Welcome aboard your flight to the Future of Work

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome abroad Your Work Airways on this flight from the Present to the Future of Work.

Flight attendant or stewardess talking on intercom

Photo Credit: iStock Photo

Before we take off there are a few preparations I’d like to run you through to minimise anxiety and maximise possibility on your career journey.

You might note that our plane is not yet fully built, such is the uncertain nature of the flight you are taking. Don’t let that deter you from the things you can control and organise.

Our Captain today is flying with a compass rather than a map. We fully expect we’ll have to make multiple course corrections as we navigate changing conditions. We have a heading rather than a specific destination. You are going somewhere; you’ll probably know where only as we get closer.

At this time please stow away your luggage or present it to the crew to be taken away. It maybe baggage from your past that will no longer serve you where you are going. Prepare to give up or lose some things.

We anticipate turbulence. When the seatbelt sign comes on, we recommend you stay calm and remain in one place. When things get agitated, there is a temptation to Do Something. Sometimes that best thing you can do is Be Still. Turbulence typically will pass. If you are experience a sense of disequilibrium, know that this is simply a phase as you adapt to a new reality – you are not going mad. There are strategies you can learn to respond and recover from such a state graciously: ‘Mind like water.’

When the seatbelt sign is off, you are invited to get hands on and involved in shaping our flying experience. Our passengers don’t get to be passive spectators – the future is what we make it.

A normal flight would advise you to locate your nearest exit to be used in case of an emergency. You could do that – it can be prudent to have an exit strategy. However, there is a risk that an exit strategy lessens your disposition to take a leap of faith and embrace uncertainty. Like a turtle, you might only make progress if you stick your neck out.

If oxygen masks should appear (or something that seemed to fall on your head) from above – be sure to look after yourself before attending to others around you. If you are struggling to cope, then your needs come first. And remember to Breathe: In, Out and repeat. Oxygen is a fundamental resource for your whole wellbeing.

Reach out for help – your crew are there to help you. You’ll need to identify your own crew. Look about you for a special group of those who you can trust and who will support you with encouragement or a kick in the pants as you might need. Make sure they know they are your crew and you have expectations of the role they will play for you. Consider being the crew for someone else – we all need help at different times.

Should the plane need to make an unexpected landing in unknown conditions, know where to locate your life vest – as you have defined it. When indicated, put it on ensuring it fits your situation. If necessary blow a whistle to attract attention of others who can assist you; your courage to alert them of your predicament is an invitation for their compassionate action.

Unlike normal air travel we won’t be insisting on Flight mode for your communication devices. We recommend openness to variable flows of information and communication as you venture to the future. Something insightful may appear – keep an open mind. To take a break from the information flow, simply disconnect.

Fires have been known to start from excessive decision making. We desire this to be smoke-free flight so we encourage you to lessen decision fatigue by making upfront decisions wherever you can for routine things. Preserve your decision-making abilities for the novel things you have yet to learnt about or resolve.

While there are activities we discourage in the toilets, we admit they are a great place if you need to shut other people out for a time. It’s okay to hide in silent solitude. Silence can be useful if it keeps you from broadcasting an anxious version of yourself into your web of special relationships. It may be a time to listen to yourself and check in with what your inner voice has to say.

This is a flight in which we’ll be figuring stuff out as we go. It can be helpful to write things down, especially when a lot is happening all at once. Whether in the seat pocket in front of you or on your person, consider keeping a notebook so your mind is free to deal with the unexpected, rather than busy trying to remember stuff that could be written down.

On this flight we expect you will need a diverse offering of refreshments. Some of you have boarded with a hunger for knowledge to sustain you on this journey. Others are thirsty for insights to fuel your decision making. Ask for what you need and give yourself suitable time to absorb the full nutrient value. Take a course, digest a book, or savour the goodness of a mentor.

It is our pleasure to provide in-flight entertainment; this consists of an excellent view of the emergent and surprising. It is sure to affect you with a range of emotions as you move through phases of comedy, drama, horror or thriller. We don’t recommend the history channel; your future is an adventure awaiting you in a forward direction – it’s a fiction awaiting to be realised.

For those curious about the future of work, at the top of our inflight recommended reading and viewing list is Lynda Grafton speaking at TEDx on How to be ready for your future and her book, The Shift: The future of work is already here

It’s time to put away things that you don’t need right now – have what you can in order. Know where to put your hands on things quickly; keep large items stowed away for when they are needed.

On behalf of Your Work Airways I’d like to congratulate you on launching yourself to face an unknown future of work. It promises to be unpredictable.

Helen Palmer, co-founder of RHX Group, has not followed a traditional path in her career, nor does she intend to. It’s been her personal experience that she’s made career plans, then life happened and things went in a direction that wasn’t anticipated. As a consequence she’s fascinated by the emergent and serendipitous approach to life and work. She’s been thinking about ways to help others navigate the future of work, given the ambiguous possibilities and opportunities if there is courage to take that journey. And for good measure, she likes to inject humour and originality into her work.

A new CV … of value for the aspirational Knowledge Manager

At a recent Knowledge Management Mini-Conference arranged by Helen Palmer from RHX Group, it was refreshing to once again see the difference between “knowledge worker” and “Knowledge Manager” articulated. Here is the definition of each as explained by Helen:

knowledge worker
– a class of workers (like ‘blue-collar worker’); knowledge-savvy; primary work purpose is creating, distributing and applying knowledge

Knowledge Manager
– a title of a particular role (like ‘Finance Manager’); a person who has expertise in meta-abilities to do with creation, acquisition, distribution, application and retention of knowledge in organisational contexts

This provided some very interesting insight into my career to date. I have spent nine years working on a variety of significant organisational change projects for the State Government, spanning both Human Resources and Information Management change. This culminated in my role as secretariat for the Executive Sub-Committee for Information Management and ICT for the Department of Health. This was a job that had huge knowledge and change management requirements, but due to the bureaucratic nature of government was often highly administrative.

