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Joe,

Thanks for summarizing our thoughts in your last post. The only place where I wanted to add a comment was related to #4 regarding choice. My thoughts are that individualization and customization are much more complex than simply choice. I think we already expect choice today as consumers. In the future, we not only expect choice, but we’ll expect to be able to buy a product or service in almost every situation that is specifically and uniquely designed to meet my own needs.

As for the future of organizations, I want to issue a caveat before sharing my thoughts. There is a difference between predicting what the organization of the future SHOULD look like versus what the organization of the future WILL look like. I’m choosing to take an idealist view of things for the purposes of this post. So, what I’m about to share is how I think a successful organization ten years in the future should look. In addition, I’m taking a little more prescriptive approach as I think about how the organization itself needs to evolve.

  1. The flatter the better. While I think it will take time to break down the hierarchies of the past, organizations that become flatter in the future will be better able to innovate and adapt to rapid changes. The fewer layers, the faster information can travel and the less places there are for silos and walls to be built. However, to become effectively flat requires some radical changes in thinking about accountability, power, career paths, development and communication.
  2. Learning is the super competency. Innovation, design, driving and adapting to change are all learning activities. They require that individuals be constantly taking in information, processing it, looking for patterns and opportunities, and taking actions. Those who can learn the fastest and put new knowledge to work will be best positioned in the future. This is particularly true for leaders and executives (which will be a major change for them from the past). To effectively deliver on this, organizations are going to have to get much more aggressive in providing learning and development programs for all employees at all levels.
  3. Transparency is king. The days of closed books and controlled flow of information are gone. With social networking, blogging and the web oozing in through every crack in even the most locked down organizations, there is no longer any place to hide. In the future, organizations will have to build their companies and cultures in such a way that they are fully authentic to their brand promise. Their actions will truly need to match their words.
  4. Flexibility is the new norm. Fixed schedules, set work locations, and narrow job duties are things of the past. This may be where technology has it’s greatest impact. It won’t be long before all of your knowledge workers will require broadband wireless enabled laptops so that they can work where ever they happen to be, whenever they do their best work. Online collaboration tools are making “the office” less and less relevant. Additionally, even those who work in front-line, more traditionally structured jobs are going to expect flexibility in scheduling, job responsibilities, learning opportunities, etc. This will create a great deal of management complexity which will require organizations to be very creative to be successful.
  5. Manager/Leader as coach. If you have ever participated in sports, you know how much differently a coach behaves towards his or her players than a manager does towards his or her employees. A coach may have been a player at one point in their life, but in their role as coach, they have very specific responsibilities that are different than being a player: teaching the game to players including the formal rules and the subtle nuances; figuring out where each player fits best (what position should each play); helping each player master the fundamentals of playing the game; setting up a system; and finally, managing the game and making adjustments as situations change during the game. The coach spends most of his time with his players practicing the skills required to perform when it counts. Contrast this to the manager of today who spends most of their time still playing the game and minimal time working with the team (and almost no time practicing). The leader of the future will need to model the style of a sports coach and spend 90% of their time focused on helping their employees excel in their positions.

Certainly, this list isn’t exhaustive, but I think that these five things will be the fundamental changes that successful organizations will make over the next ten years to survive in this changing environment. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so I’d look forward to you filling in the gaps and telling me what I may have gotten wrong.

Jason

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