idea: A World Without Jobs

Not too long ago, I decided to add a couple of people to my team. Wanting to ensure that they had a clear understanding of my expectations and that they would be a productive addition, I did what I had always been trained to do: I wrote job descriptions.

Despite all my research and writing about the so-called Future of Work, when it came time to hire members of my own team, there was very little that was futuristic about my process. I followed the tried-and-true “boss playbook.”

This muscle memory is why so many organizations have and will continue to struggle with the transformation of work. We are just so conditioned to hire, organize, and manage people in a certain way.

The article was so provocative because it challenges this paradigm.

Darden’s position is that the construct of giving someone a ‘job’ hurts productivity, fails to bring out the best in people, and is too rigid for our dynamic, post-industrial world.

Anyone who has ever had a job will find it hard to argue with any of those points.

The question it begs, however, is, if no jobs, then what?

That’s where things start to get very interesting.

Her solution: talent marketplaces.

The Impact: The Talent Marketplace in Your Future

The idea of talent marketplaces is not entirely new. Most approaches to self-organization and self-management include some elements of a marketplace from which the organization assembles teams.

Nor is the idea of external talent marketplaces novel.

The team at legendary venture capitalist firm Andreesen Horowitz has been researching this topic for years.

The difference is that these two trends may now be colliding and finally putting us on a path that will lead to the dissolution of jobs as we know them. 

What Andreesen Horowitz was describing back in 2018 was that we would see the evolution of vertically-integrated marketplaces that could provide advanced services (e.g., those that are regulated or which require certifications, etc.).

When you put this together with the idea of internal talent marketplaces, an image of a jobless future of work begins to appear. 

In this future, organizations will establish mission-driven, goal-oriented objectives, and then, through a combination of self-organization and talent marketplaces, assemble teams to achieve those objectives. The kicker is that these marketplaces — and, therefore, the teams deployed to meet their objectives — may be comprised of people who work exclusively for the organization, and those that don’t. 

The impact of this type of work model could be massive.

Think about the scalability and elasticity that the cloud brought to technology, and apply it to what is arguably the most critical part of the people, process, and technology triumvirate: your people.

Need to spin up a new project? Go to your marketplace and pull together an on-demand team made up of internal and external resources and deploy them for only as long as you need to achieve your objectives.

And because this is a highly fluid talent marketplace, the humans making up your teams remain unworried because the next project is just a click away. 

If you spend just a few minutes contemplating this future, it’s not hard to find the challenges with this approach. It will, unquestionably, require significant organizational and cultural change to realize this vision.

Still, its potential is intoxicating. 

As organizations rapidly adopt new, more flexible approaches to technology deployments, process and people become rigid, limiting factors. The evolution to hybrid talent marketplaces could prove to be the answer.

The Next Step: Uh…

This is where I usually give you an exercise to put these ideas into practice.

In this case, I’m not entirely sure what to do with that. 

At a minimum, you should read the articles that I’ve linked to in this piece and begin to educate yourself on these two trends. But then?

Well, I’m not all that sure. I don’t expect this approach to be a realistic option for most organizations for some time. The external marketplaces that Andreesen Horowitz described in 2018 are really just getting going. And most enterprises are, at best, only starting to play with self-organization and self-management.

Nevertheless, I think that some version of this will become the reality of how organizations manage talent in the not-so-distant future. And, much like early cloud adopters, those leaders that can get their organizations there first will have a considerable advantage.

The trick will be in the timing. 

So study up. Start experimenting. And get yourself ready for this likely jobless, marketplace-enabled future.


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