Is it time to de-couple?

Posted: August 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin aside, the only time we heard of de-coupling was trains connected together.

Now, it appears we are looking at a future where work is decoupled from the concept of a job. Not a career, a job. A job has become a contractual obligation between an organisation and an individual to agree terms, remuneration and all that other standard guff that doesn’t matter until something’s not right. OK that’s an exaggeration, it’s also where we put exit clauses and the like but generally it’s a protective covenant between the two parties and binds people legally.

Of course spiritually it probably means squat. And emotionally it can raise hackles and cause resentment and fear. So this thing called a job is – of course – more than the contractual side we know that.

But what do I mean then when I say work decoupling from jobs?

I first heard this phrase from wise Social Media and Recruitment Guv’nor @MervynDinnen. I then read the excellent @Nilofer (Merchant)’s “11 Rules for Creating Value in a Social Era” and it was there – numerous mentions where Nilofer refers to “freeing work from jobs” and challenges HR to do something about / with that. Chapter 4 in the book (which I thoroughly recommend) says this.

Work if Freed from Jobs

When there is a shared purpose, it doesn’t matter how many people work “in the company” and how many people work “with” the company or how many are serving as an army of volunteers who want to advance the mission of the company. What will organisations look like when only 5% of the talent affecting output is directly on payroll and others come and go?

And Chapter 7 says it again.

Work is freed from jobs. This means that Human resources change when most of the people who create value are neither hired nor paid by you.

So this is a more open, Wikipedia-style of work done in Nilofer’s example but also I guess the Apple and Giff-Gaff help/support model. There are now all sorts of models where people are doing things because they love them and not because they have a job with the organisation.

Games makers anyone? OK that’s an exceptional model but the amount of people who will do things for no financial exchange or contractual protection is increasing.

People searching for meaning from there work is not restricted to care, charitable or rescue services. As we get more into digitised knowledge work, we may just click a button on screen and type stuff in but we want to think that our professional endeavours go beyond mere human to human transactions.

I am about to spend time with Sewerage workers, meter readers and front line staff. I respect what they do as I wouldn’t fancy it and I have a great lifestyle because of people like them doing work like this.

I will find out what gives them meaning in their role and whether they love having a job or it’s something about the work they do. Are they proud to work for the company or is it the sense of meaning and service and value they have that drives them to go knee deep in sludge day in, day out.

So, this decouple thing then. Why do I think this is so crucial to the future of work?

Jobs – recruiting people to it – is a bit like an identikit process. Find me the person who for 40 hours a week does this, this, this and that. Who has this, this and that level of education. Who has this, this and that experience. And who wants this reward.

We build role profiles for 7 hours a day, competent, 5 days a week people. We aggregate tasks and responsibilities to create a job.

We don’t tend to do as much time and motion study as we used to but I bet a lot of jobs were built around the physical ability to stamp/insert/stitch/craft something or other on a line and then create a job based on 1 hour’s observation then x 7 x 5 and then tag some money to it we think is right by the market. That invisible hand.

So as we’ve gone down the route of more automation and outsourced manufacturing, we’ve grown more knowledge and service work, and we’ve created 7 hours/5 days role on whatever basis we could that this constitutes a week’s work.

Now, the alternative scenario is this.

We put all work into a marketplace type environment. Project X needs a range of tasks completing and things to happen so we break that down into work packages / products (in a Scrum/Agile world – the product backlog). We then say “who can do this” and people bid for it based on the competence and abilities in a range of areas and through a conversation, the time needed and so is becomes part of the smaller deal we strike to get that work done.

In essence, this might sound like the dockyards of old. People turn up, get picked and get work. It is sort of that model but without the random, human bias maybe.

If, as it appears to is rightly the case, organisations in constant restructures and garden leave scenarios have to reshape, then why not keep the core to a minimum and they are supported by a contigent of freelancers, flexible workers, experts, volunteers, students looking for experiences and so on.

“But the organisations will rip them off” I hear you proclaim. NOT if we skill people in how to know their value and price themselves and create a market that has people back in the driving seat and not the UTTERLY mystifying Hay evaluation thing we have now. Honestly, that’s like the Coca Cola/KFC recipe thing it’s so secretive. The trouble I’ve had with this…

Anyway, instead of identikit jobs, work with passionate, capable, equipped and available people doing it who love their craft and will do it for a range of companies. None of whom will need to restructured out. None of whom will be that bothered about progression into a management role they don’t really want and who can focus on all the things they’re good at and not have to flex and try and deliver the 1/5th of a job they’re not meant for and don’t like doing.

