"Managers and HR are in the ideal position to deconstruct jobs, redeploy work to new options and reconstruct new and more impactful ways of working"

Ravin Jesuthasan is a global thought leader, futurist and bestselling author on the future of work, automation and human capital

1. Some time ago, leaders like Serge Tchuruk predicted "fabless" industrial companies. In fact, today, for example, Apple does not own an iPhone factory. Similarly, do you envision companies without employees, with precarious contracts for occasional outsourcing depending on the challenges to be solved?

We already have many small organizations operating in this way. They are made up networks of talent that come together to solve various challenges. In Lead the Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment (Wiley, 2015),  John Boudreau, David Creelman and I shared frameworks and numerous examples of organizations operating in this way. Precarious is a phrase that is subject to interpretation and while there are certainly examples of exploitive relationships, there are also examples of significant value for the individual. To be clear, employment still is and will continue to represent the primary way in which work is done but that is changing.

NextGen team red “Lead the Work” and catched the following key points and examples

Traditional models of full-time employment are becoming obsolete as new forms of work arrangements emerge, such as freelance work, contract work, “boomerang” employees who return after gaining experience elsewhere, and various talent-sharing models between organizations. Leaders are urged to adapt and focus on “leading the work,” regardless of who performs it or where it takes place. 

For instance, Ion Torrent used a freelance talent platform, Topcoder, to solve a complex data issue more efficiently than with in-house staff. A large European energy company employs over 100,000 contractors for flexibility and cost-effectiveness, albeit with challenges in long-term commitment and knowledge retention. In academia, a crowdsourced game called Foldit helped tackle the complex problem of protein folding without monetary compensation.

2. Do you think that large organizations in terms of the number of employees will gradually decline in favor of SMEs? Remember that when WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for 19 billion dollars, the company had about 150 employees.

If you look at the share of employment by large companies in most developed markets, that number is a small and declining one. As more companies become platform-based organizations, there will be increased divergence between revenues and headcount.

NextGen team key take aways coming from “Lead the Work”:

Strong trends are emerging where even full-time employees are embracing a free agent mindset and juggling multiple roles, enabled by increasingly flexible work arrangements. 

In that context, people increasingly view themselves as “CEOs of Me”, emphasising personal agency and job fluidity. 

The book introduces the concept of “PICF” which stands for Permeable, Interlinked, Collaborative, and Flexible organizations. These organizations outsource, collaborate, and form alliances based on strategic considerations to fulfill their needs in the most efficient manner. No function is so core to an organization that it can’t be outsourced or shifted, suggesting that adaptability is key to sustainable performance. The complexities of decision-making in choosing what to keep in-house and what to outsource or collaborate on, positing that these decisions should be guided by where the most value can be generated. 

3. Do you think that salaried employment will quickly become a minority among work contracts?

I think traditional jobs with their traditional one-to one relationship with a jobholder will increasingly be questioned and challenged but I see new ways of working within the construct of employment; please see the fixed, flex and flow models that John Boudreau and I describe in our book “Work Without Jobs” (MIT Press, 2022).

NextGen team red “Work without Jobs” and catched the following key points and examples:

In comparison to the conventional work operating system which begins with job roles, the new system focuses on tasks that need to be done. Traditional systems might question the implications of automation on current jobs, whereas this innovative approach asks what tasks exist (or will exist), who can perform them, and how best to engage talent, whether through full-time employment or alternative arrangements.

Here are the main principles of the new work operating system:  

  • Start with the Work: rather than conventional jobs, the focus should shift to current and upcoming tasks and the competencies necessary to accomplish them.
  • Humans and Automation Combination: automation shouldn’t be viewed solely as a replacement for human tasks. The relationship is nuanced, where automation can either replace, augment, or transform human roles.
  • Diverse Human Work Engagements: the traditional full-time employment view is restrictive. The new paradigm should embrace various engagements like freelancing, part-time roles, gig work, and collaborations. This third principle emphasizes the spectrum of human work engagements. Instead of just creating job roles, managers should deconstruct work into its elemental tasks and then determine the best engagement method for each. This could mean tapping into external labor sources or partnering with other organizations to share talent resources.
  • Flexible Talent Movement: Instead of tying individuals to fixed roles, they should be allowed to employ their skills dynamically, transcending the limitations of standard job descriptions. This fourth principle promotes the fluidity of talent. It urges a departure from rigid job descriptions and emphasizes the necessity of talent moving where it’s most impactful. In certain cases, talent may have fixed roles, but they could also move from project to project or even have hybrid roles.

4. You often talk about agility as a target form of work organization. What do you think of shared governance (frameworks like Spotify, Holacracy, Sociocracy, Sociocracy 3.0, Organic Organization, etc.) which establish team hierarchies rather than subordination of individuals and rely on roles rather than job descriptions?

