journeys of survival
people are our most important resource
• A Predicament
• A Threat
• A Disaster
organisations which are not people organisations
The thinking organisation
journeys of survival
people are out most important resource
• A Predicament
• A Threat
• A Disaster
organisations that aren’t people organisations
The thinking organisation
Labour – Capital
For the first time in the short history of capitalist economies, the balance between Capital and Labour is beginning to change.
Ageing populations, twinned with falling birthrates, results in fewer people available to work. This shortage of Labour, with us for decades, will begin to challenge the dominance of Capital. This has happened before only for short periods, in unique circumstances, on a smaller scale.
Governments, societies and business organisations have never had to deal with a systemic change in the organisation of the economic system on such a scale and will inevitably view it as a problem. This will exacerbate difficulties.
For societies to be successful in navigating huge demographic changes, it will be necessary to view them as a new reality, as an opportunity to change the way we organise ourselves for the better and as a chance to build more dynamic, creative, productive, sustainable, fairer societies.
Organisations which choose to change before it is, inevitably, imposed on them, who choose to truly become People Organisations, stand a better chance of survival. Many businesses will not understand, until it is too late, that the only way through this is to value people as the reliable route to survival, success and profit.
Behavioural Navigation – Journeys of Survival
Organisations state that ‘People are our most important resource’. It used to be phrased as ‘asset’, for some reason that changed. Usually, in the corporate world, it is noticeable that the more a company uses phrases like these, the more it is in direct, inverse proportion to the way in which they treat their people.
We live in a world where the words, the wrapping, the PR, the cosmetics have become more important than the actuality. If people were the most important part of a company (which, of course, they are) then the Board and higher management would bust a gut to treat them well, to develop them, to manage them imaginatively and to do everything in their power to retain that valuable resource. That rarely happens because, in the majority of organisations, people are seen as cogs. Replaceable cogs.
Unfortunately, for organisations which operate like this, the majority in our modern world, there is a shortage of people on the way, the likes of which we have never experienced. Demographic change, an inevitable result of what happens under Capitalism, is now with us for decades . . . possibly forever.
Organisations which are able to re-invent themselves and produce creative, imaginative, workable solutions to attract, induct, train, develop, grow, reward, promote, retain and value their employees stand a better chance of surviving, succeeding and of making a difference in their sector . . . and possibly of making a profit as well.
Capitalism Eats Itself
Capitalism has developed as the pre-eminent socio-economic system in our modern world. It seems to offer the best solutions for societies and for the majority of people in those societies. Until something demonstrably and experientially better comes along, it seems certain we will stick with it.
The coming problem for Capitalism is that it relies on Labour. Under capitalist economies, women are required as part of the workforce. One of the first things women want, when they participate in a capitalist economy, is reliable birth-control.
It is not possible to have ten children and be an effective mother and an effective worker.
Under Capitalism, women and their partners start having smaller families or choose to have no children at all. Children are expensive and people in relationships need two incomes to get by. As societies transition successfully to a capitalist economy, the seeds are sown for drastic demographic change a few, short decades down the road.
What happens to the Capital = Labour equation when Labour is not cheap, available, biddable or affordable? It is one of the clear faults of Capitalism that only a Chosen Few Workers are valued and allowed to share in the pie, the rest have to make do with the crumbs. What happens when the Crumb Workers leave to go and share in a different pie? What happens when you can’t find Replacement Crumb Workers?
People Are Our Most Important Resource > Actions
Over the next years, as organisations realise that people truly are their most important resource, they will undergo a sea-change in how they view and treat their people. This is long overdue and will result in a fundamental change in society, in politics, in how societies are organised.
Lifelong learning, development and training will become the norm. Retirement will fade as a concept, we will need older citizens with valuable experience and skills to help work and mentor the younger. Enjoying the work you do, while working for a company which values you, will be a given.
All members of society from the youngest to the oldest will be seen as vital to the functioning of that society. The whole of society will be engaged in ensuring that a productive and worthwhile working life is followed by involvement and productivity when older. Revolutionary changes in medicine and health-care will ensure that citizens are willingly involved and energetically contributing for longer: your healthspan will become your lifespan
AI and robots will steal jobs and parts of jobs. The good news is that they are most likely to steal the unpleasant, repetitive, mindless work unsuitable for humans. Excellent!
21st C Demographic Disruption
Most governments have not remotely begun to realise the intense disruption which demographic change will bring. In the next decade, many countries will experience huge changes in the constitution of their populations. Ageing populations, allied with falling birthrates, will result in societies with huge shortages of workers. In addition, those workers will, absent economic and societal change on an unprecedented scale, be responsible for supporting the retired old.
The current system is not sustainable. It will have to change. Governments and politicians, if they run true to form, will do nothing about this until it is too late and circumstances force them to realise that change is necessary.
These demographic changes have been foreseeable for decades. Many countries, large and small, will have huge problems. The problems will, overwhelmingly, stem from the fact that planning and organisation will be absent until the last minute . . . or later.
China will shrink from about 1.4 billion to around 800 million by the end of the century. Italy and Japan will have about 50% of their 2000 population in 2100. Russia will be irrelevant, their population will have died or emigrated, their political system and existential alcoholism problem exacerbating an already dire demographic.
