The organisation of the future: arriving now

Executives interviewed this year for Deloitte’s “Rewriting the rules for the digital age” identified building the organisation of the future as their most important challenge.  Semantics are important here because it signals a change from the past preoccupation of designing the new organisation. There’s a vast difference between designing and actually building.

Think of clay model motorcars. The designers are given a brief, the time frame is not too tight, and maybe three years later a “concept” car is revealed at a motor show as a “signal” to the future. A year or two later they are possibly in production. To keep the analogy driving along, how long realistically before we are all in automated driverless electric vehicles? Some way off. It’s a case of being able to “see the future” but knowing it won’t arrive any time soon. It happened with the industrial revolution and then motorised transport. It happened with computing in the 1980s.

In the agile world of work, the jump to building organisational ecosystems and replacing structural hierarchies has arrived already. We’ve missed a phasing-in stage. Millennials weren’t quite so au fait with the “old” structures to be too fazed by the situation. Gen Z won’t care. But we’re an ageing population. The rapid change is not limited to technology. It encompasses society and demographics as well, and many people will have to work for longer simply because they will live for longer.

Irrespective of the radical shift of workplace organisation, the ability of the workforce to adapt is not so much the issue. Even in a world where “agile” for a worker means the ability to take on a different role every week, and for a business the ability to stay connected with a customer. The issue is the gap between technological sophistication and the amount of work actually being performed. It is increasing at an alarming rate, and it is resulting in wage stagnation.

Oddly, even though we’re experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, there are companies still operating on a 400-year-old East India Trading Company model, based on the military, which was slightly adjusted after the first industrial revolution. We know command and control won’t work anymore. But what will?

The answer may be in the cause of the problem. Deloitte’s report also found employees and organisations are more “overwhelmed than ever”. But corporate leaders worried about building the organisation of the future might consider restabilising the workforce instead – using the very same digital technology that destabilised it in the first place.