(“The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Sergei Brovkin Of Collectiver On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together” – originally published in Authority Magazine).
No more lifetime careers or long-term employment. The rate of change in science and technology has reached such a level that no profession and no job will remain relevant for long. Almost every working person will have to change several jobs and at least a couple of professions during their lifetime, as old roles and areas of expertise will be replaced by something new. Even for specialized professional positions such as a doctor or lawyer, regular retraining will become mandatory.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Sergei Brovkin, Founder and Chief Thinker of Collectiver Consulting.
(You can WATCH this TL;DR version of the FIVE TRENDS here)
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I was born on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, and my first degree was in Engineering. Very soon I realized that I do not want to be an engineer and would rather live somewhere else – and the life experience that flowed from this discovery started shaping me right away.
It took longer than expected, but I stayed the course. I changed several very different jobs, then moved to another country. At the time, I was not able to explain why I took those decisions. The revelation came when, pursuing the people-focused approach in management, I have become deeply interested in the work of Abraham Maslow, Geert Hofstede, Shalom Schwartz, and other prominent social psychologists.
Today, I am Canadian and I work as a management consultant internationally. Luckily, I benefited a lot from my mixed ethnic, cultural, and academic background. Because of this combination, I have always been on the edge, between management and manufacturing, or as a missing link between East and West. And this is where the new and exciting things happen: on the edges, not in the mainstream.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10-15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
We’ll still have to work 10-15 years from now, most of us. But the nature of the “have to” will be different: Work will be a welcome part of life, not the negative side of the contentious work-life balance as it is perceived today. Even the work-related vocabulary will be different. Today, “work” denotes a conscious effort that we make in exchange for a reward that allows us to “live” – i.e., support a family and receive some other life benefits. I expect that 10-15 years from now, “work” will be a natural part of “life” that allows us to satisfy our needs and ensure that our core values are met.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Be prepared to cooperate with “gig workers,” and make peace with the fact that there are people around who are smarter than you and that they are your temporary partners and not “resources” or “reports.” The employer’s role should be to define what values drive the organization, what values profile is optimal for the team, and select the right people accordingly.
If you follow this advice, success will follow you – for a few years. Things are changing fast, and to keep your organization future-proof, you may have to reinvent it again and again: change your product to meet the market changes, and, most likely, change some of your team.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Today, even advanced employers often consider their employees a “resource” and a “cost.” Thus, they can only think of yet some other material compensation to offer. Millennials – who are the “ruling class” of the workforce today – have moved towards higher values and needs, making the traditional remuneration a “hygiene factor” at best. You can’t “buy” your employees anymore.
Employers need to be aware of these evolving needs, understand what’s their next motivator – and motivators differ from team to team – and do what they can to meet those new expectations. I think this is the first immediate gap, already present: most employers cannot embrace the fact that the “soft stuff” is the hardest, as Tom Peters put it.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
I agree with your definition: what a massive global experiment it has been! Something that nobody could have set up deliberately. And it proved to be a success, lucky we all are! Thus, this new model will hardly influence the future more than it already has: the FWH has definitely established itself as the new normal wherever telecommuting is possible.
One of my clients, a high-tech private business that used to have a very traditional culture – punch clock, security cameras, lengthy face-to-face design meetings, etc. – was totally unprepared for the experiment. And yet they survived and emerged from the lockdown with flying colors. The problem is that only the owner wants to work from the office these days. But now the owner fears that switching to the old ways will hurt the company’s performance.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
Employers will have to offer something beyond the traditional “compensation” and “remuneration.” Some Millennials have realized that man shall not live by bread alone, while others may have decided that the opposite is true because they have survived the lockdown almost on bread alone, embracing “simple living” – and not working at all! Some individuals are stuck with this lifestyle now because that’s what they prefer. I think the majority have moved towards higher needs and values they may have discovered during the lengthy mass meditation prompted by the pandemic.
I foresee, optimistically, that most people of working age will be willing to work rather than not because the future of work is about work-play harmony. I expect work to become a natural positive component of life, and not its opposite. But again, we see two different values profiles, with more people experiencing a strong drive towards achievement and self-direction, while others are more comfortable in a slow but secure environment. Employers and society in general will learn to live with this fact. But one such societal change – Universal Basic Income – may become a necessity.
