Employee or partner? A new contract in a social networked world

The fundamental bond of trust between employer and employee is broken: people no longer expect a career for life. Generally, they are happy to still have a job next year. It used to be that your employer owned the structure of your career: you graduated, got a job, went through induction, served your time and then started climbing a series of rungs up the ladder. Team leaders, junior managers, senior managers and, one day, if you were lucky, you got your own parking space and, eventually, a carriage clock.

But no more: nobody stays put and the smart ones jump first. We own our own careers and the networks that support and surround them. We are not units of production, we are innovative entrepreneurs. The human capital revolted.

In a networked world, our contacts are wider, the duration and quality of our relationships is enhanced, our ability to find things out and act upon them is increased, or at least it is if we are able to grab the opportunity. It’s not so much about what you know, more about what you do with what you find out. People don’t just interact within the confines of the office: we collaborate with people in competing industries and people in different industries altogether. My personal learning network is diverse, including people i used to work with and people i may work with in the future: the majority though are just people with whom i share interests. Fellow travellers exploring subjects close to my heart. People with different expertise, skills that complement and challenge my own. Organisations need to recognise that our relationship with them may be transient: indeed, the opportunity is to attract the best of this talent and retain it through suitable reward and recognition.

Harold Jarche describes the ‘new artisans of the network era‘, skilled workers who are passing through, identifying that these people bring their own tools, their own networks, access to their own skills, but they are largely successful in their own right despite the organisations that house them, not because of them.

But why is it important for the organisation to recognise the value of the networked individual? Surely there are a million alternatives out there? Well, yes, there are others (but they are all networked too!) but it’s more about what skills are needed to really add value. Do you need the skills of the masses or the creativity and innovation of the few? Our relationship with knowledge is changing: no longer about what you know, more about what you do with it. This is an agile approach, not learning one course of action and repeating it until retirement, much more about experimentation, about iteration, action research, learning continuously and adapting in line with this.

When we are successful, our networks expand, the quality of our connections increases and the quality of our work improves: i am more successful in collaboration, in partnership with my network than i can ever be alone. Organisations are starting to recognise the power of social learning, recognising the need to create and curate spaces where people come together, where we create meaning out of knowledge. But often then still try to own the spaces, ofter there is a patriarchal view of the setup, a sense that the space can be steered, moderated or controlled. Which, of course, it can, but only if you are willing to accept that the artisans will move elsewhere.

At a time when systems are increasingly interconnected, we still see organisations driving towards uniformity and control. Sure, we’ve seen ‘BYOD‘ for mobile, but we are a way off seeing widespread ‘bring your own email‘ or ‘bring your own learning space‘. We still feel the need to control. In ‘Rework‘, Jason and David talk about how everything is marketing, everything is connected: from the person answering the phone to your email footer. They recognise that simple is better than complex, that everyone needs to do simple things, so why load your offering with complexity. They are right. We need to communicate, we need to innovate, we need to create spaces for experimentation, for learning. And we need to be agile.

My own organisation spent significant time and effort looking at, piloting and trying to deploy a CRM system. I still don’t have access to it. I spent fifteen minutes doing the same thing, but i bought the one by the guys that wrote the book. Why? Because their reputation preceded them, because they speak my language, because they ‘get it‘. I don’t need complexity, i don’t need customer segmentation, i don’t need complex reporting. I need to know Sam’s email address and i need to be able to access it on my mobile. Integrated systems and technology don’t even register on my radar: it’s like the iPad. They just work.

Organisations that miss the point spend a lot of effort trying to get people to engage. The clever ones realise that people will engage if you are engaging. You don’t need strategy and marketing teams to capture attention: you need compelling stories and a willingness to learn. In ‘Made to Stick‘, Chip and Dan Heath put it simply: “what matters to people? People matter to themselves“. In other words, it’s about enlightened self interest. It’s not a one way street. In the new world, the contract needs to be balanced, the needs of the organisation on one side, of us, the workers, on the other. Or at least it does if you want to attract and retain the best artisans. It’s less about control, more about magnetism.

So ‘partnership‘ may be a better term than ‘employee‘. I work with people, not for them. Older hierarchies are crumbling: i wrote about how learning hierarchies are changing, how the old model of the teacher sitting at the front with all the answers is redundant.

Social learning is collaborative, with meaning emerging from the group and being reinvented almost as fast. It’s the same with organisational knowledge: the sum total of knowledge required to do the job does not reside within the organisation, it exists within people, both internal and external. Your ability to forge, nurture and curate your personal learning network is essential.

So what does this mean, for us, for organisations? Well, we need to date: organisations need to attract and retain talent, but do so by recognising the new reality. We are connected.

The changing nature of the relationship may have been driven by organisations taking increasingly cavalier attitudes towards employees, but individuals responded by working together in new social spaces, spaces that are not owned by the employer, forging relationships that will travel with them throughout their career (and what is a career anymore anyway?). Played right, it’s an opportunity for everyone. Agile workers, people who can innovate, deliver creative solutions and do so time and again, that’s gold dust.

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Agile, Authority, Change, Collaboration, Community, Community of Practice, Control, Conversation, Culture, Engagement, Freedom, Innovation, Knowledge, Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Employee or partner? A new contract in a social networked world

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