· News

The future of work: Firms must 'mobilise intelligence'

Companies should embrace their 'weirdness' and focus on what makes them unique to succeed

Organisations must “mobilise intelligence”, focus on what makes them unique, and organise work on a project-by-project basis to succeed in future, according to Tammy Erickson, adjunct professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School.

Erickson delivered the opening keynote at the HR Directors Summit in Birmingham, alongside London Business School professor of management practice Lynda Gratton.

She explained that as communication channels open up and the cost of business co-ordination decreases, organisations will be able to operate with fewer in-house resources, including people. Instead, she said, firms will work with more freelancers on a project-by-project basis.

“Firms will have fewer employees but more people with whom they have relationships,” she said. “Rather than keeping an expert on staff forever, you will hire experts as and when you need them.”

But, she added, this doesn't mean not investing in development. Rather she advised organisations to become known for providing excellent learning opportunities. Job security for workers will become more about their skills and development, rather than working at one place for a long period, she explained.

In a knowledge-based economy organisations need to “create value through discretionary effort,” said Erickson. “The challenge isn't to order people to do things – it's to create the conditions in which they might want to."

Erickson and Gratton reported on their joint research into what makes companies good at creating these conditions, explaining that the best ones are often “weird” and embrace their weirdness.

“Stop adopting best practice and start thinking about creating a unique experience,” advised Erickson. “Don’t try to be all things to all people; think about what makes your firm special. Be unique, be special and tap into discretionary effort.”

Speaking on the context in which organisations now find themselves, Gratton said rapidly changing technology and demographic changes were having a big impact, with increasing automation hollowing out work and people living and working longer.

“As life becomes multistage, the way we work has got to fundamentally change,” she said.