The UBI is just an example of a solution that may be taken to rebalance society.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
As I suggested before, the work-play harmony model is the real game-changer. It will change our lives and will be the foundation for many progressive changes in business and society. Plus, it will come just in time with growing life expectancy and increasing retirement age. So I plan to stay in business and enjoy a life built on work-play harmony for a long time to come.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Mental health seems to have become an alarmingly popular topic, although I find that surprising. Perhaps, I am the lucky exception, but I believe that maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of your people does not call for any sophisticated strategy.
There’s a very clear psychological chain. The source of mental problems is stress at work (in this case). Stress is a natural condition caused by uncertainty. Uncertainty at work is largely the result of poor communication. Communication is built on trust, while trust, in turn, increases with improved communication. This is where every employer must start: establish trust in your team. And you will be surprised to see problems of mental health and well-being fading away all by themselves.
How to establish trust? This is the heart of any team alignment effort. My approach is to make sure that your team members have congruent values, aligned with the Purpose of the organization.
Trust is the first thing I help my clients to establish. Depending on the Purpose, the team may happen to be aligned – or not; but it is hard to say until the Purpose is made clear. Then, possibly, the team needs to be “optimized.” This approach may be suggested as a strategy.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Let me start with the second part of the question.
Companies (and executives) need to embrace this fundamental truth: culture is the No.1 factor determining the success of any human enterprise. Sadly, about 80% of the companies with which I had a chance to work are giving only lip service to this “soft stuff.”
For example, when I tried to highlight the need to define the Purpose of the organization before we could discuss its culture and the way forward, one top manager told me that they “have all this blah-blah already documented. And if something is missing, I will write it up for you in one day!” As they say in such cases, comments are unnecessary.
The popular headlines you mentioned seem to mean different things to different people, and hence there is no clear message in them. I find “The Great Reevaluation” the most meaningful out of the three because I have been working with human values as the main driver, and what we are witnessing now is the attempt by many employees to sort out their own values and to find other people and organizations with a congruent values profile.
Coincidentally – and here’s the answer to the first part of your question – leaders like the one from my example are the ones who spew headlines continuously. The only important message I get when I hear those slogans is that we may have a “leadership problem,” as, above all, we need the top stakeholder able and willing to “walk the talk.” Only with the right-minded leader will the culture evolve.
There is another important idea that belongs here although it has not become a headline – yet. Convinced and enthusiastic as I may be about aligning values, I recognize that higher-level – societal – changes are necessary to take our human world to the next level: Rebalancing Society is what we need. It has been suggested by professor Henry Mintzberg, and it will become a new Landmark of Tomorrow soon. I could talk about it more, but that would go beyond the scope of this interview.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
You can WATCH the TL;DR version
of this answer here: >>>>>>>
- No more lifetime careers or long-term employment.
The rate of change in science and technology has reached such a level that no profession and no job will remain relevant for long. Almost every working person will have to change several jobs and at least a couple of professions during their lifetime, as old roles and areas of expertise will be replaced by something new. Even for specialized professional positions such as a doctor or lawyer, regular retraining will become mandatory.
We are almost there already. Compare your own career with that of your parents and grandparents. Probably, they had one (1) training, degreed or not, in the first quarter of their lives, then spent the rest of their active lives with one or two employers, often without ever leaving their hometown.
Furthermore, COVID has accelerated this trend. What’s labeled today as “The Great Resignation” is effectively a realignment with the individual values that is happening among Millennials. Today, millions of young and not-so-young people realize that their jobs could be more fulfilling, and they decide to move on.
Using my case as an example again: I had changed several employers (and work roles) by the age of thirty, then changed the country as well, and got my second master’s at forty. I worked for large international corporations for quite some time but then switched to “flying solo.” And I am far from being a harbinger of the new era, just one of many “knowledge workers,” as Peter Drucker would call me.
- “Knowledge workers” will change the employer-employee relations.
As the defining quality of knowledge workers is not their accumulated “knowledge” but the ability to think, find or create knowledge, the nature of recruiting will change. “Wanted” ads’ lens will shift from the job title, education, and years of experience – to “soft” skills and personal values. The candidate selection will be focused on the person-to-person and person-to-organization fit, and the selection process will be reversed: the job role will be adjusted to fit the right individual.
