Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Do We Need Weekends?" - rather, let's ask 23 year olds to shape businesses

HBR bloggers increasingly seem to think the source of all knowledge in how to fix companies lies with 23 year olds. Maybe this is because the authors want to be "hip" now that they are blogging? Either way, just because 23 year olds think a Wiki or Facebook is a great way to share business information doesn't make it so (nor does a curmudgeons reticence make it not so).

Here was my take -

A general comment: Why do "we" (specifically many HBR bloggers) look to Gen Y as the source of how businesses should change? At least a freshly minted MBA with few years experience has studied business with modest focus. Reflexively looking to the newest entrants into the market isn't per se the source of panacea.

Specifically, why do we wait till we are assembled to share info: History for one, prior to recently there were not efficient methods of sharing info with large audiences within an organization; efficacy is another, just because you post something on a wiki doesn't make it meaningful to all, there might be critical context missing from a wiki (such as relevant background info someone who has been with the company a year might lack); context, body language is still THE critical communication factor, smiley faces don't accurately convey this; habit is a lesser valid reason, but provides a reason why.

Just because a Gen Y'er wants to change the company, doesn't mean the other 98% of employees will work effectively or efficiently in the same model.

via HarvardBusiness.org on 7/2/08

Got your attention with that one, didn't I?

Let's talk some more about redesigning our organizations – "hacking" the enterprise. Here's another fundamental assumption upon which our organizations are built that I think has got to go: weekends.

No, I'm not arguing that we should all work seven days a week. But I do think that the idea of a corporation telling us which days to work (and when to "rest") is outdated.

The idea of a defined work week makes great sense if you're performing synchronous tasks – activities in which everyone has to be there all together to get the work done. Clearly in an industrial economy, the idea that everyone needs to be there pretty much at the same time is key. You can't run an assembly line if the guy responsible for tightening the bolts has decided to skip Friday and come in all alone on Saturday.

But how much of our work today, really, is synchronous?

Less and less. Yes, there certainly are a number of customer-facing roles for which you clearly have to be available when the customers are there. But an increasing proportion of the economy is comprised of work that is individually paced. We may confer with colleagues to get input, but for more and more of us, a colleague's decision to take the day off will have little direct affect on our immediate productivity.

...

And the Gen Y's I interview who have been in corporations for a year or so, almost universally, comment on how inefficient they find current corporate habits to be. Why do people wait to share ideas or get input until they can physically assemble, when it's now possible to use social networking tools to gather input quickly – and asynchronously? Why do we spend much of our synchronous time together simply updating each other on our activities when any 20-year-old on Facebook can tell you how much easier and faster it is to do this with Web 2.0 tools?


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