More than a decade ago I wrote an article for Workforce Magazine talking about what we would now call the gig economy. Predicting that the definition and construct of the job was changing and the relationship and nature of work with it. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say I was on the right track, but really didn’t go far enough with my thinking.
The nature of work is changing but the pace is far more dramatic than I had anticipated. When the average worker’s day has become less about complete task X, Y, and Z (where the value of X, Y, and Z remain constant) and more about Solve Brand New Problem #1443, companies need a high-tech solution. Something highly adaptable, capable of complex problem solving, and able to quickly iterate on past experiences in real time.
Luckily we all already have access to that tech: the human brain.
I was really energized when I read research in MIT’s Sloan Management Review that suggests that well designed work can make us smarter. You read that right – by making work better we can expand our human potential. This is exactly what Human Experience Management (HXM) is all about. When you make space for people to show up with their whole self, foster a culture of learning and facilitate adaptable dynamic teams, work can become dynamic and stimulating. Employees – and their brains – benefit from being challenged and they enjoy co-creating solutions.
There’s risk in getting this wrong too. Work can be good hard and it can be bad hard. Complex is good, but too complex (re: far outside of skillset, quantity, etc.) can have negative effects. To understand how, when, and why to challenge employees, we need to understand each of them at their core – what motivates them and what they aspire to do that is what we call the whole self model.
When in doubt, as Parker and Fisher write, make work and projects SMART 😉:
S — Stimulating (complex and varied work)
M — Mastery (providing job feedback and role clarity to aid mastery)
A — Agency (job autonomy and control)
R — Relational (social contact, social support, and interaction with others)
T — Tolerable (manageable levels of job demands such as workload and time pressure)
Now here is the most interesting bit – when we combine this energizing work with groups of people who are all working together something magical happens. Now instead of being forced to have all the ideas yourself, you can leverage the super set of strengths of the group. This is why dynamic teams are so important. When teams can dynamically form to solve problems great things happen, not just in solving complex work challenges but also in building a stronger sense of belonging. And when I’m energized and engaged in a place where I belong I am at my best to learn new skills.
As HR leaders, we have the power to change work for good – for our companies and for ourselves. Let’s make the future of work a future that values each person every day and helps each of us grow and upskill together.