A Future that Works

The places in which we work are changing dramatically. Just 20 years ago, the offices of large organizations were clustered in capital cities or economic hubs, and work took place almost exclusively in those offices. The offices themselves were a sea of nondescript cubicles, with leadership cocooned away in the stereotypical penthouse office suite.

At this time, offices were simply a place to congregate to create output, much of which revolved around the fulfilment of rote tasks, such as manual invoice processing within an accounts payable department. Capital cities were, by and large, hubs for these large organizations, clustered into vertical “regions” within the city, think Bank in London or Wall Street in New York.

Now, however, we are seeing a rapid change. Work is beginning to move outside of capital cities, with start-ups and innovation centers now clustering around talent, such as in the emerging tech hubs of Bristol, Madrid and Lisbon. The phrase coined in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come”) no longer seems relevant to the modern business world.

Digital disruption, coupled with economic growth, has fueled an intense talent war, with organizations struggling to fill vital digital roles, such as big data, analytics, creative, social media and digital strategy specialists. As such, the global emergence of attractive regional talent hubs in which organizations can build “hot houses” for “start-up-like” teams within their business are becoming, and will continue to become, increasingly familiar. Organizations such as Barclays, Accenture and even the HM Revenue & Customs have moved internal start-ups and innovation units away from central London and into regional hubs, such as Newcastle and Bristol.

From Location to Office Design

Cities are one thing, but what about where people actually “do” work?

The office's role in business today has undergone a massive shift. No longer is the office just a space to produce and congregate; it is now an enabler of creativity, production, innovation and company culture. The metrics needed to evaluate office space effectiveness need to change, as the previous metrics of productivity, e.g. receipts processed, calls answered, emails sent, are no longer relevant.

FANG organizations have been fundamental in making this shift. Think of Google’s offices, which ooze company culture through every primary colored writeable wall and slide, or the open work spaces that encourage chance meetings and, therefore, collaboration or innovation. The ethos of these tech firms is now shaping many legacy businesses in terms of culture and office design as traditional companies adapt to enhance internal collaboration and innovation to drive digital strategies in their organizations.

Office function doesn’t end here, as these spaces also need to operate as talent incubators or nurseries. The idea that millennials want freedom to work remotely is false. The real story is that millennials want to work closely alongside their boss to learn and also to make a good impression. Office design, therefore, needs to foster this, from seating arrangements that put management within touching distance of graduates, through to collaboration and break-out areas that encourage chance encounters of differing hierarchies in the business. Google has made an art out of the “chance encounter,” specifically designing office spaces with layouts that maximize “casual collisions”.

From moving to regional talent clusters to pulling down those grey cubicles and replacing them with standing desks in open plan offices, it’s undeniably apparent that businesses are rethinking space. Cities and offices are no longer viewed as just congregation points for business.

Office location and design are fundamentally linked to talent, innovation, collaboration, culture and productivity. Therefore, effective use of these spaces needs to be viewed as a critical strategic imperative as organizations look to drive digital initiatives and succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

You Had One Job...


How many of us, actually, do a single thing for work? If you're in the technology, retail, education, consumer products, travel, spirits, healthcare, ecommerce, fashion, finserv, marketing/communications and certainly the start-up-of-any-kind business, you likely do at least two or three things for a living.

Most days I feel like I've got about five jobs. But I'm not complaining, and you probably aren't either. We tell ourselves we live for the thrill of pressure and thrive on complexity. Also, it's just the way it is. This new, buzzed-out shared reality inside the churning neoliberal global commerce machine. And I mean this quite un-ironically and, mostly, without political commentary...

Still, many companies operating in the thin climes of Fortune 1000+ altitude, continue to tinker with their C-level job descriptions and hires. Look no further than the much-besieged role of chief marketing officer for plentiful evidence.

A recent blog post by a trio of PwC consultants inspired me to a deeper think about what sorts of officers enterprises actually do need and benefit from having, as a top-down strategy for surviving at least another seven or eight quarters. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, seems to be the average life span of the unluckily appointed CMOs.

The gist of the PwC guys' pitch is that the world has changed and digital is the thing that changed it. That's why hip, switched-on companies that need to compete with other equally hip and switched-on companies should be hiring impossibly hip and, like totally, switched-on digital big brains if they really do want to win.

This makes zero sense to me. I've been doing digital since there was such a thing, founding a small digital shop in 1994 hanging on for nine wild years across the dotcomeggedon, spending the past twenty-three years living the digital dream. By my reckoning, digital isn't a thing that needs an officer. Digital is the oxygen, the fabric, the sinew, bones and flesh of our businesses, our brands and our marketing. Having a chief digital officer in 2017 seems as ridiculous to me as having a chief electrical officer in 1917.

Make no mistake - every senior exec at the corporate officer level must be a digitalist, in that she's got to understand and apply actionable digital theory to everything her group thinks about and does. Saying a single officer owns 'digital' dangerously creates yet another silo of roped-off competency and turf, at the exact time we need to be reducing if not shattering organizational silos.

I think it's equally wrong-headed to be hiring and listening to chief innovation officers or chief creative officers. Digital, innovation and creativity must be core, strategic characteristics endemic to all leaders and managers of a company if they're going to compete, survive and thrive in this century.

While we're deleting executive job reqs, I think we'll soon see companies losing the chief marketing officer role for a similar reason - marketing in all its manifest forms becomes a function essentially baked-in to everything a business and a brand does. Yes, this from a guy who has spent the past 30+ years in the global marketing services business across every channel and category. A man who's raised five kids on money from checks either signed or authorized by CMOs.

