Jeremiah Owyang is onto something when he recently suggested that workers should change their mindset about work, and consider themselves instead as a ‘company of one’:
Mindset: Your Boss Is Really Your Client, Jeremiah Owyang
[…] the way that companies should re-think management is that all employees are self-empowered, and like their own business owner. I believe that everyone is their own CEO of one, they are responsible for their own strategy, knowledge, education, marketing, and building their own information strategies.
Why wouldn’t management have this mindset? If you’re willing to invest your time and money on hiring the best, you should treat them as the experts they are. Of course this doesn’t come without proper definition of defining the success criteria, putting ongoing training in place and setting up a performance tracking program.
And such a set-up doesn’t magically pop into existence when a single worker in some company attempts this mental transition. A lot of things have to happen for this to come together, and so the worker adopting this mindset doesn’t get fired.
- ‘Management’ has to be willing to define their own work as being something different from telling people what to do and rewarding people for how well they have followed orders.
- ‘Workers’ need to take on the added headaches of managing themselves instead of expecting others to do so.
- The culture of the company must be retooled. Some behaviors that were formerly unacceptable — trouble-makers unilaterally refusing to participate in time-wasting meetings, or refusing to work with other people — now will have to be considered the new normal.
Ultimately, discussions like this pivot on the degree to which individuals are autonomous. Some example scenarios:
- Can a company’s customer support technicians unilaterally decide reprogram the customer support line’s phone menu and reschedule their break times, or do they have to ask permission?
- Can a group of workers defect from their existing departments and create a new innovation group in competition with the company’s official innovation group?
- Can a programmer who has been finding more outside programmers for job placement than anyone else set herself up as a recruiter, and stop her programming work?
If each of us becomes a company of one, doesn’t the company have to create a fundamental architecture based on supporting companies-of-one? How much autonomy, competition, and apparent chaos can the architecture allow?
I have written and spoken a great deal recently about the differences between cooperation and collaboration:
Stowe Boyd, The Architecture Of Cooperation
The now old architecture of work was based on process-centric, collaborative work: I mean that all the people involved in some business process — for example, new customer acquisition for a consumer products company — would work exclusively on that process, and everyone’s work was defined by the process. In principle, each member of the consumer acquisition team would spend 100% of their time on that process, and all the members would be co-located (in cubicles or offices) so that the process could be as efficient as possible. Considerations of what would be best for the individual would be deemed irrelevant. Collaboration was the byword, and web tools were designed around symmetrical projects, where members derive their rights by being ‘invited’ — assigned — to project-based work contexts.
The new architecture of work is now emerging, after decades of transition. White collar work became knowledge work which has now become creative work. The transition from process to networks is not just a recasting, not just a different style of communication. The work is styled as information sharing through social relationships, and where ‘following’ takes the place of ‘invitation’. People coordinate efforts, but work on a wide variety of activities, which are not necessarily co-aligned with others’ work, and which are not necessarily even known in a general way. A new degree of privacy and autonomy animates cooperative work, in comparison to collaborative work. Individuals cooperating hand off information or take on tasks in a fashion that is like businesses cooperating: they see the benefit in cooperating, and don’t have to share a common core set of strategic goals to do so: they don’t need the alignment of goals that defines old style business employment.
This transition from collaborative work to cooperative work will require a systemic relaxation of work norms, management preconceptions, and individual motivations, and especially the primacy of collaboration. Cooperation is about the freedom to not collaborate, as well, to avoid the overhead involved when people have to hammer out agreements about a shared collective vision intended to persist for some strategic length of time.
I will be writing a great deal more about this in the coming months, and — drum roll — I will be making an announcement later this week that is directly in line with these issues.