A maze of uncertainty

We read a lot about how the workplace is changing, yet on the surface there appears to be little difference. Afterall people continue to apply for work, perform their tasks, look for opportunity and move into different work areas.

What lies beneath the surface might provide a clue as to the changes taking place. We live and work in an era of shifting expectations, greater awareness of self importance, individual freedom to choose, escalating self belief, myriads of options, human centered design and despite the still existant gender salary gap and glass ceiling, a greater sense of equity amongst a growing group of influential, female colleagues and inclusion of diversity.

Previous generations of managers would talk about the future as if it were some abstract concept, today’s managers are living that future. They have to navigate and steer a ship through the shifting shoals of social media influence, an immediacy of informed and uninformed opinion, a need for inclusion, instant self gratification, immediate, bi-directional feedback and an expectation that they, the manager will be able to say, sorry I made a mistake.

Management teams are seeking to create a great workplace experience while balancing old style fundamentals with new style expectations. As managers they still have to maintain the basic building blocks of financial viability, effective systems and processes, workplace safety, infrastructure, capacity and capability; while also sharing the decision making, nurturing and coaching all those on their team, working through disputes in an equitable manner and managing growth.

People arrive in the workplace in their early 20’s with perspectives already shaped, they don’t arrive there to be molded and shaped. They don’t arrive expecting others to tell to provide them with step by step instructions throughout the day; they have an expectation that systems and processes will be in place to enable and empower them, that their manager will provide them with room to grow as an individual, and that they will be given credit and recognition for their effort.

These changes within our workplace mean certain behaviours are necessary for people to enjoy their work. The days of the lone ranger are gone. Today both management and non-management work together on various stages of co-design and descision making. People ask to be involved and are being involved, often in conversations that are outside of their current knowledge or understanding. That’s how things work today. People are invested in the work process. This makes it interesting for everyone.

This creates two way responsibility. Firstly upon managers and team leaders to be inclusive and to know when to stand back and let informal leadership emerge. Secondly it places increasing responsibility upon other employees to be inclusive, to share knowledge and information, to be respectful of the experiences and perspectives of others, to work collaboratively and to shoulder their fair share of the work load. It places greater responsibility upon the individual to take personal responsibility for the outcomes and consequences of their own decisions.

People operating within a bubble in the emerging workplace are at risk of becoming isolated and ineffective. Those that withhold information, that attempt to control the flow of knowledge, that restrict the involvement of others, that steal credit for the ideas and input of others will fail to draw collaborators to them, and find themselves not being invited to join in conversations about the future.

All employees are being asked to interact more, to remove silo behaviour, to share knowledge and collaborate on the co-design of solutions. Work isn’t always done in situ, often people work from home, from a cafe, while travelling or while sitting within the office of another organisation. This requires trust between managers and those on their teams, along with with work planning and reporting processes that enable people to take personal responsibility.

The good news is that what we see today in the emerging workplace is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s the two thirds that lie beneath the surface that will make life really interesting for both managers and employees of the future.

Many in the workplace today, some just starting their careers will learn to adapt to the introduction of AI and robotics into the workplace, engage in co-design of environmentally sustainable solutions, continuously adapt to a constantly changing and emerging workplace, manage intersecting work and life and assume greater responsibility for their own social and emotional wellbeing. The workplace of the future will be an exciting place for those that are able to adapt and evolve.

John Coxon is an experienced manager, mentor and coach and helps managers to be the best they want to be. When you are ready to be you best email John on john@johncoxon.com.au and we can have a free, no obligation chat.

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