Future Here Now: The problem here is deeper than they’re seeing.

What happens when you take your paradigm for granted: everything changes

This is a selection from Future Here Now, a weekly newsletter that helps business and community leaders leverage the big changes going on around us. To receive new posts and other benefits, consider becoming a subscriber.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/31/productivity-down-employers-worried-recession/

You might have seen this article about a month ago. It’s fairly detailed, and it includes a lot of perspectives and elements of the challenge of crashing productivity, ranging from employee motivation to the inherent challenges of measuring knowledge industry production.

This is a selection from Future Here Now, a weekly newsletter that helps business and community leaders leverage the big changes going on around us. To receive new posts and other benefits, consider becoming a subscriber.But there’s a big missing piece.

Where this article misses the forest for the trees is in the fundamental paradigm shift that’s at the root of the problem. The facts in the article point to something much deeper than leadership tactics or the in office/remote worker debate:

The increasingly acute mismatch between what workers know that they are capable of doing, and what industrial era organizational structures permit them to do. The paradigm shift is in full gear, and the organizations and their people are standing on opposite sides of a widening chasm.

No real reason for this image except that seeing people are weirdly like this.  Sorry about that.

Teachers, managers, HR, and the world have been telling these employees for years that they need to bring their highest skills in decision-making, collaboration, problem-solving to their work. You’re knowledge workers, we’re counting on your knowledge. And as the work gets more complex, more ambiguous, more generally VUCA, we the employers are counting on you to take responsibility, initiative, rise to the challenge. And most of our employees — especially younger generations of knowledge workers — have the skills to do this.

But there are two problems:

  1. Organizations aren’t set up to let them do this. A key dimension of personal agency is flexibility — to have agency, to be able to excercise your independent judgement and expertise, you need to have the ability to get what you need to get done, done, as your expertise and judgement tells you it will work best. But so demands that organizations so often make, such as requiring people to be in office at certain times, clearly looks like controlling — opposite of what they expected — when being in that physical location isn’t necessary to do the work. And that’s just the most discussed example at the moment
  2. The belief that good work will be rewarded — a key underpinning of the employee — employer social contract — has massively, massively eroded. Increasingly diverse employees have increasing awareness of bias in their organization’s systems — and they see the fundamental failures to address it. Work for decades has relied on squeezing as much productivity out of each person as possible, but too often the person who meets these challenges gets more responsibility — responsibility (or simply more work) that outstrips any slight raise or reward they might have gotten. Meanwhile, they see managers and leaders — whose job is often not much more than protecting the organization status quo from change — get rewards, raises, bonuses that eclipse what the employee got.

So why are we surprised that Fusion Era-ready employees aren’t powering Industrial Era organizations?

A postscript: the whole definition of productivity will have to be reworked to fit the future. Productivity was as easy to measure in Industrial and pre-industrial era as counting the number of cars off the assembly line or the bushels of hay harvested from the field. But how do you define the productivity of solving a problem, keeping an employee, customer service, training? It’s not as easy, and many of the measures we use are poor proxies for value.

Ironically, an article about a 4-day week experiment in UK hit the press this week (futurists will tell you that indicators often show up as counter-trends against the majority). If the early results of this experiment hold, it points to the reality that productivity in the Fusion Era means something fundamentally different than what is has.

And we’re going to have to adapt. Fast.

This is a selection from Future Here Now, a weekly newsletter that helps business and community leaders leverage the big changes going on around us. To receive new posts and other benefits, consider becoming a subscriber.

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