What does tomorrow's organisation look like?

The future is not what it used to be, wrote the French philosopher and poet Paul Valéry in 1937, in his essay “Notre Destin et Les Lettres”. The COVID 19 pandemic, has made this phrase come alive.

Shubha Narayanan
July 16, 2020

The future is not what it used to be, wrote the French philosopher and poet Paul Valéry in 1937, in his essay “Notre Destin et Les Lettres”. The COVID 19 pandemic, has made this phrase come alive. Organisations, jobs and work environment, like many other things, will definitely change as we move into a Low-touch economy. As an organisation design consultant, I am often asked what will change, and what will remain the same. While it is impossible to predict the future, one can conjecture what it is likely to be.

What is likely to change
The Low-Touch economy will impact many parts of our lives. There will be changes in the economic, social and family contexts. Within the economic context, we are likely to see changes in almost every aspect of the organisation.
Business sustainability, turnaround and employee health are likely to be key concerns amongst CEOs and CHROs. Every aspect of an organisation will be scrutinised to assess if it adds sufficient value.
The post pandemic organisation design will see key shifts in the following areas:
• How we are organised
• How we work
• How do we gel together

How we are organised
In the past few months, organisations have experimented with flexible structures traditional hierarchies have been broken down. Many senior executives are questioning why so many decision-making layers existed in the first place. Cross-functional networks of teams have emerged, and technology has become a key enabler. However, we have become more aware of limitations of technology, and situations where face to face interactions are necessary. Organisations will find new ways to organise themselves. Here are some trends that we are likely to see.

Delayered structures
Going forward, organisations will delayer, opt for less rigid structures and simplify reporting lines. Senior level aggregator roles are likely to disappear. By limiting the number of layers, work can get done faster. A McKinsey article recently highlighted CEO of Hillcorp Energy, Gary Lalicker’s mantra “Every Layer is Time”. And we all know, time is money. Businesses will have to find better, simpler, less expensive, and faster ways to operate.

Self-Managed teams
We will see the emergence of self-managed teams with clear performance outcomes. This is likely to be along the lines of Agile Cross Functional Scrum Teams. Teams will be networked virtually with a nerve centre, and device agnostic interfaces will drive enterprise wide collaboration.

Rearranging/ New grouping
With increased confidence in remote service delivery and the new slogan, ‘We Can Manage What We Can’t See’, organisations are likely to regroup their internal services/ businesses. We are likely to see Hub and Spoke models. There will be more emphasis on outsourcing functions that are not core to the business, driven by the impetus to reduce costs and/or gain access to specialist skills.

How we work
As economies begin to transition into the next phase, organisations have an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on optimum number of employees, the type of work done, and have employees take on different responsibilities. Automation and AI will transform work and the workplace itself. Some trends we are likely to see are:

Deconstruction of jobs to focus on value addition
Jobs will be redesigned to focus on value added work, and the emphasis will be on outcomes. Organisations will doggedly focus on eliminating low-value added work. To do this, jobs have to be deconstructed into component tasks and ascertain where employees spend their time. Deconstructing jobs will also highlight work areas where the employee’s talent (in terms of skills and knowledge) is being underutilised, and therefore should be delegated or done elsewhere in the organisation. This will provide an opportunity to leverage technology, and automate business-as-usual (BAU) tasks.
Redesigning jobs is as much an art as a science. Creative redesign will free up manpower resources to focus on innovation, and business areas that create value. Organisations are likely to uncover excess manpower in some areas, and shortfalls elsewhere. This process will also help organisations determine the optimum number of employees required.

New Staffing models
New staffing models will be the norm. Employees may opt not to return to full-time work. Going forward, using specialists and contractors from the gig economy, alongside full time / part-time staff, is likely to be the norm. Only ‘skills’ will matter, and not formal education, location or age. An individual’s portfolio will be his or her passport to success. In the services sector, where employees work at customer sites, multi-skilled staff will be preferred, to reduce the number of workers going to the site, and decrease health-risks. Supervisors and clients will use digital tools to conduct remote inspections. New compensation models could emerge, which are adapted to health risk exposure.

How do we gel together
Organisation culture is often described as the underlying gel that influences our actions in the workplace. Culture is typically determined by a number of factors including management and
people practices (from recruitment, to performance, to exit). When the new work environment is home and online, how can organisations build and reinforce the desired organisation culture? How can we maintain a sense of belonging while being isolated at home? There is no easy answer to this one. There is a genuine concern that employees may have less emotional connect with their organisations and teams. Organisations need to make a conscious effort to ensure they do not go down the slippery slope of being perceived as lean and mean machines.

Make Culture a priority
Now, more than ever, organisations need to decide what kind of an organisation they want to be. They have to build and continuously reinforce a culture of trust. Some aspects of culture are clearly visible, while others are less tangible. Hence, when remote working is becoming the norm, organisations need to build and communicate their culture extensively.
Employees pay attention to the written, spoken and unspoken word, and what is recognized and rewarded. Organisations could prepare a document that describes their culture, the underpinning behaviours and values. Document stories that employees can relate to, and make the culture of the company alive. LinkedIn’s Culture Code and The Little Book of IDEO are good examples of culture communication.

Each one of us would have tried something new at work, during this crisis. It would be worth reflecting on what experiments people tried at work, what worked, what did not work, and what would be their takeaways. The wise organisations will reflect, iterate and pivot to navigate their transformations. The journey to ensure long term sustainability will be interesting, one that is evolving, even as I write.
The Author is Shubha Narayanan, Managing Partner HR Strategies. They specialize in Organisation Design and Manpower Optimisation.

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