Consider the endless articles, blogs, seminars and books on the future of work. What we do, whom we do it for, what jobs are disappearing while others emerge. These questions are crucial, but I would focus only on two dimensions when defining the future of work. The first is value-creation – this provides the answer as to why we work and for whom the value is created. The second is how we work – we are moving from plans to scenarios and from fixed professions and corporate ladders to evolving communities and competencies.
Customers in the driving seat, companies in the back seat
So, what is new? Companies have always been creating value for customers and society – right? But maybe it’s not that clear. Companies as entities per se have long been at the heart of business creating goods and services, with customers and employees performing the role of loyal servants. As the standing point of the companies has changed dramatically through digitalisation, grown transparency and globalisation, the value part has become a matter of life and death, as customers and employees have taken the driver’s seat.
A mere transactional role is not enough for companies faced with fierce global competition. Globalisation and digitalisation have made mass customisation possible, allowing (or forcing!) companies to serve many thousands of micro-markets – if they know what these markets need and value.
Value creation is inherently interesting – a company is not
So, the question for companies is: what is the value we create? Do our customers pay for the possibility to sleep or for the possibility to sleep in this particular bed? Do they like this sushi or that sushi in this geographical area? Do they care who is producing the value? Do we have the relevant data to find out? Do we know what our customers value? What is the value-chain we are part of, and what is our add-on to that?
Understanding value requires an understanding of human beings and their needs in everyday life.
And even more, creating insight based on those needs, moving on to creating services and products filling human needs. The essence is to understand that a company in itself is not interesting – the value it creates is.
Company culture holds the key
The second dimension is all about how we work in companies – or larger communities creating value for customers and employees. Future jobs will emerge around competency-areas based on changing value-creation needs. Strategies need to be continuous (not episodic) and thus based on different scenarios. This means the internal aspects of companies should be as elastic as possible: how we share power and make decisions, how we plan and prioritise, how we invest our time and money, how we learn, how we divide and do the work, how we share and use data, etc.
Within companies there are micro markets. These should ask – what is employees’ value in this area? How do they see their connection to a company’s value-creation? Does a company have enough insight into employees’ mindset to understand their behaviour? This is when the How-aspect becomes the key differentiating factor and the competitive advantage to companies. Therefore all the fuss around company culture.
Culture should be understood as the whole operating system of a company, not merely something left to emerge on its own in company corridors.
Culture as a shadow of a company´s operating system gives a good idea where to start. If all the minor decisions can be found in the management team’s agenda or if the list of a company´s top strategic priorities need a five-page summary, or you need permission to access every piece of data, you know your system is not very elastic. Take a look at the small details in your culture – and you will see the big picture of your operating system.
We at Solita are helping our customers to both develop their strategic understanding and scenario work to a more elastic direction, and at the same time to build services and products based on customer and employee insight piled up with data and design solutions. In the coming posts we will tell more about these – stay tuned!
All thoughts are my own, but these books have inspired me:
Nicholas Vitalari & Haydn Shaughnessy 2012, The Elastic Enterprise
Aaron Dignan 2019, Brave New Work