The mercenary workforce: that was the term that came up yesterday in a seminar on trust and integrity in the global, virtualised workplace. It represented a point in our thinking when we recognised that people feel let down by their governments and their employers, when failed pensions and the constant threat of redundancy have led to people taking ownership of their own skills and livelihood. Where ‘self’ is put above ‘organisation’.
Or ‘common sense’ as we could call it. Who is responsible for your happiness, for your livelihood, for your sense of dignity? Do you put this in the hands of others, or do you keep it for yourself? If you can’t rely on your government or your employer to keep you happy and employed, or comfortable in retirement, then who is responsible? Me? Surely not…
I think the the notion of the ‘mercenary’ worker was transcended by the recognition that people have choices, and choices don’t make you mercenary, they make you a cautious investor. Do i buy this new car that is less likely to break down, or this cheaper old one? There are pros and cons to both. Do i work for a large corporate, or do i work for myself? Pros and cons. What works best for me?
A lot of us recognised that change (constant and deep) drives the current levels of uncertainty, but whether the pace and breadth of change is greater now than before, or whether we are simply on the downswing and heading for he inevitable bounce back we couldn’t say.
Trust is a complex thing and examining it led us into questions around ‘dignity’, around ‘intent’ and, interestingly, around ‘benefit of the doubt’. I think we recognise that trust is not constant, that in any relationship it swings high and low, but that giving people the benefit of the doubt allows us to keep the wheels moving. Trust is like money, in that you can spend it, but unlike money in that you seem to be able to draw on reserves that you didn’t realise you had. To stick with this analogy, organisations should recognise that people can choose where they spend it and that any of us can go bankrupt.
It’s common now to work alongside people who you never meet, who you only know through their online, broadcast personas. Does this make it easier to strike up productive relationships or harder? Are those relationships quantifiably different? Do we trust these people more, less or differently? This is a subject that i’m actively exploring over in the Learning Forum at the moment. If we can better understand the dynamics of what makes for a stronger relationship or, crucially, if the choreography of when we meet in person and when we work virtually is significant, we should know this. For example, do teams trust each other better when they are formed in the real world and then go virtual or is it the other way around. It may be insignificant, but we just don’t know.
What we do know is that people communicate differently online, so we can’t ignore the possibility that relationships forged in this space will be fundamentally different. Since trust and integrity form such an important foundation for how we work, we should strive to understand these dynamics better. Trust is required not just for constructive learning, but for performance support through coaching and mentoring. It’s not just the technology we need to perfect to create truly effective learning cultures: it’s an understanding of how trust is built and spent.