At our March meeting we were joined by John Boudreau, i4cp Board Member, and Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations and Professor Emeritus at University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. 

Our conversation with John focused on the provocative notion of “Work Without Jobs,” the subject of John’s recent writing and his forthcoming new book. Everyone is thinking about what the future of work will look like. The disruptions of 2020 and 2021 have accelerated the evolution of the very definition of work, and its role in organizations, society and workers’ lives, opportunities and well-being. Work is “melting” and being deconstructed. The work ecosystem is more boundaryless, beyond the traditional organization. Careers are being redefined as more diverse, boundless and reflecting lifelong learning and the 100-year life. Combinations of human and automated work perpetually change. This future holds a paradox in that it can produce a future that is more empowering and inclusive, but it can also be used in ways that are exploitive and less inclusive.  

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

  • Boudreau's thinking and areas of focus have of course evolved over time. In his book Beyond HR (2007), co-authored with Peter Ramstad, Boudreau advocated for a decision science of HR, in the way that finance leverages decision science and a set of principles to guide what they do. In that book, they noted that the value of each job role can only be determined if you break down the role into specific tasks, as each task has a different value curve as more effort is applied.

    In his 2015 book Leading the Work (co-authored with Ravin Jesuthasan and David Creelman), Boudreau was focused on freelance workers, contract workers, internal marketplaces, etc., and realized that to optimally leverage these you again need to deconstruct jobs into tasks to properly understand the work done by employees vs. other kinds of workers.

    Then in his 2018 book Reinventing Jobs (again co-authored with Jesuthasan), Boudreau found that automation rarely replaces 100% of a particular employee's job. What more often happens, as an example, is that automation replaces 30% of their job while making them twice as effective overall. This raises a lot of interesting questions, such as: What do you now pay that individual? How do you optimize the human/automation combination? 

  • Boudreau's latest work, including his forthcoming book, Work Without Jobs, focuses on the issue of the centrality of the concept of a "job" in HR and in business more broadly. We count jobs, we count job holders, we look for group representations in "jobs", capabilities are important to the extent they fit the jobs, and so on. We need to deconstruct jobs into tasks, and workers into skills and capabilities--but so many of our systems are not geared towards that level of differentiation. Can we envision workforce planning systems that enable this?
  • As highlighted in one of Boudreau's recent articles in MITSloan Management Review, he described what he calls the New Work Operating System, which has four components:
    • Start with the work (current and future tasks), and not the existing jobs.
    • Combine humans and automation.
    • Consider the full array of human work engagements: employment, gigs, freelance, alliances, projects, etc.
    • Allow talent to "flow to work" vs. being dedicated to fixed, permanent jobs.
  • Boudreau noted this new approach is not required in all areas of all organizations. For some jobs it will make sense to keep a role fully integrated--although it isn't always the jobs you initially think of.
  • Internal Talent Marketplaces are very much enabled by planning at this sort of task and skill/capability level, as opposed to the traditional job/role/degree level.
  • Consulting firms, such as McKinsey and Accenture, are natural leaders in pursuing the work deconstruction approach.
  • The COVID-19 disruption has also led many organizations to deconstruct jobs into tasks to determine where there are bottlenecks, constraints, etc. that could be alleviated by understanding where some tasks can be moved to others who are capable. Boudreau refers to a lot of what we saw in 2020 and into 2021 as leveraging "fluid work."
  • What characteristics of work will be impacted by this approach to work? Boudreau shared the following:
    • Job descriptions will be out of date very quickly
    • Automation/technology affecting work
    • Cross-job teaming increasing
    • Increasing work options in internal or external talent marketplaces
    • Worker demands for greater influence in crafting their work
    • DEI goals difficult to meet within the constraints of traditional jobs, job progressions and degree-based sourcing

This meeting is exclusively for members of the Workforce Planning Exchange. If you'd like to participate, please contact us to see if you qualify. If you are an i4cp member, please log in to access the registration/meeting details.
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