19 April 2022

Workplace Stories Season 5, Adventures in Hybrid Work: A New Work Operating System with HR thinker John Boudreau

Heather Gilmartin Adams
Research Lead

TL;DR

  • This is the first episode of our podcast: Adventures in Hybrid Work, Season 5 of Workplace Stories.
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr and Dani Johnson of RedThread Research talk to and learn from John Boudreau, senior research scientist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
  • John talks about the history of work, how it’s providing the path for the future of work, and how to implement four principles of what he calls the ‘new work operating system.’
  • “What we’re talking about with the notion of work with people is the notion of moving from thinking about work as a job at a time, a job holder at a time, a degree at a time, to a system that allows the parts to freely connect and to do that potentially in a much faster way so tasks and projects can connect to atomized or deconstructed worker capabilities.”
  • Flexibility, experimentation, and bargaining power … and melting.
  • We’re in an interesting time when it comes to Hybrid Work, and John’s experience and ideas (he has a book, too!) should help you on your next Adventure. Come listen!
  • If you like this episode, leave a rating and a review for our podcast
  • A special thanks to our sponsors, Class and Perceptyx, for their support of this season!

Listen

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Guests

John Boudreau, Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization & a Senior Research Scientist, Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California

DETAILS

Is it time to retire the concept of a job? Is it holding us all back—especially if we really want to make Hybrid Work a success? That’s a new, and we think highly useful, concept from today’s guest, author, academic and futurist John Boudreau. In the episode, John tells us how we want to move away from thinking about work as one job and job holder at a time and one degree at a time, to a system that allows the parts to freely connect, so tasks and projects can connect to atomized or deconstructed worker capabilities like Skills, which can be gained through an atomized set of things like experiences, partial degrees or credentials. John—a well-known HR scholar who’s Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization and a Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California—says his thinking here is that we’ve been using the wrong unit of analysis in ‘the job,’ and that a new operating system of work is needed that should instead be based on deconstructed elements of a role in terms of tasks rather than based primarily on the job as the atomic unit of HR analysis. As you’re about to find, this is all set forth in his new book with fellow researcher Ravin Jesuthasan, Work Without Jobs, whose top concepts we try and explore, like what it might be like to ‘melt’ a job down to see what it’s made of and who could do bits of it instead, as well as a very new way of thinking about ice cubes. We’re so honored John agreed to be our lead-off guest for the Season, as we think it identifies many key themes and frees up some real opportunities for fresh Hybrid Work thinking we’ll all find useful. Just be careful you don’t melt while listening.

Resources

  • Find out more about John here, and check out Work Without Jobs here.
  • More on the Center he’s affiliated with can be accessed here.
  • All four of our previous Workplace Stories Seasons, along with relevant Show Notes, transcriptions, and links, is available here.

Partner

Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.

Season Sponsors

If you have the time, please pay our sponsors the courtesy of checking out their websites. For ‘Adventures in Hybrid Work,’ we are delighted to announce these are Class and Perceptyx. Class is a live, virtual Learning platform that supports face-to-face Learning at scale, enabling employees to learn with and from each other in context-rich, active Learning experiences. With collaboration, engagement and reporting tools, Class reinvents virtual Learning to drive outcomes that are meaningful to employees and create business impact: learn more at class.com. Today, designing and delivering exceptional employee experience is a business imperative. Perceptyx can help you get a clear picture of your employee experience with a continuous listening and people analytics platform aligned to your specific business goals. Discover why more than 600 enterprise customers and 30% of the Fortune 100 trust Perceptyx to capture timely employee feedback supported by insights and prescriptive actions for every level of the organization; learn more at perceptyx.com.

Webinar

We will share details about the culminating webinar where we’ll debate what we’ve learned with high-level representatives from our two Season 5 valued partners nearer the time.

Finally, if you like what you hear, please follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend to get more of the Workplace Stories we think matter put there.

