The Future of “Jobs”: The Evolving Definition

Written by Kathy Tunheim, CEO; follow @ktunheim or connect with Kathy on LinkedIn

Losing one’s job is difficult — especially for people who have long enjoyed gainful, traditional employment. And after the disbelief, fear, anger, and final acceptance stages, what does a person do next?

Most people start to look for another job — but that paradigm is changing.

Many people are creating their own new reality. They are finding “work,” harkening back to the pre-job state of the economy. With skills and ambition, you find ways to make a living doing work that others value — and do enough of it to achieve the quality of life to which you aspire.

Looking around I realize that it has become the norm for talented people in our industry to leave their “jobs” to create new collaborations that take on the most innovative assignments. Traditional agencies full of “jobs” aren’t nimble enough to be the leading edge, and increasingly the talent inside them doesn’t value the historic preoccupation with structures, hierarchy or control enough to stay.

In our business of strategic communications consulting at Tunheim, we have a flexible view of talent that we call “collective best.” It includes a core of colleagues in Minneapolis (some employees, some independent) who have built a global consulting business partnering with talented professionals who work independently or within other small consultancies.

As I’ve watched this trend and experienced it within our company, it has caused me to revisit some great work charting the changing reality of “having a job.”

In his breakthrough 2005 work, The World is Flat, Tom Friedman speculated about the consequences of globalization on jobs in the United States. While he predicted that many jobs would go overseas, he also recognized work that would be “untouchable”:

  • Those special people who have a world market for their goods, including celebrities and high-demand knowledge workers in medicine, law, business or academia.
  • If you can’t be special, Friedman recommended being anchored: work that must be done in a specific location. Barbers, hairstylists and appliance repair are all examples of professions that can be successful as globalization occurs, and skilled trades can compete for a new generation of talented people.
  • If not special or anchored, Friedman observed, U.S. workers need to be adaptable: constantly acquiring new skills, knowledge and expertise to avoid being vulnerable.

A decade earlier in 1994, William Bridges wrote a book called Job Shift about the then-coming phenomenon of a post-job world. As Bridges predicted, these changes in the world of work must be addressed:

  • As individuals, we must begin to conceive more innovatively of our potential to do valuable work — maybe without the illusion of security in a “job.” Now think about the growth of 1099 filers (self-employment).
  • As organizational leaders, we have to build and adapt our companies with new ways to get things done. Now think about companies’ increasing reliance on contractors and contingent workers.
  • As a society (and reflected in public policies), we must prepare for the economic and social consequences of this evolution. We’ve already de-coupled pensions from most employment, and the Affordable Care Act has now de-coupled health insurance, too. Next big step: finding ways to measure economic activity beyond traditional “job creation.”

Fact is, the speed of adaptability necessary today is faster than most traditional employers can handle.

So it is increasingly up to talented people themselves to be the leading edge — and then to find the work opportunity that delivers the value they deserve. (And THAT is how we will begin to see wages in “jobs” rise, as we employers compete for talent that increasingly pursues independence as a viable path.)

Scary maybe, but I confess I am an optimist and enough of a history student to know that change and disruption have been happening forever — this is just our time.

In our firm, we think we’ve found a successful path. We’ve learned that our clients don’t care who employs whom — they want to know we’ve organized the right talent for their assignment. The talented people have the confidence to work in this evolving, less traditional “job” model — and are increasingly good at ensuring they are fully valued in terms of compensation. They take on projects for which they are particularly well-suited, with opportunities to work with other motivated colleagues around the world.

We’ve learned that old-fashioned team building still matters, so we invest a lot in connecting and enabling people to build professional bonds with virtual colleagues. This pattern not only serves our clients and company, but also prepares professionals to thrive in the increasingly flat, interconnected world that will become the norm for Millennials and those who will follow them.

If you are navigating how to best manage your workforce in an increasingly flat business world, get in touch with Tunheim. We excel in helping clients work through complex challenges by delivering strategic management counsel that offers a smart, effective path forward.

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