Reflect on how the nature of work is changing due to the web and implications to leadership. In particular, what take aways do you take from Shirky’s talk and leadership in today’s world. Is “open” a given in leadership today?
As the United States moved to the information age, the internet changed the nature of work. Specific to discipline of business, corporations became more efficient and globally connected through advances in web technology. To start, a shift in work from employees to customers made corporations more efficient. Friedman (2007) describes the self-directed consumer whereby companies create platforms that allow customers to serve themselves in their own way on their own time. Along the same lines, customers today book flights, order tickets for a professional sporting event, or send flowers to a significant other anytime online. Turning to the author’s organization in financial services, another example of Friedman’s (2007) self-directed consumer is when investors setup individual retirement accounts (IRA) online, provide e-signatures to legally authorize the accounts, and supply instructions to begin deductions from the investor’s bank accounts. Prior to the web, this workflow required mountains of paperwork, involved numerous employees, and took several weeks to complete. Fast forward to today, investors complete the new IRA account process in a few days. Furthermore, opening an IRA is just one of the many workflows, previously done by employees, which investors complete on the internet today. Ostensibly, the internet reduced cycle time, improved productivity, and thereby made the company more efficient.
On a global picture, the internet made the world smaller by connecting people in different countries through Friedman’s (2007) universal platform for multiple forms of sharing work and knowledge. As a byproduct of the dot.com collapse, Friedman (2007) provides the fiber optic cables laid across the ocean enabled global connectivity and companies who did not previously have access to employees in different countries now connect and collaborate with each other. To illustrate, the author’s company has international operations in Asia, Australia, Canada, Continental Europe, Mexico, South America, and the United Kingdom; employees communicate easily across the globe through the internet using tools such as email, instant messenger, and video conferencing. However, business leaders in the workplace today must be more skilled in interacting with people from different cultures. Friedman (2007) provides globalization means everyone is not going to look, speak, and think the same.
Staying with connectivity, a downside of the internet on work is that employees never get away. Gartner (2010) provides work will happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week (“Gartner 10 work changes,” 2010). Similarly, technology connects the author to his workplace all the time. Armed with a blackberry and laptop computer loaded with programs needed to do his job, the author has nowhere to hide and the expectation of his clients is that he is available any time of the day including weekends, holidays, and vacations! Due to the constant connectivity, the blending of work and family occurs. In contrast, his father escaped the workplace when he physically left the office. To combat burnout, leaders should seek opportunities to unplug from the world (Friedman, 2007) to get respite and return to work refreshed and invigorated!
Another downside is some American’s skills became too expensive or obsolete. The pressure is on American workers to perform or risk employment. To illustrate, a potential impact of outsourcing is American workers lose their jobs to foreign countries. Friedman (2007) provides parts of work that can be done cheaper in other countries will be outsourced there. As another example, the author has a New York City law firm as a client who recently shared the advances in technology around email, automated dictation, and electronic scanning of documents made administrative assistants irrelevant to first and second year attorneys. Similar to Friedman’s (2007) self-directed consumer, these attorneys prefer to complete the work themselves through technology. As a result, the firm let go several administrative assistants because their skills were obsolete. Being laid off can be a traumatic life event; however, it also may present opportunities.
Advances in technology and the internet created opportunities for the type of work employees do. To explain, Gartner (2010) states the de-routinization of work is where employees value add is not in a process that can be automated but in the non-routine processes that are uniquely human, analytical, or interactive (“Gartner 10 work changes,” 2010). The author observes the movement to value added services as a big opportunity for his organization. To illustrate, returning to the aforementioned IRA example, the internet enabled the process to remove human interaction. As a result, the company’s employees freed up to perform more value added services. To hone employee skills, the company educated and infused Certified Financial Planners throughout its business to answer complex questions investors have about IRAs. In this work environment, employees must continuously adapt and evolve or risk being left behind and leaders must be forthright with the plans for employees. How has the internet changed your organization?
With the ever-evolving nature of business shaped by technology and changes in consumer tastes, leaders today operate in an environment of constant change. Therefore, a leader’s role is to provide transparency and a vision of the future to followers. To illustrate, many employees at the author’s company were concerned when the internet started to perform tasks previously done by employees. Historically, the company has a policy of not laying employees off and the CEO reiterates this message to employees. However, he does not guarantee employees will do the same job as they might today. Thus, the CEO’s transparency is critical in employees understanding the rules of the game!
Shirky (2012) provides how open source programming can change democracy. In reflecting on Shirky (2012), the author’s take away is that Shirky’s (2012) form of arguing is evident in business. To illustrate, companies and entrepreneurs provide products and services to the marketplace. Customers have a voice by choosing whether to purchase the product or service. Moreover, customers contact the company through its website, telephone, or social media to provide feedback. The implication to business leaders is that they must act as what Shirky’s (2012) calls a GIT or version control to listen to customer feedback and make changes if necessary. Shirky (2012) would point out a limitation is this form of GIT is not distributed. However, companies own the rights to its products and services. In essence, a leader brings order in the many customer voices from chaos and thereby improves the product or service.
Shirky (2012) defines open as if you do an experiment and publish a claim, people do not trust you unless you show them how you did the experiment. In contrast, Coca-Cola does not provide customers with the special formula to make the beverage. Yet, Coca-Cola would claim it offers the best soft drink in the world and customers trust Coca-Cola. Similarly, the author’s company does not provide the mathematical equation for indexing mutual funds. His organization claims it is the best indexer and investors trust his organization manages the mutual funds with prudence. However, business leaders who violate the public’s trust should consider Shirky’s (2012) openness. For example, British Petroleum was transparent with its plans when faced with the crisis of cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It investigated the incident, provided a report of what happened, and communicated a plan to fix the issue. The implication for leadership is that customers trust you until they receive information that changes their mind. Friedman (2007) provides we are all paparazzi with our cell phone cameras and everybody is fair game and news. With the prevalence of smartphones with cameras, video, and internet access, companies are wise to practice Shirky’s (2012) openness during a time of crisis. What do you think?
Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Picador.
Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513
Shirky, C. (2012, September 25). How the internet will (one day) transform government [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEN4XNth61o&feature=youtu.be