As I was moderating a Financial Management Institute (FMI) webinar this month on Federal Government SAP Enabled Business Transformation the topic of the Future of Work came up, as it always does these days.
We are in fact working with a number of Federal Government Departments on their Future of Work agendas, helping some with the analysis and planning aspect and helping others more focussed on the organizational change management elements of the changes at hand.
And of course, here at MNP Consulting, we are going through our own “Future of Work” transition just like the rest of the world.
I am sure you have all been reading the many articles on this topic, from remote work, to hybrid work, to office returns, to burnout and the great resignation.
I too have been consuming all of this content and like everyone else trying to figure out what this all means for workplaces, how we work, and how it all fits into my own life as well.
As we talked about the Future of Work in that FMI session it kind of crystalized in my mind that the future of work is in fact already here and its not a real property or logistics or technology or collaboration or culture riddle to be solved. It’s a more fundamental change in business model and management frameworks we must employ.
My thinking on the Future of Work actually started to advance while I was watching a documentary on one of those history channels recently about the race to build the first underground subway system in North America. Boston and New York City were going head-to-head in the latter 1800s to become the first city to be able to connect workers with workplaces as residences started to gradually spread further out from the centre of these cities. Another reason driving the need for this type of transportation service was the industrial opportunity triggered by the emergence of electricity which allowed us to then run factories 24 hours a day, if necessary, now that we had light. Existence of light presented a revolutionary shift in how we worked from the late 19th Century onwards. Time was no longer a barrier to the workplace. People could work during the day or night and the workforce could be organized into shifts during these additional new working periods. We could more than double our inputs by increasing the number of work hours per day and thus increase our output.
Hearing about this side note in my subway documentary seemed familiar to me. I felt like what we have experienced in the last 22 months was similar. Except instead of time of day being irrelevant like in the late 1800s, where we work has become irrelevant through the pandemic. To a certain degree when we work has also become further irrelevant in a sense that time shifting has become more experienced through the pandemic as well with the spirit of “just get it done today” taking on the meaning that it doesn’t have to be in a traditional 9 to 5 window. The difference between what happened in the late 1900s and now is that to a certain degree this revolution has shifted more power to the employee as opposed to the firm.
As we continue to transition through this change in how we work, we continue to hear from leaders that we should be worried about culture and whether our corporate culture can continue to exist in a remote world.
To me the real shift in culture is what many leaders do not want to admit. The real shift is in management culture and requires organizations and its leaders to trust employees. That doesn’t mean we need to trust blindly. We can of course trust yet verify. We have the opportunity to no longer verify by visibly watching the number of hours staff work but instead verifying the results that those staff produce. Perhaps this is the great equalizer for employees and what might be scaring organizations and leaders. If you can produce the required results in less time perhaps it’s ok if you work less?
For the most part I’m not seeing much of that in the Federal Government departments I am working within. I’m seeing people working what seems like more hours and continuing to be very dedicated to their organization, no longer out of fear that they will be seen as not working (early days of the pandemic), or no longer as an obligation to show up at a site (pre pandemic and perhaps post pandemic), but as a commitment to results and as a demonstration of pride and integrity in their work and commitment.
Most employees do not want to cheat their employer. And those that do, will do so whether its remote, on site, or hybrid. We don’t want to design and build our future management frameworks with a lens aimed to control and manage that small population.
As we piece our way through this pandemic induced puzzle, I think it is becoming more and more clear that the shift we are making is from a focus on inputs and activities to a focus on outputs and results. A shift from making sure people are in their cubicle or boardroom for 7.5 hours a day to making sure people are producing the results that are expected and needed to advance the organization’s mandate.
The Future of Work is in fact the business model the Federal Government has been trying to implement for more than 15 years since the introduction of the Management Resource Results Structure (MRRS) Policy in 2005. The MRRS represented a shift from the former Planning Reporting and Accountability Structure (PRAS) moving focus from inputs and activities to outputs and results. Under the MRRS we still looked at inputs and activities, but the shift was intended to be a focus on results. The MRRS was later replaced by the Policy on Results and related Departmental Results Framework (DRF) in 2016 but the intentions remained the same.
Most department, to this day, while reporting on results still treat this as an alternate reporting frame as opposed to a genuine way of managing their business. Its less about departments managing for results and more about ensuring we crosswalk or map our traditional reporting to the results structures. Its primarily external reporting focussed. For years now we have attempted to steer federal government departments to truly manage based upon results internally, not just report on results externally, with limited success. Perhaps what has been missing was that sense of urgency and a real driver for the organization that would make the benefits to the organization of embracing such a philosophy clear.
Well as we sit here on the cusp of 2022, I would argue that the pandemic has inadvertently brought us that burning platform some 15 years later. We tend to talk about important change as transformational sparked by leadership, vision and opportunity but sometimes that transformation change can be sparked by something revolutionary happening around us light the progression of electricity or the removal of physical location as a barrier to work. We have all too slowly continued our evolution over time within the Federal Government to gradually shift from a resource and activity focus to more of an output and results focus but the revolutionary event that has triggered the transformational change that will finally get us to the next level of maturity is the pandemic. And that transformational change is NOT about WHERE we work, but about HOW we work and how we VALUE that work. That work is no longer valued by the number of hours we spend at a desk but by the output and results we produce as individuals, as teams and as organizations.
Our focus now should be less on the Future of Work and more on advancing the transition to a Results Driven Organization. The future of work has already arrived and is frankly in our rear-view window. We are now results focussed, location and time independent, and whether we have assigned desks or hybrid criteria is not the focus. There are certainly elements of this business model that need to be redefined, refined and transitioned better than we are doing now, but that focus should be less on how we make staff conform to some new post pandemic rules, and more so on how we further adjust and align our management frameworks to foster and reinforce those new norms.
Let’s collectively say goodbye to the distraction of the “future of work” and start welcoming the opportunities through the “management of the present”.
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