Four Pillars: Parallel and not serial

A colleague of mine, Mike Persaud, pointed me at this report from IBM, the Global Innovation Outlook 2.0. [An aside: Preparing for this post, I Googled “IBM GIO”. And got nearly half a million results. The first three all related to what I was looking for. Which is good. But the first entry was titled Global Initiatives Offering despite leading to the Global Innovation Outlook. Which is less good. Two different expansions for GIO in one referenced link? I thought IBM had left all that behind.]

The report is 40 pages long and can be found as a pdf via the link above. [Hey IBM, how about a linkable referenceable document the next time around, one where I could point to individual sections or paragraphs? Forget that, I’m just grateful for a simple free download :-)]. Read it, it’s worth it.

Rather than spend time telling you what I agree with, I thought it apposite to focus on my key disagreements. Let me concentrate on just one this time around.

The report quotes Spherion‘s 2003 Emerging Workforce Study as saying “45% of workers want to change jobs at least every three to five years“. [They’ve released the 2006 version, but I have yet to read the bits that are easily accessible].

I see a lot of discussion about this increased mobility of the workforce, and its impact on the firms of the future. The more I think about it, the less I am sure this is the way things will go.

There’s a cause-and-effect issue here. I don’t think people want to change jobs for the sake of changing jobs. I think they change jobs for two reasons: One, they are dissatisfied where they are. Two, they can change jobs, something they couldn’t do as easily in previous generations.

So when we see nearly half the workforce wanting to change jobs, it is a consequence of their being dissatisfied, not a driver in itself. At least that’s my contention.

I am reminded of the motherhood statement that an existing customer is nine times more efficient to maintain than a new one, I think it was Bain and Co who said that decades ago. The same is true for staff and even for supply chains.

Change for change’s sake hasn’t really become a workforce goal. We see higher attrition for a variety of reasons: lower transportation and migration costs, more extensive conurbation tendencies, the breakdown of the traditional home and family structures, the relative ease with which one can change jobs.

Let’s lump all of this together and call it reduced switching costs. It is a reason why people change jobs, not the reason. And people would not change jobs if they were satisfied where they were.

Dissatisfaction stems from a number of roots, some of which I list below:

  • A breakdown of the trust relationship between employer and employee, with downsizing and leftsizing and rightsourcing and a variety of euphemisms du jour for firing people. No more sinecure or tenure. So when employees can leave, they do. [There is an employer variation of this as well, where employers have held on to staff because they haven’t had the choice, in a number of jurisdictions. And in these cases, as employment law eases or workarounds (firearounds?) are found, there is a pendulum swing effect.]
  • Lack of choice in the first place. Someone may have taken a job they didn’t want while waiting for the right one to come up. This is as true for sector as for location. Not all dissatisfaction stems from omissions or commissions by the employer.
  • De-skilling or its blood relative, removal of empowerment/discretion. Often caused by poorly-thought-out restructuring of 19th century organisations. A stealth version of this is found in over-use of external consultants and advisors. Like having a dog, preventing it from barking and hiring an Aibo to do it at enormous expense, then being surprised at the mechanical mess created.

I remember bringing my management team together in Paris in August 2001, trying to work out the best way of delivering very challenging cost reduction targets in response to adverse market conditions. And Malcolm said “You should never hire anyone that you can’t promise a job for the next ten years“. Wise words. We need more hundred-year managers, we seem to excel as a society at creating one-minute versions.

I don’t think people will want to change jobs every 3 to 5 years. That is paving the cowpaths.

People will want to hold 3 to 5 jobs at the same time. Different communities they enjoy being part of. Different communities they enjoy working with. Different communities they are in covenant relationship with. And occasionally, two or more of these communities may exist within the same extended enterprise.
A person’s working lifetime is not going to disaggregate sequentially, but in parallel. Many jobs yes, but at the same time, not one following the other.

Generation M is already doing this. Today. As we speak.

This has significant implications for the way films and music are created, two industries we can learn from and teach at the same time. More later.

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.