Are You Ready to Lead Work Without Jobs?

We’re moving toward a system of work design that will profoundly change the roles of organizational leaders.

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The way we have traditionally organized work and workers is becoming increasingly obsolete. We are moving toward a new work operating system that will deconstruct work into tasks and projects that may be assigned not only to employees but also to machines and contingent workers in talent marketplaces. In addition, workers will increasingly be identified not as holding a specific job but as possessing a set of skills and talents that can be applied wherever the organization may need them. These shifts were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which underscored the critical importance of organizational agility and flexibility — both of which are enabled by this emerging approach to work.

This will require a profound change in the mindset and behavior of leaders. This new way of designing work and organizing talent, as Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau, coauthor of this piece, have previously described, requires managers to begin thinking in terms of how tasks and projects are accomplished, not how “jobs” are organized. It will require leaders and managers to become skilled at orchestrating a broad array of different resources — some human, some not; some employees, some not — to execute those tasks. And as talent gains greater agency to choose the most desirable projects and project leaders, the relationship between managers and workers will increasingly become less hierarchical.

Leadership Challenges of the New Work Operating System

When we have presented this idea to top leaders and HR professionals, they have correctly pointed out that work without jobs will require rethinking leadership, management, and work coordination. A typical reaction is, “I used to have four people in boxes called ‘jobs’ with reporting lines that ran to my box, and I could call on any or all of them to get things done within the mission of our collective job boxes. Now this new work operating system will in many cases dissolve the boxes. ‘My people’ become visible to other leaders through their deconstructed capabilities, and those other leaders can recruit my people for deconstructed tasks or projects.

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