Subscribe for our latest future of work insights



Privacy policy | © Working the Future Ltd 2019

Working the Future

Our future of work blog 


30/09/2019, 15:01


It’s never been cheaper to set up in business, and operating costs have never been more flexible. The internet brings myriad benefits to industry today. Yet life online also brings business challenges...


28/08/2019, 12:01


As businesses embark on company-wide digital transformation, the sense of urgency grows around how best to identify and develop both the digital and human skills, as well as the culture, that will be required for success in the 21st Century.


30/07/2019, 11:24


The future of work will require an entirely different approach to organisational design and staffing. ‘Agile’ 21st Century businesses will nurture ‘talent ecosystems’, rather than run the traditional overhead of a permanent employee payroll...

30/09/2019, 15:01


 It’s never been cheaper to set up in business, and operating costs have never been more flexible. The internet brings myriad benefits to industry today. Yet life online also brings business challenges...

The internet has revolutionised our lives, at home and at work. On a par only with the arrival of electricity, it’s transformed how we live and do business.  

It’s never been simpler to communicate with customers, or to access affordable new digital tools that improve business efficiency and quality. It’s never been cheaper to set up in business, and operating costs have never been more flexible. The internet brings myriad benefits to industry today. 

Yet life online also brings business challenges. The same low costs of setting up in business have irrevocably altered entire market segments, accelerating dynamic competition. Business owners are regularly reminded of the cautionary tales of the demise of Blockbuster and Kodak - a stark warning that emergent market disruptors are never far away. 

Business journals today are full of articles about digital transformation, and how new technologies are already creating vast commercial efficiencies, while reducing long-term operating costs.  

Running a business today is significantly different to anything we’ve known previously. The modern business owner faces a continuous assortment of options for how to increase revenue growth. These are so wide-ranging that often it seems easier to carry on ’business as usual’ and hope that trading conditions don’t get too tricky. 

Yet this is dangerous. Most conventional business management thinking no longer works in 21stCentury markets. Designed for more static, pre-internet trading conditions, the aspirational states of organisational stability and efficiency no longer serve when faced with complex and volatile market forces.  

At Working the Future we’d argue that for the next 10 years at least, there won’t be any ’right’ way run a business. From here on in, business will require continuous experimentation and innovation, with both new customer offerings and internal operating models, to best determine what works for each specific market scenario. We are in the twilight of ’business as usual’.  

For ambitious business owners however, there are three key areas of focus that we believe are critical to surviving increasingly ambiguous markets.  

1)    Know your customer
In a stable market, it’s straightforward to identify your unique selling proposition and grow your customer base. When business is good, there’s little or no need to think about innovation or diversification -when the revenues are there, why change anything? 

But we’re now in a commercial landscape like no other. Gartner Inc talks about a ’nexus of forces’-where the ’convergence and mutual reinforcement of social, mobility, cloud and information patterns’ continuously drive new business scenarios and opportunities. 

These forces have created an abundance of competition in most industry sectors. This in turn has fundamentally altered consumer behaviour. Just as we all shop around now to get the best deal on our household utilities, commercial purchasing decisions are increasingly based on price. 

Business owners can no longer assume their customers are loyal; if we’re not continuously engaging with them and working hard to retain their business, we can assume that a competitor will be working harder to lure them away.

Customer loyalty is only one piece of the puzzle however. In fast-paced, rapidly evolving commercial landscapes, continuous innovation is key for ongoing commercial relevance. The fastest way to successfully innovate is to identify your customers’emergent needs. Continuous feedback from customers on product or service innovation underpins commercial resilience. This is a core concept of the agile methodology -where customer feedback drives improvements. 

There’s also a bonus. A primal human desire is to feel connected with others. Proactively engaging with customers automatically deepens their sense of connection, in turn strengthening brand loyalty. This approach has been successfully used by companies like DropBox and Evernote -enabling them to innovate in real-time, whilst gaining invaluable customer insights.  

2)    Embrace continuous learning
Business leaders’ attitudes towards workplace learning vary. Great leaders recognise that workplace learning and development are intrinsically linked to staff engagement, productivity, retention, and most significantly, business growth. Some leaders regrettably however still consider learning at work as little more than a perk.

Yet continuous learning is the bedfellow of innovation - indeed innovation is simply a rolling cycle of experimentation and learning. 

21st Century organisational survival is contingent on adapting to continuously evolving markets and business models. We need only consider the recent demise of Thomas Cook and its failure to adapt to the new digital landscape, to appreciate the wide-reaching impact of organisational stagnation. 

3)    Keep things human
Technology has already transformed the way we work, creating myriad competitive advantages for those businesses embracing digital futures. But all-digital customer experience can leave some users cold. 

An emergent key word for the digital era is ’customercentricity’. In modern online marketplaces, consumers seek both efficiency AND experience -they want a smooth transaction and to feel that they matter. As we mentioned already, a most primal human need is to feel a sense of belonging. While technology drives efficiency, we’d argue that human-to-human connectedness can only be created through human-to-human interaction. This creates a compelling business case for world-class human-centric customer service in the future of work. The businesses that successfully blend technological efficiency with meaningful human interaction will undoubtedly gain loyal followers. 