This led to a very interesting conversation between Helen and I about the career paths for aspiring Knowledge Managers (and Change Managers).

The emerging challenge

The emergence of Knowledge Management (I would argue including Change Management, Information Management and Learning) as a critical workplace vocation and skill set has oft been discussed as a part of the evolution of the 21st century worker. The management of corporate knowledge, as well as individual knowledge (including creativity) is both essential and nebulous. What has become apparent in the last 20 years is that knowledge management is both a specialised and a general skill set. Everyone must manage their own knowledge at the micro level, but the organisational knowledge is managed by a skilled professional at the macro level, to facilitate knowledge sharing and maximise the business benefits of knowledge as an organisational asset.

In this context the professional Knowledge Manager is emerging distinct from the more common “knowledge worker”. The formation of this sector has seen many Knowledge Managers discover their profession usually through serendipitous career progression, usually from an administrative, clerical, technical or professional service role. Being in the right place at the right time. This is on the verge of a boom, as open information sharing and natural (multi-disciplinary) learning methods become the norm, and young professionals (like myself) are realising the value and importance of managing organisational knowledge.

My professional background

In my endeavour to pursue a career in Knowledge Management I entered the Public Sector straight out of university through the Graduate Recruitment Program and knew my Bachelor of Arts/Business background gave me a bent toward generalisation rather than specialisation. It was to my surprise that my role in Organisational Development with one department was quite staid and lacking in Change Management. Also it was not as adept with technology as the broader industry. Therefore, following a few projects I moved to the Office of CIO in another department. This breadth of experience taught me a lot about different approaches to Knowledge Management, between “people knowledge” and “machine knowledge”. I still felt my government career experience was not matching the pace of industry change that I was observing outside of my job.

For a lot of this time I felt like a worker without a job title. When asked what it was I did in my job, the answer was variations of “projects of various kinds”, “at the moment, but that might change”, or “oh, I deal with organisational knowledge and change” – all of which attracted blank looks.

What is the Corporate Lattice?

The 2010 book, The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work written by Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson for Harvard Business Review Press, and well summarised in this Deloitte Review article, did much to form my view of the modern career. When I so often had to battle corporate silos, my view was that if people had sideways career moves as frequently as promotions, most of these battles would disappear.

The future career pattern is a lattice not a ladder

The future career pattern is a lattice not a ladder

The current day CV is designed on the premise that the corporate ladder still exists. Stating your work history in ascending order (most recent first) gives a visual construct of a linear and upwardly mobile career. It doesn’t accommodate sideways career moves, whether that is to shift industries, start your own business, or re-locate to a different city or country. It also creates a presumption that new work builds upon old work – therefore new work is considered more relevant, and work more than three years old is redundant. Modern careers now show that knowledge is gained across many years, and multi-disciplinary experience is a strength not a liability, but the modern CV fails to express that.

The Portfolio CV

When discussing the Corporate Lattice with Helen, and my experience with it, she mentioned to me what she called her “Portfolio CV”. This format effectively turns the modern CV on its head and draws out activities of a knowledge worker that may identify potential Knowledge Management capability. It is a concise 4 page document, with the following pages.

1. Cover Page

Provide contact details, biographical summary, and list of strengths/capabilities relevant to role.

Content is customised for the role which the CV represents; may have multiple CVs to represent different roles or specialities.

2. Portfolio Page

Accurately specify selected pieces of work that support the claims on the Cover Page (Regardless of the currency, industry or whether it was paid, volunteer or extracurricular.  If you’ve done it once, you can do it again)

Content is drawn from a list or ‘database’ of relevant work.

3. Testimonials Page

List quotes and feedback from clients, managers and peers; it confirms the quality and impact of the work explained on Portfolio Page.

Content is drawn from a list or ‘database’ of relevant quotes.

4. Details page

List employment placements, qualifications and other facts of relevance.

Content is constant between versions.

In my instance, creating a Portfolio CV was quite easy for pages 1,2 and 4 – the challenge was page 3. Public servants are well trained on the precautions required when putting statements on the record. It took quite a bit of foraging and chasing, but I was able to get some testimonials from previous co-workers and managers. In discussing these challenges Helen described that it is a trait of saavy professionals to keep their network engaged and collect written testimonials. Coming from an industry where long tenures are the norm and silos run deep, that is something that I have realised through this experience.

Strengths/Weaknesses

Having come through this process, I now have a very interesting career document. One that definitely defines my Knowledge Management and Change Management experience very clearly. However, I get the sense that the recruitment industry in Australia is not completely ofay with the multi-disciplinary nature of KM and CM. The most success I have had to date has been through discussions with other Knowledge Managers. Others still appear to think of Knowledge Management as a heightened records keeper, and Change Manager as a project manager with pizzazz.

In closing, I’d like to return to this concept of a KM career path. Of all the colleagues I’ve spoken to about how they got into Knowledge Management, it has always be a circuitous route, a chance project, or a fortunate happenstance that helped reveal their aptitude for Knowledge Management. But where is the feeder pool for the next generation of Knowledge Managers; where are the 2ICs and the deputies/juniors to the current crop of KM field leaders?

This blog post was written by guest author Christoph Hewett. Christoph is General Manager of Resonant Integrity Training Solutions, a consultancy for knowledge, change and learning.

Image credit/source: Wikimedia