I think these models are critical to enabling the agile, more human operating model that we require. However, the goals and intent of most of these framework are often compromised by the traditional job and jobholder model. That is why we advocate for a new work operating system based on the elemental tasks and underlying skills and capabilities in Work Without Jobs.

NextGen team key take aways coming from “Work without Jobs”:

Companies could enhance its agility by breaking jobs into tasks. This change fosters collaboration and smooth task execution. Organizations must introspect their existing work structures, pinpointing areas demanding agility. Critical assessment areas include outdated job descriptions or situations where candidates lean towards non-traditional work setups.

However, the shift to this new approach won’t be uniform across all sectors of an organization. Some roles may remain aligned with the traditional system. Nevertheless, as time progresses, an increasing number of areas will benefit from these unconventional work engagement methods.

5. You say that companies must "deconstruct" work into its various components and reorganize all the moving parts more efficiently, such as tasks and workers' skills. But who should do this work? Managers? Experts? Process managers? And what method should be followed to do this work?

Managers and HR are in the ideal position to deconstruct jobs, redeploy work to new options and reconstruct new and more impactful ways of working.

Here are the key elements of the link shared by Ravin :

  • In today’s evolving work environment, traditional jobs still hold their ground, but the landscape is rapidly changing with the introduction of robotics, AI, gig workers, agile talent pools, centralization, and outsourcing options. To stay ahead, organizations need to exhibit agility, resilience, and a keen focus on cost optimization, making the acquisition and honing of skills an imperative.
  • Leaders are tasked with grasping the profound impact of digitalization and automation on work dynamics. It’s paramount that they ensure employees remain engaged in meaningful tasks, especially as the specter of automation widens its reach. Modern technologies, particularly sophisticated algorithms rooted in comprehensive job and skill databases, have the capability to precisely gauge the influence of automation and the infusion of alternative talent forms.

These technological advancements empower organizations to meticulously deconstruct jobs, pinpointing specific tasks and assessing which are ripe for automation or a shift to alternative talent. This process requires a deep dive into the economic and performance ramifications of each decision. Subsequently, organizations must ascertain the best-fit form of automation or talent and innovate by crafting novel job architectures and streamlined workflows.

Automation presents in diverse types, notably Robotic Process Automation, Cognitive Automation, and Social Robotics. The challenge is to discern how automation will serve: will it augment, transform, or replace human functions?

To align talent with work, several avenues are available, including centralization, outsourcing, contractor or gig-based roles, full-time positions, internal talent bazaars, and positions for lower-level full-time staff.

The ultimate impact of these strategic shifts is multifaceted: a spike in agility and efficiency, fostering an environment of growth and swift decision-making, shedding light on future skill requirements and reskilling avenues, unearthing avenues for task automation, and ushering in a more flexible talent framework as opposed to rigid roles.

6. Do you believe that this fundamental reconfiguration of work will revive people's engagement at work? If yes, why?

Absolutely. We need to humanize work. Deconstruction lets companies see the whole person and the unique bundle of skills and attributes that is Luc versus Ravin. It enables us to escape the traditional, highly limiting headlines that accompany a job and the person occupying it.

7. Regarding AI, how to approach the subject of automation starting with priority issues? Through consultants or the previously mentioned people who "deconstruct" work?

We have given leaders a playbook for achieving the optimal combinations of humans and automation in our last two books; Reinventing Jobs: A Four Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work (HBR Press, 2018) and Work Without Jobs: How to Reset Your Work Operating Model (MIT Press, 2022).

NextGen team key take aways coming from “Work without Jobs”:

The book underscores a pressing need for a shift in the traditional work model. While certain jobs still fit within the conventional framework, the evolving nature of work demands a more agile approach, integrating automation and diverse work arrangements. Adopting this new operating system provides a strategic advantage for businesses to remain competitive in a changing landscape. The speed and dynamism of modern work outpace traditional job structures.

Though not all jobs will immediately fit this new paradigm, the trend is undeniably moving towards more flexible, non-traditional work structures.

Organizations must adapt to this new work operating system, particularly in domains requiring agility. Adopting such a system will future-proof businesses as the work landscape continues its pivot towards a “work without jobs” model.

8. As career advancement is based on skills and abilities, how will we learn in the future? Through "applied" programs on transformations experienced in the company and the very subject of training and longitudinal coaching?

We need a mindset of perpetual reinvention to frame all our choices as a society and we need learning to be designed into the flow of work. Progressive companies know that upskilling and reskilling need to be the epicenter of the talent value proposition.

An interview by Luc Bretones, Founder at NextGen