We’re in an era of profound change. We face challenges AND opportunities like never before. Digital will remain a pervasive force in our lives, but our HUMAN connections will give us the leading edge commercially. And we mustn’t forget that. 
28/08/2019, 12:01


 As businesses embark on company-wide digital transformation, the sense of urgency grows around how best to identify and develop both the digital and human skills, as well as the culture, that will be required for success in the 21st Century.

Technology is transforming the way wedo business. The commercial race is on to integrate workplace technologies thatimprove efficiency and create greater competitor advantage. As businessesembark on company-wide digital transformation, the sense of urgency growsaround how best to identify and develop both the digital and human skills, as well as the culture,that will be required for success in the 21st Century.  
In parallel, employee behaviour ischanging. As consumers, we’re becoming much more discerning - we expect moretransparency and a higher level of service than we’ve settled for in the past. Theseexpectations spill over into the workplace - after several decades of employer-ledlabour markets, skilled workers increasingly demand work experiences that fulfiltheir career learning and developmental goals. According to Jim Clifton and JimHarter, in their 2019 book, It’s theManager, "Gallup [has] discovered that the No.1 reason people change jobsis ’career growth opportunities’." 

To thrive commercially and sustainably in the 21stCentury, it’s clear the prevailing approach to organisational L&D needs afundamental reboot.   
To help better understand both thechallenge and opportunity for L&D professionals, we chatted with ourassociate Paul Jocelyn. Paul previously headed up global capability andlearning for one of the UK’s largest retailers. He’s worked through both arapid-growth period of globalisation, and a period of significant consolidationand organisational and cultural ’reset’.  

This experience has given Paul some fascinating first-hand insights, and we foundthe exchange with him incredibly pertinent...  

1.    Paul,share with us why - and how - the current mainstream approach to organisationalL&D needs to change.  
I think in many waysthe corporate approach to L&D is a relic from the industrial era of work.   

If we reflect on what used tocreate value and differentiation for a business, it was the efficiency of the’make and sell model’. The aim was standardisation and control - with people asinterchangeable parts of the system. The role of ’training’ was to build theindividual skills required to complete particular tasks ’to spec’, and toensure consistency of application.   

I think this mindset still prevailsfor many leaders, so we see the ongoing focus on ’learning content’,standardised programmes, compliance and competency frameworks.   

The differentiators for a successfuland sustainable business are verydifferent in the digital era, where disruption and speed are the newnormal. This presents a completely new opportunity for corporate L&D - tohelp develop and lead adaptable, connected organisations, that are comfortablewith this complexity. This requires a huge (and exciting!) shift in bothmindset and skill-set.   

2.    Arecent benchmarking report by Towards Maturity cited that "fewer than 20% ofL&D teams are achieving on goals linked to culture and agility". Why do youthink this is?   
I don’t think this is a surprise - asit’s not what L&D have been asked to do by their organisations! Inmany organisations the L&D function remains stuck as an ’order taker’,focused on designing and delivering ’interventions’ to support businessinitiatives.   

Again, this drives an over-focus firstlyon ’content’, secondly on ’content placement’, and thirdly on ’attention-tracking’,in order to demonstrate L&D’s value.   

There’s a tremendous untappedopportunity for L&D to lead inthe areas that are now important and difficult in a modern business - ideaslike ’culture’ and ’agility’ are both excellent examples.  

3.   What,in your opinion, is the primary reason that L&D teams are held back?  
I think the bureaucratic force remainsstrong in many organisations! This culture continues to drive the expectationof ’L&D’ as a ’management control’ function, often just reacting toproblems and projects as requested.   

I also see challenges with thebreakdown of the traditional OD > HR > L&D structure and cycle ofaccountabilities and responsibilities in many organisations. This can leaveL&D unsure of its place in the decision-making process.   

I believe that confidence plays a hugepart - there’s a clear unmet need to redefine the strategic role and priorityof learning with the organisation (beyond ’training’), and this can be complexand nuanced. There are many L&D teams whose current skills are built ontraining ’delivery’ course design, so it’s understandable they may need to lookoutside for help with new questions, including defining strategy and buildingbusiness cases.   

4.   Whatone thing could L&D teams start doing, right now, to shift approach toworkplace learning?   
I’d say ’re-balanceyour approach’ - start somewhere!   

Consider how you might start to put asmall percentage of your time and effort into developing the keycharacteristics of learning organisations,alongside managing and developing learning and training programmes.   

For instance: 
·      Howcan you provide opportunities for people to share and learn from existingexperience and expertise in the organisation? 
·      Howmight you identify solutions and thinking from one area of the organisation,that could be connected to another area or team with similar challenges
·      Whatopportunities could be facilitated for people to gain new experiences - forexample in another team or business area? 
·      Howmight L&D amplify and accelerate communities - that help to solve problemsand / or share good practice?   

