I read recently that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012), the median number of years an employee stays with their employer in the U.S. is 4.6. On the surface this seems like a long time. However I suspect that it will be significantly shorter soon as the “Gig Economy”, where tenure and titles will matter little as mobility is the norm, takes off. If trends continue, I suspect two things will need to change in organizations:
1. Faster Trust Building. Trust is the bedrock of collaborative and cooperative work which quite frankly is the future of work (well, work that won’t be automated anyway). Today we know trust is developed over a long period of time and even then it’s with a select and small subset of people in an organization. Trust is often limited to those we work closest with on projects or in departments. So if the average tenure is 4.6 years, it’s safe to say as soon as real trust is being formed, people move on.
I think one practice organizations can take to build organization-wide trust is to support and encourage Working Out Loud (WOL). If work is done in the open (not just status updates and summary posts) in collaborative spaces and with opportunities for critique and contribution from all levels, it creates an environment for honestly, altruism and transparency. Additionally, when new employees enter an organization that engages in wide-spread WOL they can quickly see the sincere interactions and reactions that have happened within the connected workforce. Many from people who may no longer even be there. These artifacts can be inspiring, bringing about the same behaviors in these newest members, as it’s seen to be a activity that is safe and encouraged. It’s self-reinforcing.
2. Focus on Residue over Retention. Related to my last point about WOL is one that, with people coming and going as often as they do (and increasingly so), successful organizations will need to harness the energy of continual movement. The new economy is fueled by the Internet and Web 2.0 acts as a amplifier, a spotlight for talent. Talent can now be found anywhere, investing heavily in inane engagement activities to retain talent makes little sense. For organizations the smarter move is to put greater emphasis again on capturing the inertia of the pass-through employee, in other words their residue. Organizations now need to focus more on creating an ecosystem suited for capturing and tagging contributions in a form that they can easily be discovered, used and built upon. This is the grease that lubricates the perpetual motion needs of today’s organizations.
If the Internet has taught us anything it’s that everything moves now and moves quickly; money, knowledge, opportunity and even people transition faster and easier than ever before. It’s ludicrous to think otherwise and try to slow things. The success of an organization will be based on it’s ability to embrace rapid change and understanding the necessity of being porous inside and out.