Our Common Future

Can organisational innovation enable new heights of performance?

February 27, 2015Innovation

The way we work is changing – fast! And it is because of an emerging shift in the power balance between employer and employee. It is so radical that it has the potential to change the very nature of business and how work gets done.

Let me explain. Millennials (or Generation Y – broadly speaking, individuals born between 1982 and 2000) are gradually taking over the reins of industry from Gen X. In an ODesk study in 2013, 58% of 2,000 Millennials surveyed in the US described themselves as entrepreneurs. However, many of these were in full time employment with established businesses.

What this suggests is not that an entire demographic is turning its back on traditional forms of employment, it instead points to a fundamental shift in mind-set and values of young professional workers and how they wish to work.

The Old
The traditional relationship between employer and employee is very one sided. Employer sets the terms of employment and Employee accepts. Employer dictates where Employee works, when and for how long; what annual leave Employee is entitled to and (effectively) when that is taken. Employee usually has a choice of course – either accept or take its chances elsewhere. In this established model, accepting employment means giving up a significant amount of personal autonomy.

The trade-off was always the stability that being a good corporate citizen provides – regular income, purpose, fulfilment, status, socialisation, insurance, benefits and so on. But what if we could achieve the same ends without having to give up so much personal freedom? The implications are just enormous.

The New
Millennials are increasingly questioning why they can’t decide for themselves how they work; when and where, and what they work on. They are seeking to redress the Employer-Employee power balance and secure greater personal autonomy.

Those Millennials describing themselves as entrepreneurs are expressing an outlook and associated set of behaviours that is very different to the corporate citizen of old. It also reflects rapidly changing social values, where creativity, autonomy and flexibility are increasingly prized.

Threat or Opportunity?
The challenge for today’s business leaders would seem to lie in understanding how to somehow allow these simmering entrepreneurial values to find expression in a corporate context.

However, that would be the wrong way to look at it. Rather than a potentially terminal threat to the business, visionary leaders should view this as a golden transformational opportunity.

The breakthrough innovation lies in recognising that early adopters could actually turn this paradigm shift to their significant advantage. By leveraging new talent models linked to radical decentralisation that enable & promote creativity; enhance wellbeing, worker engagement & motivation it is possible to positively transform individual workers’ contributions and so drive new heights of corporate performance.