Yet, I do believe there's room for one more officer at the table, one that replaces the CMO role with a more broad and yet intensely specific remit. Value creation, brought to you by the chief value officer. Why would a silo-leveling troublemaker like me suggest adding another C-level?... My defense is simple: it's not a net-new suit joining the harried crowd at the officers' table. Smart businesses will be losing the chief marketing officer job title, replacing them with an even scarier, seemingly impossible three-part remit for the freshly recruited CVO:

a. value creation for the humans we need to get and keep as customers;
b. value capture to the business's bottom line from getting 'a' right;
c. repeat, relentlessly & enduringly.

About ten years ago, another consulting firm (Deloitte) began a modest call for companies to develop this new role of chief value officer, but the job description they were suggesting was much closer to a chief revenue officer with a happy face appended. We're suggesting something different, something perhaps more radical, but something that should have been the first and most important job of all those CMOs spinning through our c-suite revolving doors for the past fifty years - human value creation.

The logic is pretty straight forward. Regardless of what sort of widgets your business makes and sells, you're not in the widgets business - or the selling or the servicing business, or the digital business, or revenue business, or innovation business, or the data business, or the creativity business - you're in the value business now. That's all that matters to the people who matter most to your bottom line: the humans we'd be honored to call our customers.

It doesn't take an officer of any imaginable type or pay level to remind us that, if we create more value for them - and job no. 1, by the way, is replacing all your wasted 'advertising' with value marketing - incremental value will return to the business, its stakeholders and its shareholders. If you really did have just one job, can you imagine how much fun creating value for a living might be?

Me too.

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New to Platforms? Learn How to Get Them Right

It’s gratifying to see how we’re getting a handle on what it takes to lead and succeed today in an era of big data. We’ve been saying this for some time because the starting point for business model innovation—radical, not incremental—begins with the platform. You will hear a lot about platforms in the next few years but the concept of “the platform” is often misunderstood (trust me, I check whenever I hear the term used) yet they’re actually rather simple: platforms are layers of software that gather and synthesize data to link assets, products and partners together. They’re created to satisfy customer demand, drive innovation, the next best action etc. Get this and you start seeing platforms everywhere and why they are so important.

The easiest example I can think of is the ubiquitous LinkedIn account because, if we’re honest, we all have one. We carefully curate them to say what we’re professionally all about. But LinkedIn quite simply is made up of layers of software that gather data about you, your work and what others say about you and your work. Its clever algorithm predicts when you will be looking for a job and what type of roles to serve up to you based on what you and others feed into it (Ah. Mr. Davis, we notice it’s your 5 year anniversary...we have this wonderful role for you click here.) When you think about it, the collective insight LinkedIn holds over our working lives is staggering, second only to the insights Facebook holds over our personal lives. So last year, it was no surprise that Microsoft splurged a whopping $26 billion on LinkedIn because Microsoft is building a machine for how work gets done in the future. That machine will feature people (i.e. LinkedIn) plus machines (software)—a perfect combination for the burgeoning gig economy, so kudos to Microsoft because I think they got their mitts on LinkedIn rather cheaply.

Seeing platforms as layers of software means you’ll see them everywhere, making our lives easier, simpler and frictionless—that’s the theory anyway. Perhaps there is a layer of software or platform forming around your home right now, gathering data on how you, and your loved ones like to live: Do you have a Nest thermostat or Hive? Perhaps you share your life with Amazon’s Alexa who (who? who! it’s a device!) that understands when to dim the lights (10.38pm) and when to switch on a bit of Coldplay (10.45pm) and when to turn the kettle on for a brew the following morning (7.03 am...no wait it’s a Sunday, 9.17am). Could this very simple piece of AI become the default organizer for our busy lives as the homes we live in become ever thick and rich with data? Will Alexa be the orchestrator par excellence in charge of an eco-system that Amazon (and only Amazon) commands? Now you can understand why Google Home and Johnny-come-lately Apple’s Homepod have brought out their own Alexa versions as an era of platform wars around the home kicks in. Because control the platform and you win...

It’s not just the digital steam punks like Amazon or Google that see the power of the platform. Older, pre-digital companies are beginning to reorganize work around the concept and are rebooting how they create value for the Work Ahead. Check out Bosch, GE and DHL, three large, mature organization whose leaders have pivoted their research and development, production, marketing, sales and competitive futures around the rich flow of platform data generated across their processes. In fact, the future of these companies is being bet on transforming into software powerhouses with the platform—software—the central organizing principle for how work gets parsed and chunked to create value. Take GE’s innovative analytics platform Predix, which applies process data to redesigns workflows for a disparate customer base. As such, it is instrumenting entire value chains, and in its wake, bringing an entire industry ecosystem behind it. Or Bosch’s Software Innovations (BSI) group which provides a cross-company platform to orchestrate an industry push (or rather an industry hold) into its burgeoning Internet of Things activities.

What does this all mean? Well I would argue that those lumbering organizations struggling with legacy business models, bloated cost structures and zombie workforces are, we think, turning a corner. They’re getting “match fit” if you will, for the opportunities ahead. Platforms are starting to become the organizing principle for work while the metabolism for innovation steadily rises as new agile ways of working, collaborating, and partnering proliferate. Last year in our study on the Future of Talent we wrote how the dynamics surrounding talent and power (read decision making) are shifting, and a couple of months ago, we described the new mandate and blueprint for leadership under Relearning Leadership in the Second Machine Age. Enabling people and enabling leaders is part of the journey for the modern, match fit organization but I wonder if there is another bigger lever that needs to be pulled. The dynamics surrounding how we work. Look at our increasingly nomadic work cultures, the growth of gigs, and the rise of talent clusters in many cities around the world which are all changing how we think about place and the space for work. Watch this space...