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This article is cross-posted on unstructure, in response to Julian Birkinshaw’s post, Will the role and influence of the employee be different in the new world of work?

Berkinshaw’s article focuses heavily on analyzing motivation and its drivers as an approach to discussing new management models. Defining motivation and breaking it down into categories is fine, but as Marc Buyens (@mbuyens) said in the comments section, it may be a way of overcomplicating a relatively simple concept.

We know that humans are driven by some motivation for every action that is taken. In terms of how to motivate workers, it seems like it can be simplified into a sentence:

People want to perform work that matters to them.

So how does that translate into the real world?

I think we’ll see the future of work defined by more precise quantification of skill sets, and the ability to assemble dynamic teams as a result.

As Berkinshaw mentioned, 80% of people aren’t actively engaged with the work they do.

In some cases, unfortunately, this may not be a matter of choice. Whether a result of financial issues or personal matters, some haven’t had the opportunity to receive the education or training to work in an environment that may be better suited to their natural talents and abilities.

For others, it may be a matter of not knowing one’s own strengths, and therefore not understanding what type of work is the best fit. I think there’s still a lot of ‘trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,’ where we nash our teeth and try to make ourselves enjoy work that is simply not interesting to us.

A manager wondering ‘How do I motivate this employee?’ might find that they’ve been asking the wrong question.

This is where the quantification of skills will come in. Many successful companies have their employees take some form of personality assessment upon hiring, so the individual can perform work that matches their modus operandi. But how many of us already know our own strengths? During a job interview, when asked ‘What can you bring to our organization?,’ how many people really know how to answer that?

A friend of mine who works in HR for Google tipped me off to an assessment book, called Strengthsfinder 2.0, which really changed the way I understand myself. Developed by Gallup, the premise of the assessment is that by understanding our inherent strengths, we’ll be able to choose jobs and careers that are much more suited to our personal styles.

First, you take a timed assessment test online, (you only get so many seconds to answer each question before it automatically moves to the next, forcing you to really follow your instincts, verse what you think is the “right” answer), and the results generate a thorough report of your top strengths. The accompanying book is more of a reference guide that outlines all the strengths (they’ve broken them down into 34 categories), and provides examples, insights, and action suggestions for each strength.

Whenever I feel like I’m floundering or unsure about my direction, I revisit the book and my strengths, and immediately regain a sense of focus and purpose. For instance, understanding that Adaptation and Ideation are some of my core strengths reminds me that I perform best when responding to constantly changing circumstances and dealing with variety, acquiring and sharing new information, and being acknowledged for my ideas. Conversely, it means I don’t perform well in roles that require a high degree of structure, predictability, and routine. I prefer a series of short-term challenges verse a long, drawn-out campaign, and am productive on the front-end of projects. To me, that’s good information to understand when applying for a position.

The point is, quantification will be huge when it comes to understanding how to leverage individuals and groups in order to get things done. In his article, Birkinshaw says

“Of course, there are some jobs that will never be intrinsically engaging—working in a call-center and flipping hamburgers are obvious examples.”

I disagree. I think there is a person for every position, and there are plenty of people who take pride in what they do. Why do we assume working in a call-center has to be a soul-deadening job? I was just watching a news piece the other day that highlighted a trend in retirees picking up part-time remote work for call-centers. (I think the company referenced was Verizon.) The older gentleman they interviewed seemed genuinely fulfilled by the work, because it gave him something to do, put a few dollars in his pocket, and made him feel valuable because he was able to help others troubleshoot their problems.

I proposed this idea several months back in a post titled The Future of Collaboration Begins with Visualizing Human Capital, but essentially I imagine some sort of infographic that would give an overview of our strengths, which as a result would provide a context for understanding the information found on our resumes. It would be a more complete method of evaluating our abilities, allowing us to apply ourselves to problem solving more strategically.

We don’t typically think of work in these terms, but we need to. Especially now that we’re able to assemble into virtual teams online, and collaborate on projects and initiatives with a wide range of people from around the world, it will be critical for us to understand what each of us can offer in order to be efficient. Companies are still going to have a core workforce of employees, but I think we’ll see the cutting edge organizations harnessing ‘experts’ from a wide range of fields for specific projects, forming them into teams, and then dissolving them once a goal has been reached. By bringing in ideas and perspectives in this fashion, businesses will stay nimble, innovative, and relevant.

I found this nice slideshow posted on mindblob that provides some good insights into the future of work: