Dear New Work aficionados, in Part 1 of my New Work article I explained to you what the buzzword New Work is all about and what it’s like to work in a New Work agency by practicing what you preach. But now you’re probably wondering: why did New Work emerge as such a powerful cultural force in the modern economy, and what were the main influences leading to this new notion of work? Let me take a deep dive into the origins of New Work and give you some insider tips on how to implement New Work practices and make room for transformation!
Origins of New Work
Let’s start with the beginning, our current economical context or the “VUCA world” we live in nowadays. VUCA what? VUCA has become a trendy managerial acronym and stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and a catchall for “Hey, it’s crazy out there”. Volatility refers to the speed of change in an industry, market or the world in general. It is associated with fluctuations in demand, turbulence and short time to markets and it is well-documented in the literature on industry dynamism. Uncertainty refers to the extent to which we can confidently predict the future. Part of uncertainty is perceived and associated with people’s inability to understand what is going on. Complexity stands for the high degree of complexity in the business and economical context. Ambiguity is manifested in a lack of clarity and the difficulty of understanding exactly what the situation is. In practice, the four terms are related. The more complex and volatile an industry is, for example, the harder to predict and therefore more uncertain it will be. Yet, all four represent distinct elements that make our environment – the world, a market, an industry – harder to grasp and control.
Therefore, we need to change how we look at uncertainty, how we manage complexity and how we look at the world in general. This new world requires organizations and leaders to anticipate the issues that shape our future, to understand the consequences of issues and actions, to prepare for alternative realities and challenges and to interpret and address relevant opportunities. In short, organizations need a stronger vision for the future, need understanding and courage, and need to be highly adaptable for this fast-changing world.
From profit- to purpose-driven businesses
Another influence of New Work is the rise of the importance of impact or purpose, the notion that business is not only about profit but also about people and the planet. Digitalization,tech startups, and startup culture have strongly disrupted the business world and business culture. Concepts such as digital thinking, experimentation culture, growth culture and constant evolution are strong values of the startup world and have influenced the rise of New Work.
Together with digitalization comes the rise of the knowledge economy and the knowledge workers. The number of people in knowledge work jobs, meaning nonroutine cognitive occupations, has more than doubled in the last 30 years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Peter Drucker first coined the term in 1959 when he stated:
“The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.”
A few years later the famous management guru stated that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.” Another important factor that contributes to the rise of New Work is the decrease in the life expectation or longevity of organizations. According to McKinsey & Company, in 1935, the life expectancy of an S&P 500 company was 90 years. By 2010, it was 14 years and studies show it’s getting even shorter. This notion requires companies to be more agile than ever and to implement lean and agile methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban and Design Thinking. In short economical factors, digitalization, big data, startups, the purpose and knowledge economy, agility and human-centricity all influence the working world of 2020.
New Work tools & techniques
Now you are probably wondering how we can make this New Work transformation a reality? How can we steer these agile processes? Let me give you some practical hacks or success factors of New Work which will help you to become a changemaker in your organization!
Clarity & expectation
When you start thinking about how to start your change journey, think about your current situation. Paint a picture of the team, the organization you are leading today. Write down actual observations you are making today. And then picture what kind of team you want to lead in the future. Really try to come up with ideas, with things you want to see in the future, things you want to say about your team in the future. Questions to ask:
Where are we now and where do we want to go? How can we find out if we are on the right path? Who do we need in the team? Where do we stand? And where do we want to go? Why do we have to move? Understand your context, where do you want to start? Who do you need for that?
Learn & adapt
Understand how to work in iterations, learn how to reflect on a frequent basis and learn how to develop bit by bit as a team. Implement build-measure-learn feedback loops that constantly challenges your team and makes sure you stay on the right track.
Psychological safety is defined as, “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”. In other words, psychological safety means team members feel accepted and respected within their current roles. Psychological safety is a critical building-block of the continuous improvement process. It stimulates transparency and sharing of ideas openly, collaborative decision making and it embraces a failure culture that is comfortable with making mistakes. By embracing a mindset of experimentation, teams and organizations fail fast and learn from their mistakes, which creates this continuous improvement process. Hence collaboration, dialogue and transparency are critical to create and stimulate a culture of psychological safety.
Invest in change
Last but not least, make room for transformation by investing in change. Managing 21st-century organizations means managing complexity and therefore leaders need to invest in reflection and learning. Hacks to do this are: embracing a change mindset, building a culture of trust, and nurturing all levels of the change process meaning values, mindset, principles and systems.
I hope I’ve unlocked the mystery of New Work for you, or at least helped build a foundation for your understanding with this New Work manifesto. To end this New Work manifesto I’d like to share with you some of the key buzzwords or terms you need to know in order to keep up with the 21st century agile organizations. Feel free to download this buzzword bingo sheet with all the terms explained and have fun finding your first “bingo” in the New Work world!
Keep on learning and evolving – Cheers, Camille.