One last reminder to take our survey—there’s good stuff for you if you do. Promise!

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

In today's conversation, we talk to John about how the core concepts in Work Without Jobs apply in a Hybrid Work world. In particular, he shares the four principles of the ‘new work operating system,’ and how they can help evolve the conversation from focusing on policies about where we work to a conversation on how the work actually gets done.

At a high level for both employees and leaders, I would think about three things. One is the idea of flexibility. There is much more flexibility available [but] there’s more that could be done than most people think about. The second is experimentation [and] I think the best policy for organizations is to start with, “We don't know”—the notion that this is a big experiment, so “I don't know” doesn't mean ‘chaos;’ it can mean we're going to be experimenting, and we're going to learn from those experiments. And then finally, this shift in what I'll call bargaining power in the bargaining position of the people who we might call the workers: we're entering an era where I think less and less will the organization define work and then find workers for it and have a lot of the bargaining power about how and where, and what work is done. I think we're seeing a lot more shift toward the worker side of that equation.

If you start saying, “How do we fit them into jobs that we have, how do we neatly redeploy our current workers to something else and get them out of that job?”—that is often a place where leaders are quite perplexed and quite frustrated. And so that when you free up the idea and say, “Hey, wait a minute, you can keep all your people; we're just going to have them doing something in combination with automation, or they're going to work side by side with non-employee workers”—that opens up a lot more possibilities, and also requires a lot more creative thinking.

Begin to experiment, so you don't have to do this all at once. It doesn't have to happen everywhere, but there are areas of work for every leader, for every worker, where you could experiment with negotiating a different arrangement: you could experiment with calling something a project.

I do this with the vision in mind of making a very humble contribution to the enormously good work that folks like you and all those people that I work with in companies do: that the work relationship, that the work environment for frontline people, for workers, gets better—that some of the things that don't make sense get corrected or taken away, that the relationship between a worker and a leader is better. By presenting this new operating system, maybe instead of workers saying, “Man, I hate automation. It never works the way they say,” some workers get the benefit of a leader who says, Wait a minute, let's think about this at the task level and find new solutions, and you have a better conversation, a more adult conversation.

You are listening to Workplace Stories, a podcast by RedThread Research about the near future of work: this is Season Five, ‘Adventures In Hybrid Work.’

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I'm Stacia Garr, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

And I'm Dani Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread.

Speaker 4:

And I'm Chris Pirie, CEO of The Learning Futures Group.

We are very grateful to the teams at Class and Perceptyx for their sponsorship on this episode and Season of Workplace Stories. Class is a live virtual Learning platform that supports face-to-face Learning at scale, enabling employees to learn with and from each other in context-rich, active Learning experiences. With collaboration, engagement and reporting tools, Class reinvents virtual Learning to drive outcomes that are meaningful to employees and create business impact: learn more at class.com.

Today, designing and delivering exceptional employee experience is a business imperative. Perceptyx can help you get a clear picture of your employee experience with a continuous listening and people analytics platform aligned to your specific business goals. Discover why more than 600 enterprise customers and 30% of the Fortune 100 trust Perceptyx to capture timely employee feedback supported by insights, prescriptive actions for every level of the organization. Learn more at perceptyx.com/workplacestories–that's P E R C E P T Y X.com/workplacestories.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Welcome to Workplace Stories. In this episode, we talk to John Boudreau, senior research scientist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

John has been a leading global thought leader for decades on topics such as organizational strategy, human resource management, and the future of work. He has published over 200 articles and chapters, and authored over 20 books. His latest book is Work Without Jobs, published by MIT Press in March of this year.

