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2 Emerging Themes in the Changing Workplace

Originally posted: October 4, 2010 on TrishMcFarlane.com

I love to watch themes emerge.  As I reflect back on my experience at the HR Technology conference, two themes seemed to be recurrent in almost every session I attended and in many of the conversations I participated in.  From the opening keynote with Tamara Erickson, the social learning session, the blogger insight panel, and the closing keynote with Mark Effron, the messages were:
  • Treat employees like adults
  • Simplify
Today, Web 2.0 technologies are radically changing how we interact and make decisions in the workplace.  It’s changing the way we innovate by improving the way we generate, capture, and share knowledge with colleagues.  And, although personal use of technology seems to be where the most growth is occurring, we will begin to see use in the workplace more and more.  We’ll also be hearing more and more people challenge the traditional model of work.  I recently read ‘Rework‘ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson and they challenge this notion by breaking all the “rules”.  As a conference keynote, Tamara Erickson had a similar message.
Tamara talked about challenging the long-held assumptions at work.  She specifically started with the following four:
  1. Break down the silos by moving from a paternalistic relationship with work/ boss to a collaborative relationship. Employees, “should not display loyalty, but discretionary effort and relevant skill for the work at hand”, said Erickson.  By focusing work on projects, offering options on the time and place work can be done, and specifying principles, you’ll be treating employees like adults and fostering collaborative relationships.
  2. It is the individual’s responsibility to do a good job.  This outdated look must be challenged.  Responsibility also lies on the manager and the organization as a whole.  If they are not providing an environment to facilitate optimal work performance, who is really at fault if the job is not done well?  I personally believe that 90% falls to the individual, but there has to be some accountability by the manager and organization.
  3. If you can see your employees working, they’re working. This is an unrealistic view as a manager unless all your employees are making widgets and you can monitor each one made.  With more and more employees working in a matrix reporting relationship and with work being done predominantly via computer, it is nearly impossible to walk by an employee and really be able to tell if they are being productive and really working.  If you, as the employer, focus on results, then it shouldn’t matter if the employee adjusts their work schedule or location for positions where this can work.
  4. The org chart tells a story.  It shouldn’t.  What are the horizontal ties?  Make them more visible. Give employees access to opportunities to make change and determine how to connect different groups.

Be sure to check out Tamara’s new book ‘What’s Next Gen X’ for more information on how this generation will shape the workplace as the emerging leaders.  And, I’ll talk more about simplification in an upcoming post.  What are your thoughts about truly treating employees like adults and changing that paternalistic relationship?  Can it be done?  Should it be done?  Chime in with a comment.

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