May 01, 2016

Because One Size Does Not Fit All

Is the traditional career over? There’s no denying that the concept of the “traditional career” is becoming extinct. People used to graduate from school, look for a job at a great company, join the development programs for new hires, pay their dues working their way up the rank, and then look forward to a good retirement program 30 to 40 years later. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), today the average worker stays at their job for 4.4 years. And some research indicates that millennials change jobs at twice that rate.

Some workplace experts view this disruptive change as an issue, touting solutions to fix the problem. Often this solution is to build a flexible, meaningful workplace, and provide employees’ perks and benefits such as free food and unlimited vacation. But others, such as Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte, think the problem is more fundamental and the solution lies in changing the entire design of our organizations.

However, perhaps the crux of the matter is that this change is not a challenge or a problem; rather, it’s a simple evolution of the workplace and how we work. Workers today are looking for more opportunities and flexibility, and the traditional model of a career is no longer applicable to everyone’s interests and preferences. It’s no longer one size fits all.

The Traditional Career

In most firms, workers were organized into specialized roles that helped firms create economies of scale. Rather than each person trying to perform all the functions, including manufacturing, marketing, sales, and finance, organizations created teams of functional specialists to drive down costs. These specialized functions then grew into the careers we have today. And many of us have spent years working in one functional area, moving up the path to become senior professionals or leaders within that function.

As workers progressed through their career, they were able to follow two basic paths: managerial and professional. Managerial careers involved leading people and teams, while professional careers involved deepening functional expertise. As such, succession management became a huge part of the organizational design to develop enough managers and senior professionals to meet skill demands.

Careers Today and Employee Mobility

Today, the world is quite different. Companies are becoming more dynamic, and recent research shows that 92 percent of senior leaders want to redesign the organization to drive agility and go-to-market speed. As such, new business units, customer opportunities, and product teams are constantly formed. Younger employees want to move around to learn new things and accelerate their development, and business leaders simply cannot find enough truly ready leaders early enough, so are forced to promote workers before they are ready for the role and have them learn on the job.

Today, the highest performing companies are moving people around from team to team more regularly. According to research by Bersin by Deloitte, only 25 percent of large companies are organized functionally today, and 83 percent are planning on an organizational re-design in 2016. And a full 92 percent believe the importance of teams is “very important” or “important”. Additionally, there is less emphasis on “middle management” as the demand for team leaders and functional experts increases and the need for day-to-day general managers decreases.

And while organizational charts continue to look the same as they did during the traditional model of the career, the way they function is quite different. Teams are rampant throughout most companies today – sales teams, client support teams, marketing teams, etc. Plus there are also special project teams and implementation teams. While teams have always existed, what’s different is that today these teams inter-operate without the need for hierarchy. For example, the sales team interacts with the client service team, which also talks to the marketing team. This new emerging organizational structure is highly flexible, and helps to facilitate innovation, speed and agility.

Organizational Structure

Organizational Structure

Source: Deloitte

How to Embrace the New Organizational Design

Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte provides some tips to help companies implement and support this new model of the career and the organization. While giving workers the flexibility to choose their path provides many organizational and business benefits, it could quickly backfire if not supported by the company culture and policies.

1) Talent Mobility: Workers no longer move around in companies in the traditional triangle; rather they move in almost every direction. This means companies need to implement programs, support systems, reward structures, and tools that will facilitate people moving from job to job

2) Career Transitioning: As more people move around from function to function and job to job, it becomes important for companies to create development programs that allow for mentoring and coaching. Also important is developing guidelines and measurements, so that workers who move from place to place as a way of avoiding accountability for their work cannot hide.

3) Communication: Workers need to know what positions and roles are available internally, which means that HR departments need to be proactive about posting and promoting internal jobs.

Bersin by Deloitte also provides recommendations for success towards this new organizational model of networks of teams:

1) Shared values and culture

2) Transparent goals and projects

3) Feedback and free low of information

4) Rewarding people for skills and contribution, not position