A couple of unrelated conversations in the past week…
At the LEF executive forum event last week I heard the London Business School’s Rob Goffee speak, and the one abiding memory is how he explored the idea that organisations need to move beyond the idea of employee engagement and motivation if organisations want to be able to attract the sort of people with the sort of skills they require to compete in the modern economy.
Goffee’s argument is that the “clever” (his term) sort of folk that organisations need to be able to have working for them have value without necessarily being in traditional jobs. If you want to get them working for you, and you want them exclusively, the tradition of a job that is “compensated” with pay and benefits won’t be enough. If they could just as easily set up their own business, companies need to think about what they can offer of value over and above cash and pensions and healthcare.
(As a side note, I’m increasingly thinking that the Welfare State in the UK is a driver of entrepreneurship. Without having to worry about basic healthcare, the barriers to startup entry in the UK are remarkably low. Although that’s something that some tech companies seem to be taking advantage of…)
In the world that Goffee paints, employees think of themselves as suppliers to the organisation, but employers in turn need to think of themselves of workplace value to their employees. Value might take the form of interesting work, a good network of co-workers, striving towards a meaningful mission… The days of shareholder value being the primary objective of an organisation are hopefully numbered.
On the Twitters this morning there’s been a bit of hubbub about a comment by Facebook’s Richard Allan that:
Here’s the thing. I think most people think that they are customers of Facebook. That it’s a service that just happens to be free. But the reality is that as a user of Facebook you are a supplier of product. The value exchange for your privacy and data is access to their service. You may or may not regard that as fair value (I at the moment just about do), but you need to think of yourself as a supplier for that equation to really make sense. Facebook’s customers are advertisers who are given access to the product – data profiling based on the social graph.
Maybe these two things are totally unrelated. But I have a hunch that understanding the shifting of roles in this way – from employee to supplier, from employer to supplier, from customer to supplier – is part of the knack to understanding how society is changing and adapting in response to the world around it. The question of “what are you?” needs to be asked with increasing frequency and open mindedness…