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Labor Day 2024: no employees or businesses as we know them?

August 30, 2014
By Ernest Hohmeyer , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

We get mad when a business leaves town. In the future, companies coming and going may be the norm.

In fact, our very definition of what a "business" is may be quite revolutionarily different.

And how we view "employees" may no longer be operable. That definition, like the fact we still believe we have four seasons (we just have winter and fall, right?!), may also become obsolete.

Think about how operating a business has changed just in the last 10 years. Think again how the relationship of employer and employee has also differed.


Business = place?


Do we equate business with place?

It's the bricks and mortar thing. They are HERE. We physically see them. So when we talk about a business, we talk about it being in Saranac Lake or the Adirondacks.

And as companies moved beyond local customers to grow, they had to be attuned to changes in the economy and trends taking place.

And what about "employees?" My, has that changed. It used to be an exemplary symbol when someone worked their entire life for one company.


Employee = place?


Was the definition of "employee" also tied to a "place"? Now moving around is encouraged, both within a company and in the industry. More than that, as skills such as technology increasingly become less industry specific, hiring folks from the "outside" with the appropriate skills can make more sense.

Further, think about this whole definition of employer vs. employee. Is it really the same anymore?


New definitions?


Yes, our definitions of "business" and "employees" are becoming less three-dimensional and more virtual. They are becoming less tied to place. Even employees can work anywhere, from anywhere.

Our definition of "opportunity" and "needs" may also have to change. Everywhere you read, they talk about how today you have to be nimble and flexible - ready to pounce on an opportunity. No longer are they suggesting "business plans" that suggest a course "forever" but instead to create an environment ready for change.

There was a great cover article in the summer edition of Strategy + Business, "The Lives and Times of the CEO 1914-2040," by Ken Favaro, Per-Ola Karlsson and Gary L. Neilson. They create these imaginary scenes of how a company board room, the "C-Suite," may have operated in 1914, 1964, current times and project how it may function in 2040.

1914 of course was the age of the industrial revolution, world war and emerging markets. The "C-Suite" was governed by an "imperial CEO" who often developed the company.

In 1964, companies had become more global and gave rise to the "organization man," where the CEO had to become more of a "prime minister." He had to be a skilled manager and not one that necessarily built the company.

Today, the authors talk about how CEOs now representing companies from all over the world run their companies with "considerably flatter hierarchies."

Here is where it gets interesting. The new CEO does not have to come from the same company or even the same industry. In fact, diverse experiences' "passport stamps" are often favored.


The new company?


And today's CEO's "face challenges that their predecessors never dreamed of. For current leaders, agility is the watchword du jour. Gone are the days of the reliable five-year strategic plan."

The company of the future? The authors suggest two major categories: "integrators" and "specialists."

Integrators will typically be big companies "focused on providing distinct, solutions-based value propositions to their customers."

That's a lot to swallow. Read it again - it's a good one. The example they give is Amazon, which is able to provide a whole range of services and products based on their "superior logistics and distribution system."

"Specialists" companies, on the other hand, "provide the products and services the integrators sell."

Again, they give the example of Amazon and eBay. Specialists' companies will be influenced by what the integrators do, and any change in their business model will affect them. While integrators may be around for longer periods, the authors suggest that many specialists' companies "will have short life spans - say, seven to 15 years, depending on the industry they occupy." In fact, the CEO of the future will expect this and may be hired because he or she is good at being able to "quickly divest a business when it's no longer viable and assemble a new one just as rapidly." The authors use a term the "serial CEO."

This doesn't mean they will always move, but it does indicate what they do may change rapidly.

Further, as technology advances, the ability to get into new ventures may be easier.

This is a double-edged sword, though, as this will also make it easier for competing companies to get into your game.


How will they lead?


The authors project that it will be more women who lead who will have a "typically more empathetic style of leadership." As companies deal with a new, complex business environment that includes the company itself, partners and a growing awareness from customers, never mind changing technology, they must be "expert in highly flexible digital business models."

And the lines between employees, managers and employers will be flatter than ever.

Better "decision-support systems, and a greater focus on company-wide capabilities" will allow greater autonomy. The CEO of the future, the authors project, will more like a conductor of a "well-tuned musical group." This group will be advisors "that go beyond their functional roles" and this group may go from company to company together.

Finally, as things become more virtual and the world a smaller place, the "global employee" may "reduce the urgency of the war for talent" but the "war for resources will be well under way."


Employee as entrepreneur?


Regardless, we may be celebrating a different kind of "Labor Day" in the future, one where the definition of what a business is may not be so closely defined with a singular purpose or place.

And while we should consider this as we vie for businesses to locate here, there may also be a growing opportunity for the Adirondacks to attract enterprising employees to build their own company.



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