In less than 30 years, 25% of the global population will be African. Today 75% of Africans are under 30. Africa has more than half of the earth’s arable land, mostly undeveloped, large resources of critical metals and 17 rare earth elements. Will this really be the Chinese century?
The only way to deal with what is coming is for countries to develop long-term planning capabilities, smarter politics and more flexible ways of organising society. Key political skills will include the willingness to plan for the future, take calculated longer-term risks, to think the unthinkable . . . and then do it. During this the population will have to be involved, informed and motivated. And politicians will have to start learning to tell their citizens the truth . . . this won’t happen soon.
Is it: • A Predicament • A Threat • A Disaster
As animals, we are hard-wired for survival. It’s the most important thing for us. However, the survival instinct also has the effect of making us regard the future as a problem, a struggle, a fight. If we are to deal successfully with the future, the new reality facing us, we must learn to look at it in a fresh way.
Rather than see it, instinctively, as difficult, as a threat to us and our way of life, we will have to re-frame it as an opportunity to transition to a better way of existing on this small planet. For most, that will not be an easy thing to do. As creatures of habit, we have a strong predilection to doing things in the same way . . . even when that isn’t working.
The future is always full of possibility. Opportunities are always present. Perhaps, though, we need to see growth in different ways than we have under traditional Capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t have to imply injustice, unfairness, elitism, inequality, exploitation, greed, corruption, poverty and social chasms . . . it could be made to work better.
Fairer societies, with more meaningful involvement from people living in those societies, will be able to measure growth in different terms: growth in experience, contribution, learning and development, the variety and richness of an individual life . . . rather than only in financial profit accrued.
If societies would like to prosper, then ways have to be found for all citizens to participate and to benefit. That would be a pragmatic, common-sense approach which would see more willing involvement from all ages and levels of society. From our politicians we will require real action which changes thing, not words written on air which blow away with the winds of economic change.
None of this will happen quickly, it takes time to turn a juggernaut.
If it doesn’t happen, then we will experience problems and societal breakdown on an unimaginable scale. Look around the world, it has begun.
Capitalist societies measure success and progress largely in terms of economic growth. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the measure of choice, indicates to the world how a particular country is doing.
Along with this there is the focus on Quarterly Results as a way of measuring the success of individual companies. GDP and QR are regarded as, ideally, being on an upward trajectory, forever.
There are very few things in nature which grow forever. Some grow for years and then have a period of stasis. Some grow, reach maturity and then shrink or die.
Untrammelled, forever growth is not natural, not normal and not sustainable. How many successful companies are around after 100 years?
Economies under Capitalism are supposed to go on growing, with allowances made for the composting and pruning effects of the business cycle, into the future. It is alien in business to think of successful commercial entities which remain the same size, or which exist to help their workers by producing quality goods and services but which do not primarily exist to serve the gods of profit.
Over the last four fifths of this century, we will recalibrate how we think about, regard and operate business organisations. We will analyse deeply what their primary purposes are, what they are really for, what they exist to do, to achieve. We will come to realise that the most important measure of an organisation is not necessarily, or primarily, how much money it makes.
Organisations Which Aren’t People Organisations
Businesses like to state that they are People Organisations. It’s an easy, and fairly meaningless, thing to say. Most, of course, aren’t and the mere fact of stating it proves the opposite. Being thought of as a People Organisation is a Soft Thing, a nice-to-have and it shows that their heart is in the right place. But it’s almost always a lie.
Over the next 20+ years the perception of wishy-washy, Soft Things will change as they are recognised as actually Very Hard To Do. The achievement of becoming a People Organisation will come to be seen as an absolute necessity, a basic requirement, vital to the success and survival of all business organisations.
Increasingly, people will want to work for organisations which look after them, which reward them adequately and which seek to develop their skills, potential and value. It will take many organisations quite a long time to understand why this is desirable, necessary and, in light of the demographic detonation on the near-horizon, non-negotiable.
In the new business world, already upon us, people are of premium value because there is a shortage of them. It’s not that they don’t want to work, that they’ve gone back to Europe or somewhere else, that they’re on a Gap Year . . . they don’t exist because they haven’t been being born. Organisations which don’t pour energy and money into solutions for this shortage will die.
The Thinking Organisation
The unexamined life is not worth living, as for the individual, so too for business organisations.
Thinking about how a company operates, tapping creative ideas for how to do it better, analysing how people are valued, or not, and how to ensure their potential is realised, should be the aim of the Thinking Organisation. That is, a company operating consciously and attempting to learn from their experience, their people, their successes and from their mistakes. A company which listens, observes, thinks and takes appropriate action.
Companies which are solely, or largely, about Achieving Tasks will not sit well in the new world of labour shortages. They will not adapt easily to the idea of moving more smartly, carefully and deliberately in order to be able to move faster.
Companies which have the imagination to picture how they will operate in a world where people are at a premium, and consider how they can become places where people want to work, will have a distinct advantage over companies which don’t really care and can’t be bothered to do the thinking. The arrogance and exceptionalism of the corporate world is about to undergo a rude awakening. The transition from ‘Please, please give me a job’ to ‘Give me reasons why I should want to work for you’ will be swift, confusing and difficult to deal with.
Organisations which want to survive, and would like to be successful, will have to take the tough decision to spend money and time transforming themselves into organisations of the future where people want to spend a significant part of their lives.