People, Place, Work.

By now you know the score: we’re moving through a significant economic shift; Business value increasingly accrues at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds; Our connected cars, intelligent homes, emerging crypto currencies together signal a raft of new market niches and commercial opportunities that were unheard-of a mere 5 years ago. The power behind economic performance is irrevocably linked to how well a company innovates and marshal’s data around its value chain versus its competitors. The prize is lucrative for those that get it right. And the number of organizations that are beginning to get it right is growing (Bosch, GE, DHL etc. See my previous post).

Those lumbering organizations once struggling with legacy business models, bloated cost structures and zombie workforces are, we think turning a corner. They’re getting “match fit” for the opportunities ahead. The metabolism for innovation is rising as agile ways of working, higher rates of collaborating, and partnering proliferate while the platform becomes the default organizing principle for work. I think the job is only half done however. Until organizations radically change form to follow function, then they risk a digital stall. I’m keen to know if there is a radical need to realign not only people but also the places where people go and get work done. After all, place is still a proxy for culture.

I am beginning to think that the relationship between the places where work gets done and the people that work there is starting to change. This is because the dynamics surrounding how we work—nomadic work cultures, the growth of the gig economy, and the rise of talent clusters in many smaller, regional cities—are changing the concept of place and space for an organization and triggering a profound set of questions about what constitutes the corporate norms of how and where we work. Leaders have to ask themselves not just how employees will work together but where they will work together? What skills and capabilities does your firm need and how and where will it locate them? I think there is something more profound happening and its shows the relentless march of technology into every aspect of our lives. Our cities where people traditionally work are starting to change their look and feel.

Check out how the world’s tech giants, dripping with money and power, are changing the dynamics in and around our largest cities. From California to London, Google, Facebook and Apple are employing the world’s best architects to build awe inspiring symbols of their immense wealth and global power. Your jaw will drop when you see Apple Park: it’s a circle of glass designed to foster creativity and innovation and its obsession with detail is mindboggling: Its (German manufactured) windows provide the largest panels of curved glass anywhere on the planet while the planned underground theatre is truly something to behold. Then go and explore Google’s newly announced plans for its London HQ in the once seedy Kings Cross. It’s being called a “land scraper” with 92,000 square meters complete with a running track installed on its roof. These symbols of wealth and power could well be the smartest office space on the planet. But how far will the interaction between people and the place they work evolve? Will it be the shiny new world of Buck Rogers or the ominous territory staked out by Black Mirror?

Expect the tension between employers and their employees to grow. The implicit contract of trust sitting between both sides skews as intelligence grows around buildings and the occupants that work within them. A recent news story backs this up—Three Square, a US technology company wants to microchip its employees. The chip is the size of a grain of rice and will be implanted underneath the skin between thumb and forefinger (a bit like the bead inserted behind the ear in the ever ominous Black Mirror). The chip is optional (for now) and uses the same NFC technology that’s found in our contactless cards. With the chip employees can pay for food and drink, open doors, log onto computers and use other corporate resources. It makes sense when you consider that Three Square writes software for vending machines. That said, is there a danger that our employees become bits and bytes that can be tracked and gamified across the company? Would that work for you in your place of work?

Last year’s Future of Talent described a new work platform enabling employers to better understand the productive behavioral patterns of their workforce. We wrote how Bank of America uses sensory data to better understand employee performance dynamics and learned that; call center performance increased when staff had “hang time” with others in their social circle during lunch breaks. It then deliberately overlapped these lunch breaks, leading to a 23% increase in performance. So if we were to extrapolate...who would you choose to have in your team? The rabid “Brexiteer” or a bleeding heart liberal? What if a clever algorithm could augment your teams or co-locate staff to ensure space at work is harmonious and productive. Or perhaps you think a little “grit” makes a pearl.

Whatever you think, the places where we work are being supercharged with technology but the truth is they act as cultural barometers for people and the companies that inhabit them. Our previous work offered insights on how to enable people and how to enable leaders. Now we’re going to explore how to enable place?

PS. If you think chipping people won’t happen here in Europe then think again. A Swedish rail company started offering it’s passengers options of using a chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket...and we’re getting used to handing over our bodies to make our lives frictionless! The UK’s TSB bank announced it would become the first bank in Europe to introduce iris recognition on its mobile banking app. This stuff is creeping up on us fast.

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.

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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.