We won’t have that ridiculous situation @HR_Gem (Gemma Reucroft to her parents) just blogged about with overqualified or high risk of leaving but highly competent applicants being passed over. The best people for the work will get it perhaps only when we can decouple work from jobs. Or freed as Nilofer Merchant says.

Just a thought. Decoupling could just be the saviour of “good” work. For more on this see Nick Isles much under known “The Good Work Guide”.

I’ll see you in the marketplace soon maybe? Unless you have a job to apply for of course.

  1. Great blog. That marketplace exists in the Software Development world, where you can job out your software development to markets in India and Vietnam. It is starting to develop in capability design and delivery, where the architect is increasingly putting together a delivery team based on the clients needs.

    The growth in this type of work doesn’t appear to be a conscious piece on behalf of major employers. It seems to come about by the growth in opportunity to complete work in this fashion.

    To me the acceleration of availability of workers who are considered less employable because they are beyond a certain age, and skilled but inexperienced young people who cannot otherwise find a decent old style job means that the opportunity to build a local marketplace merely awaits the right ringmistress.

    • perrytimms says:

      Amen to this. Fantastic comment and pleased to hear it is successfully appearing. Geez the rest of the world needs a kick up its role profile obsessed arse…thanks.

  2. Simon Jones says:

    While I agree with much of this, there are two points I think need to be addressed to make this work. The first is that the “docks” comparison does instantly make me think this will be exploited by employers (and the balance of power in an employment relationship is always with the employer, hence the need for legal protections for employees). If employees perceive it in this manner it will not work

    Secondly however we have a workforce who have been brought up on generations of “the 5 day 40 hour week” and who value “job security”. Pitching this new way of working to a working population with a completely different mindset is going to be a long, difficult and time consuming process. It’s interesting that the example Grant gives is in what might be called “cutting edge” industry – I suspect it will be a long time before your sewerage workers are comfortable with working in the manner you describe.

    • perrytimms says:

      And therein I agree and yet we probably have more expressions of frustrations over the confines of jobs now than in a long time. I think we’re seeing the changes and it will be gradual but disaggregation of the workforce – done with employers skills and insight in navigating this brave new world – may see it gather pace and impact. I think we start with systems and skills simultaneously. My fear is the blocker being short sighted orthodoxy hang on by HR not because it’s wrong but because it’s not normal. Great points thanks Simon

  3. changinghr says:

    Great blogging Perry. The late adopters (as I have now come to talk about them more respectively than previously) have the heavy guns of their controlling toolkit to feel appalled about this – how do you quantify your cost base, how do you budget for this range of flex, how do you report your ‘FTE’ to the city as a good thing or bad thing, etc, etc. Where human capital becomes a liability on a balance sheet that needs to be controlled.

    I meet the very end of the supply chain endlessly (as I endlessly search for work) with it’s “the job is full time I’m afraid with these parameters” before asking you to sign the disclosure that this is what you’ll sign up for later in the process.

    We need finance engaged on this journey so we can make the transition before I hear another report telling me about a skills shortage that exists !

    • perrytimms says:

      As ever, firmly and eloquently put Barry. I had a similar experience. I had a job pitched to me. Said great I could do that in 3 days per week. Didn’t want to know. Saving them money and getting bang for buck? Not interested. We fill time when we have it. We are more clinical and adaptive when it’s precious. So your observations on the powerful few are spot on. It is messier so they don’t want to spoilt their lovingly crafted spreadsheets and headcount stats.

      Simon raises great points about manipulation but I’d take that risk over inert, lazy, non-application of radical overhauls any day.

      Time to change the job world into a world of work and multiplicity of humane options to capitalise on human endeavours.

      Vive l’evolution.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. […] terms not ours. For another interesting perspective on work meaning, check out last week’s post by Perry […]

  5. pwillcox says:

    Hi PT. Great post matey and I think what I am up to is a step in the journey. We need to talk about this more too as the career model we are creating has the same goal in mind. I’d like to steal your decoupling analogy though please. I will properly reference it 😉

    • perrytimms says:

      Steal away the descriptor dude. The more we talk about this the more likely it is to happen. Thanks for supportive comments. Look forward to reading your musings.

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