Finally, I’d suggest, how might L&Dlead on opportunities to help people and teams to ask new questions and look at newpossibilities - outside of the ’way that we do things around here’ approach?  

Thisis key for me - I believe the future role of L&D is to ensure the wholeorganisation is future-ready. What anincredibly exciting opportunity!
30/07/2019, 11:24


 The future of work will require an entirely different approach to organisational design and staffing. ‘Agile’ 21st Century businesses will nurture ‘talent ecosystems’, rather than run the traditional overhead of a permanent employee payroll...

We regularlyget asked to describe what organisational structures will look like in thefuture.   

Technology is already starting to shiftthe shape of organisations, and the work that people do. We know that business inthe future will need to be infinitely more agile and fluid, in order to swiftlymeet the emergent needs of their customers. Work teams will need to beinfinitely outcome and performance focused - consumers are already rejectingmediocracy.   

The future of work will require anentirely different approach to organisational design and staffing. ’Agile’ 21stCentury businesses will nurture ’talent ecosystems’, rather than run the traditionaloverhead of a permanent employee payroll. For those organisations willing and ableto maintain in-house talent, employees will need to be adaptive enough to addvalue to multiple fluid work teams in parallel.   

What do we mean by 21st Century Talent Ecosystem?  

One of our objectives within Workingthe Future is to build our own talent ecosystem. This way we can experiment,learn what works in practice, and share findings with our clients as we go.   

Much of what we’ve applied so far isbased on my observations from the 1990s, when my job was to staff start-upmobile network operators. I helped build teams of contract telecoms engineers,who designed and deployed mobile phone networks across Europe, getting themready for commercial launch.   

In every case, engineering teamsaligned around a specific goal (meeting an agreed launch date), underpinned by exemplaryreporting and feedback loops. Teams were spread the length and breadth of anygiven country, so clear communication and mutual respect were key. Many of theengineers that built these networks came from military backgrounds, and themost successful network roll-outs can absolutely be attributed to militarydeployment tactics.  

Few of these engineers were employedon a permanent basis. The most effective deployment teams went on to replicatenetwork roll-outs in multiple territories across Europe, coming together anddisbanding on a ’just-in-time’ and ’on-demand’ basis. From this experience, Iknow first-hand that it’s possible to build high-performing impermanent teamsof people when there’s a commonly understood purpose and excellentcommunication.  

I reflect on this when I think about ourown talent ecosystem. We specifically aren’t looking to hire permanent staffbeyond what’s absolutely essential. We are however, evolving a collective capabilityto help clients build and maintain high-performance teams. We do this byidentifying co-collaborators with complementary skill-sets, and alignmentaround a core set of shared values.   

Our tribe aren’t permanent employees,nor do they work for us full-time. They’re free to pursue other commercialopportunities as and when, but we know they will prioritise working with us,because we deliberately focus on four things:  

1.    Trust 
Trust sits at the heart of what we’rebuilding. It enables psychological safety and allows our creativity toflourish. We feel safe enough to throw all our ideas out there for discussion ANDchallenge. Trust doesn’t come easily to everyone - due to life circumstance, itcan take some people longer to build trust than it does others. We work on it,though. We respect it, and we talk about its importance in everything we do.Trust comes from transparency, as well as from the conscious nurturing of therelationships we have with one another.   

2.    MutualRespect 
Trust can’texist without mutual respect - they’re bedfellows. Because of our applied focuson these things in the daily running of our business, our internalrelationships are stronger. With strong supportive relationships in place, weexperiment, learn and adapt faster. Our approach is continuously evolving.  

3.    Collaboration 
Being honest with one another makescollaboration and sharing so much easier. We recognise that market complexitymakes it impossible for one single person to possess all the facts needed tomake decisions. We therefore confer and seek feedback continuously. Collaboratingdeepens the trust and mutual respect we feel for one another. It strengthensour ability to evolve as learners - we’re continuously experimenting andlearning together. We wholeheartedly believe in the power of the tribe, thebenefits of diversity of thought, and the value of plurality of perspective. 

4.    World-ClassCommunication 
Our commitment to clear continuous communication,without ambiguity, and without ego, underpins the other ingredients above.   


These four essentials are, for us,deeply interconnected. Because we share a common value set, with these things inplace, we believe we perform together far more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, this approachtakes constant focus, but it enables us to consistently move forward. With eachcollaboration opportunity, our sense of connection deepens. 

We’re always keeping an eye out forpeople with similar values, who might complement our skill sets at a point inthe future. This approach to talent allows us greater fluidity in our abilityto meet new project requirements; by keeping communication channels open, wecan quickly ramp up a team of like-minded individuals to deliver customerexcellence. Attitude trumps aptitude every time. Skills can be taught, but corevalues are intrinsic. 

I don’t suggest we have our ecosystemapproach 100% right; there’s always room for improvement. What we haveidentified however, is that fluid and adaptive talent ecosystems are far easierto build when a strong and supportive psychological contract is in place.   

If you’d be interested in a chat tosee if your attitude and skills might fit with us at some stage, please do getin touch

Create a website