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Interview met Lynda Gratton

Op 23 juni komt Lynda Gratton naar Metropolis in Antwerpen, een initiatief van HR Square. Ze spreekt er over de op handen zijnde werkrevolutie. In de komende jaren verandert de werkwereld snel en radicaal. Wat verandert er én hoe moeten individuen en bedrijven zich daarop voorbereiden? In dit interview geeft ze alvast de krachtlijnen aan én essentiële tips.

Interview with Lynda Gratton about the ‘shift’ of work and the impact on individuals and organisations

Lynda Gratton is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. Her latest book is The Shift (Collins, May 2011). Ranked by the Thinkers 50 as one of the top 20 business thinkers in the world, Lynda is the founder of the Hot Spots Movement (www.hotspotsmovement.com), dedicated to bringing energy and innovation to companies. The movement has offices in London, Singapore and California, more than 5000 members, and advises over 40 companies and governments around the world.

Can you give me a summary of your latest research and its conclusions?

Lynda Gratton: “Over the last two years, I have led a research consortium of 21 companies and over 200 executives from around the world in an exploration of the look and feel of tomorrow’s workplace. The conclusion? You will need to manage in new ways — and sooner than you think.”

And this applies to every one?

Lynda Gratton: “You may be a baby boomer in your 50s with Gen Y children just joining the workforce; an alumnus of a business school, a 40-year-old Gen X preparing for 30 more years of work, with young Gen Z children; or an MBA student thinking about the years of work ahead of you. Whatever your age, one of the most crucial questions you face is how the future of work will develop and the impact on you and the organisations of which you are a member.

If you are now aged 30, you can expect to work for the next 40 years — that means in 2050 you will be a member of the workforce. If you are 50, you can expect to be actively employed for another 20 years — that’s 2030. If you have young children, they could be working until 2070.”

Why does this matter? Wasn’t technology supposed to create a leisure society where work is less important? This is the end of a utopian dream, once more?

Lynda Gratton: “Work is, and always has been, one of the most defining aspects of our lives. It is where we meet our friends, excite ourselves and feel at our most creative and innovative. It can also be where we can feel our most frustrated, exasperated and taken for granted. Work matters — to us as individuals, to our family and friends and also to the communities and societies in which we live.

Many of the ways of working that we have taken for granted for 20 years are disappearing — working from 9-to-5, aligning with only one company, spending time with family, taking weekends off, working with people we have known well in offices we go to every day. And what’s coming in its place is much less knowable and less understandable — almost too fragile to grasp.”

Why is this important now?

Lynda Gratton: “The past six generations have experienced the most rapid and profound change mankind has experienced in its 5,000 years of recorded history. If the world economy continues to grow at the same pace as the last half-century, then by the time my children are the age I am now — in 2050 — the world will be seven times richer than it is today, world population could be over 9 billion and average wealth will also have increased dramatically.

In the late 18th century, the drivers of change were the development of coal and steam power. This time around it is not the result of a single force, but rather the subtle combination of five forces that will fundamentally transform much of what we take for granted about work: the needs of a low-carbon economy, rapid advances in technology, increasing globalisation, profound changes in longevity and demography and profound societal changes.”

What kind of impact will technology bring about?

Lynda Gratton: “Technology will influence the size of the world population and life expectancy and will influence our working lives in other deeper and more indirect ways — the way we engage with others, our views on morality and our own human nature. You don’t have to be a supporter of technological determinism to recognise that technological capability (through its complex interactions with individuals, institutions, cultures and environment) is a key determinant of the ground rules within which the games of human civilisation get played out.

By 2025, we can expect that more than five billion people will be connected by mobile devices, the Internet ‘Cloud’ will deliver low-cost computing services, an increasing amount of work will be performed by robots and self-created content will join the digitalisation of books to create an unprecedented amount of information in the world knowledge net. We can expect that, across the globe, billions of cognitive assistants will be collecting information, monitoring people’s behaviour and taking actions from their preferences. This massive crowd of computers is becoming increasingly capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on their own and with no human help.”

What about the societal changes all of this will contribute to?

Lynda Gratton: “By 2025, we can expect that people will be more individualistic and increasingly prepared to forge lifestyles based on their own needs rather than societal expectations. At the same time, we can expect trust in business and business leaders to continue to plummet.

I predict that, in 2025, many people will live their lives alone or in small family groups and some of these relationships will become more virtual. It will increasingly be the norm to work much of the time from home or in small community hubs to avoid the carbon costs and general wear and tear of lengthy commutes. Most employable women will work outside the home, so the majority of households will have two working members with conventional households no longer the norm. More people will work as freelancers and ‘neo-nomads’, expecting increasing autonomy and freedom.”

How will these five forces affect the way we work in 2025, and what does this mean for the choices and actions we should be taking now?

Lynda Gratton: “My research and conversations about the future of work have led me to understand that the future will be less about general skills and more about in-depth mastery; less about working as a competitive, isolated individual and more about working collaboratively in a joined world; and less about focusing solely on a standard of living and more on the quality of experiences.”

And where will all this leave organisations?

Lynda Gratton: “Five areas emerged as the most important. First, transparent and authentic leadership. In a future world of transparency and connectivity, leaders will be looked upon to work in a collaborative manner. We can expect their behaviours and actions to be closely scrutinised, so their authenticity will be key.

Second, high-performing virtual teams will be ever more important. Increasingly, work is performed across businesses, functions and organisations. As a consequence of this cross-border working, teams often work virtually, actually seeing each other only occasionally. Our own work on these teams shows that many fail as they become overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of their task. So it’s no surprise that the executives in our consortium ranked the capacity to manage and lead high-performing virtual teams as crucial for the future.

Third, increasingly the value of the organisation will be held in its ‘social capital’, that is, the value of the networks and relationships held within businesses, across businesses and into the wider community and ecosystems. Building relationships across businesses will become increasingly important.

The fourth elements in the organisational future are valuable relationships with partners, consumers and entrepreneurs. Networks are not simply those that arise within the business. Increasingly, value will be created through the relationships held with those outside.

And, finally, the capacity to work flexibly was seen by our consortium members as key to the future. This flexibility is a growing competence for companies such as BT with its ‘Follow the Sun Project’ designed to hook up the UK and California in a continuous 24-hour operation.”

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