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Outmoded Working Culture

The future of work sounds absolutely amazing, if we are reading and listening to all that is being produced. From the notion of having workspaces that will be configured to match the tasks we are working on at that very moment, to constant feedback on our biorhythms, to the development of portable schools to allow for the 35 jobs we will have (slight sarcasm), it all sounds utopian.

The thing is, according to Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, though most organisations already have much of the infrastructure and know-how in place to make these things happen, they are rarely the reality. I think this is why so many school leaders and education go-to thinkers are stymied. As Gratton proffers, “Something is happening in our organisations and in our individual mindsets to cause these promises to be left unfulfilled” (London Business School Review, 1.2016, 38).

The issues at hand are, in a nutshell, these:

  • though the Industrial Revolution in the West has long since ended, its structures and organisational legacies have become so deeply rooted in our minds that we are practically unable to see any other way of behaving

  • the current bureaucracies in our organisations are such that we end up erecting barriers to the promise of the future of work “by discouraging people from trying new ways of working that may not fit neatly into known performance parameters” (39). In other words, the ideal world would be one in which “people would be trusted to perform to the best of their abilities, their work would be assessed on the quality of what they craft and produce, and feedback from trusted peers and colleagues would be what motivated them” (39).

  • we operate on the implicit assumption that there is an abundance of talent out there, and that this talent is keen to work with us. This was true in the past (1970s, for instance). If an organisation still believes that to be the case, then, frankly, there is little to no incentive for that organisation to invest in making the promises of the future of work become a reality for employees. As Gratton points out, “these days, people [who are ‘very talented’] have several types of employment to choose from. Their decision will be influenced by the importance they place on working in an environment that has realised some of the promises of the future of work, including developing portable skills and having advanced workspaces” (39).

In education, we talk so much (ad nauseam, perhaps) about mindset…from this general perspective, I support Gratton’s assertion that we must catalyse a mindset revolution, as opposed to a radical revolution, if we are to move decidedly into the future of work. As she points out, quite rightly, I think, “while executive teams may continue to receive a lot of applicants from across the normal distribution (of talented candidates), they may increasingly struggle to find the quality they desire, as the ‘very talented’ seek out more forward-thinking and innovative work environments” (39).

Quality is the operative word, I would submit. We already know that we are facing a teacher shortage in a number of places, and that the expansion of international schools across the world will require a large increase in the teacher pool. A conundrum if ever we’ve seen one. Yet, if heretofore your school has been able to attract top talent, I wouldn’t rest on those laurels as we move forward. Quality schools will be the objective of job-seeking candidates, and quality talent will be the objective of employee-seeking schools. There’s potentially a wonderful match to be had there, but it will require this mindset of which Gratton speaks.

Semper ad meliorem indeed.

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