As a consequence, HR departments will all but disappear. Treating your people as “resources” (even when the attenuator “human” is used) is very last-century. HR departments were created alongside Purchasing and Accounting departments. Now the initial selection and assessment of personal suitability based on core values will be carried out by artificial intelligence. Keeping personal files and transferring salaries will be fully automated. The final personnel decisions, performance evaluation and personal development will be done by the appropriate line managers – as it has always been done in better companies.
- Work-life balance will become the norm, not a privilege or a bargaining chip.
When the job is adjusted to fit the right individual, the work-life balance issue disappears. Perhaps, we will call it “work-play harmony,” i.e. how much of your active time is “being in a flow” vs. performing some mundane activities.
“Flow,” according to the author of the concept, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.” This happens when the person is free to pursue what matters most, i.e., what is aligned with your core values. Although you cannot “choose” your values – individual basic values are formed by the time a person enters adulthood and remain practically unchanged throughout life – you will have an ample opportunity to choose the job, the organization, the team in which you can reach your potential.
Since the day I moved out of the traditional corporate employment, I have been living mostly in this work-play harmony. I cannot tell for sure how many hours per week I work and how much time I have left for “life.” Now everything is “life” for me, and I enjoy every moment of it. I can’t draw a line between “work” and “play.” It just happens that what I am doing as “work” includes – on top of the usual consulting activities – communications, creative writing, graphic design, photography, videography. And all that puts to good use my initial Engineering background, followed by business administration and supplemented by social psychology.
What’s a “work-life balance” problem?
- Many large multinationals will cease to exist.
As knowledge becomes the primary production resource, and putting together and maintaining the most efficient and creative team becomes the key to organizational success, “economies of scale” will be replaced by “efficacy of communication.” Therefore, many large organizations will have no economic reason to exist.
Creativity depends on the team composition; communication efficiency is limited by the team’s size. I think the most creative companies will stay within the Dunbar number size. Dunbar number may be “expanded” with the help of continuously improving IT and telecoms – but will be the major limitation: a larger number of collaborators complicates communication and slows down creative processes. And those are the two critical determinants of value creation in the knowledge economy.
This trend is not evident today, as size still matters in the industries where old means of production (money and physical assets) remain dominant or where the size allows to monopolize the market, in full compliance with the spirit and the letter of Friedman shareholder primacy model.
Fortunately, we can say with full confidence that Milton Friedman’s doctrine will be finally obsolete.
And that takes us to the 5th TREND:
- This is not about the Future of Work; it is about the Future of Society
We’ve been talking here about trends to track in the future of work, focusing entirely on the businesses and, perhaps, non-profit organizations where we have our roles of employers and employees. But think about it: society is a meta-organization in itself.
As we understand the need to change and expect that in the knowledge economy, organizations will have to reinvent themselves every few years, it will only be natural to introduce changes on the societal level as well because our social structure has remained unchanged for centuries.
I am not advocating for revolution or anything of that sort, just highlighting the most important trend to track: Society will have to update its structure as well and will continue evolving. We are entering a new phase in human history where the most advanced and successful corporations will become communities, thus discharging their social function as well.
Peter Drucker, amazing in his prescience, predicted these coming changes thirty years ago. Another visionary, Henry Mintzberg, developed the idea further already in this century in his book “Rebalancing Society.” According to Mintzberg, “Companies must remake themselves into places of engagement, where people are committed to one another and their enterprise.”
This is another fascinating area that is too large for this interview, but the good news is that we will all be part of rebalancing – transforming our organizations into communitiships.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
Quite appropriate for this interview will be another memorable quote from Henry Mintzberg: “An enterprise is a community of human beings, not a collection of “human resources”.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to meet with someone interested as much as I am in the “soft” aspects of management. Perhaps a social sciences enthusiast or an academic able to popularize tough subjects. I think Malcolm Gladwell could fit my specification, especially since we are both Canadian. I would be curious to check his values profile and see if we are closely aligned. Most probably they are… And then we may have a long discussion about the values-based team selection approach. With Malcolm’s interest in unexpected ideas, this discussion may lead to a new bestselling book.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
I will be happy to connect with like-minded people on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sergeibrovkin/. They can follow me on Twitter @SergeiBRO, and learn more about Collectiver Consulting and the Culture Compass tool on collectiver.com.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.
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