If we are to build a future of work that is human, our approach to organisational structure and job design needs to change. How many times have we heard the mantra that we must design structures and roles across abstract need, not individuals? Why would we ever do that? Why would we ever decide the shape of a box and then try and squeeze the many sided human being into it?
We’ve already talked about moving away from policies and procedures that narrow decision making and focus on procedural integrity rather than getting the right outcomes. We’ve said (and you can read plenty more over at www.futureworkishuman.org) that instead we want to focus on the role of the human at work and what a human centred organisation looks like. We need to go further though into the realms of job design and that perennial HR issue: the restructure. I’ve borrowed Toffler’s language before to make his point that we moved from the ‘Bureaucracy’ (the fixed and rigid structure) to the ‘Adhocracy’ (the organisation that exists in a permanent state of flux and restructure). The Adhocracy shifts and morphs in response to new projects and challenges arising from external changes in context or internal changes in strategy. We need now, in 2016, to move to the ‘Homocracy’.
If the word ‘Homocracy’ doesn’t work for you, feel free to suggest another one. The label is less important than the concept. The concept is an organisational structure or set of relationships and collaborative approaches driven by the individuals who engage in the venture. This isn’t the same as ‘Holocracy’ which is effectively about redistributing power. This is about focussing on what an individual can bring and developing an approach to people management that unlocks the existing potential and nurtures further development. The Homocracy can exist within traditional hierarchies. It is simply a next evolutionary step: Bureaucracy – Adhocracy – Homocracy.
The implications of Homocracy are far reaching. It challenges conventions by replacing an articulated fixed standard with a relative one that is constantly being redefined as individuals come and go – be they employees, collaborators or partners. Central prescriptions of working hours, dress codes, acceptable use policies, and administrative processes become meaningless because there is no objective measure. The only thing that has any reality other than the individual human beings is the venture itself. This venture is a shared idea, comprising the vision and ambitions of the people engaged in it. As such, it too is constantly shifting and developing.
If we aren’t prepared to do this, if we aren’t prepared to say “we should be starting by thinking about individuals, not structure” then we need to ask ourselves hard questions about what this future of work is that will be human. Our current approach of drawing comfort from constantly abstracting, reducing and narrowing the analogue complexity of the human to the digital convenience of systems and org design is holding us back.