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The Future of Work | Working the Future
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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking


2018-06-26 20:20

Cathryn Barnard



Future-thinking is illuminating. There’s no doubt that many of us feel that business has become devoid of emotion, organisations myopically focused on making...


As you’d imagine, we meet lots of business leaders in our travels and have many conversations about change and what successful organisations of the future might look like.

Future-thinking is illuminating. There’s no doubt that many of us feel that business has become devoid of emotion, organisations myopically focused on making profit to the detriment to any other sensible metrics. And yet it seems an almost insurmountable challenge to decouple our way of doing business from our current commercial obsession with perpetual growth.

Several years back, I made myself read a book called Prosperity without Growth by Tim Jackson. It was a hard read for me; I studied A-level Economics and didn’t enjoy it at all. Despite running several businesses, I’ve had an ingrained aversion to anything perceivably related to the subject ever since. Anyway, in the book, Tim Jackson sets a vision of how we might successfully adapt to a different economic model - one that successfully operates within the constraints of finite global resources. Given the twin challenges of climate change and resource depletion, it’s a compelling read for anyone interested in sustainability.

It strikes me that there’s something super-unhealthy about our current commercial obsession with growth. That we spend our time admiring those start-ups that achieve "unicorn" status is indicative of this. Perhaps I’m the fool, but I literally fail to understand why the markets get so excited about something so arguably risky. When we set business growth as the primary goal, we lose sight of many other important metrics.

It’s my perception that corporates who focus on growth and share-holder return beyond all other measures are, more often than not, completely toxic in nature. Employees of such companies tend to report much higher levels of work-related stress and anxiety and we’ve even been given accounts of bullying and threatening behaviour within these organisations. Such is the pressure to meet targets.

But here’s another thought. When business leaders put their own goals for financial growth before the needs of the partners who support them on their journey, they’re forgetting the importance of feeding their eco-system. We all need to make a certain amount of income to succeed commercially, and those organisations who drive a perpetual hard bargain with their suppliers will eventually feel the consequences. It’s already happening both in some areas of retail and in the restaurant sector, where suppliers can no longer afford to do business with certain chains - it just isn’t worth it. 

In my recruitment career, too, I came across so many businesses whose only measure of success seemed to be how low a fee they could negotiate for recruitment services; months or years later they’d wonder why their supporting recruiters had such little experience. It simply isn’t financially viable to place an experienced recruitment consultant on client activity that yields such a small return.

When we feed our eco-system and pay our support partners a fair and reasonable rate, we’re building loyalty and commitment, invariably encouraging them to work harder and go the extra mile for us. When we squeeze on day rates, we send a clear signal that we don’t value their service as much as we could.

In the future of work, as commercial landscapes disrupt and we are forced to find new ways of doing business, our eco-systems will become critical. The commercial eco-system is made up of all those other parties who want to do business with us, who support us and who buy into our commercial vision and aspirations. It consists of the people and support partners who will help us achieve that vision. If we send a message to the members of our eco-system that we don’t value their contribution, we will find our eco-system is small and shallow.

Feeding our eco-system allows others to flourish. It enables other members of our business community to put food on the table, to pay for their children’s football or dance lessons. It enables all of us to feel useful and valued in these new uncharted commercial territories.

It’s time for us to move away from the old measure of profit and growth above all other measurable. We need to start thinking about business eco-systems that are sustainable, where all participants feel valued and that their contribution is worth something. I suspect this will be quite a break-away from how businesses have operated over the last 20-30 years, but in turn, I imagine that all participants will begin to feel altogether more fulfilled and purposeful, resulting in an altogether more symbiotic way of doing things.


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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Foresight Focus report.

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