In today's conversation, we talk to John about how the core concepts in Work Without Jobs apply in a Hybrid Work world. In particular, he shares the four principles of the ‘new work operating system,’ and how they can help evolve the Hybrid Work conversation from focusing on policies about where we work to a conversation on how the work actually gets done.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I think organizations are tempted to think about Hybrid Work. And of course, a lot of attention is there about, we have these jobs and now we need to ask where and when people will do them. And so lots of discussions about,, when do you come in, when do you not come in, if you can, work at home, and even lots of discussions about how we arrange on-site work, when you must come in and how that's scheduled and all that sort of thing.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

In this quote, John is talking about tasks. But he also talks in our conversation about Skills, and by focusing on how we need to melt jobs down into tasks and Skills to understand where, how, and by whom the work needs to be done by doing this. John helps us see that the Hybrid Work conversation and the Skills conversation are in many ways just two sides of the same coin. They are two concepts that will increasingly meld together to enable us to work more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

Some other key insights from this conversation include HR leaders’ roles in bringing this new work operating system to life; how to approach redesigning the talent system; examples of orgs that are making progress on this and much more.

This was a fascinating lead-off to our adventures in Hybrid Work Season. It fundamentally reshaped how we are thinking about Hybrid and the role of Skills and the Future of Work. We hope you enjoy this discussion as much as we did.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

John, welcome to Workplace Stories. We are so excited to have you here; you’re going to be our lead-off episode, and I know that our listeners will be thrilled to hear your perspective, so thank you so much for your time and for sharing your insights with our audience today.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Thanks, Stacia; it’s a pleasure to be here with you and Dani.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Thank you. We're going to start off with a rapid introduction of you, the work that you do and how you relate to the Season's topic on Hybrid Work. Then we'll dive deeper, discuss your perspectives and share your insights with our broader RedThread community. So can you start off by giving us a quick overview of the organizations you work at and with?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Yes; that’s a little bit Hybrid, actually! I’m currently appointed as a part-time remote senior research scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. And that's kind of an internal think tank within the Business School that was founded by Ed Lawler over 40 years ago, and that's the evolution of my semi-retirement from my academic world as a Professor.

So I'm now Professor Emeritus, which means I retired from my Professorship, and the University kindly appointed me to this remote and part-time work in the Center, which I had worked in before. So that's my University connection and my University affiliation in Los Angeles and then I continued to do my outside University work: consulting, coaching, writing, speaking, et cetera, with all kinds of companies, ranging from start-ups to global multinational companies and non-profits, as well as some work with Doctors Without Borders.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Wonderful, wow—a particularly important time to be doing that. So can you talk to us about how you came to do this type of work? Especially, I love this evolution from the, as you said, kind of full-time worker to this Hybrid world. Can you talk about that change?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

So if you suppose if you go back to the beginning of my career now, 40 years ago, in 1981, I was pretty much a standard Professor. There was very little digital back then, everything was paper—you mailed your journal articles off in a packet on paper to a journal, and the editor read ‘em, and if I called an editor, I could literally hear them go to their file cabinet, pull out my article, and tell me how it was doing.

So that was early days, and then as the 80s progressed, I began to do more teaching about this new thing called a personal computer and how that could be used in HR, and still as a Professor but beginning to do more work with companies, mostly from my scholarly platform at Cornell University, which is a great place for HR.

And then by the time I got to Los Angeles in the early 2000s, I was pretty well-known as someone who worked both in the world of industry and also in the world of academia. And so my appointment there really was a perfect blend of both in the Research Center, where the Center is a consortium of companies and on the academic side as a Professor in the Business School. And then as I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I now live about, oh, let's say five or six years ago, pre-COVID, I began to ask more frequently—trying to do justice to my semi-retirement—to ask more frequently, whether I could do a keynote or a meeting or that kind of thing remotely, when in the past I'd be jumping on an aircraft to do it.

So it's been a very interesting evolution from, let's say, 2015, 2016, when people said, Oh my goodness, we can't imagine how you could possibly do this remotely, and then being pleasantly surprised to put me on a screen in front of an audience and have it work just as well as having me standing onstage. And now, of course, all of us have advanced and it's really much easier to say, How about remote rather than in person?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Dani and I, to some extent, had a similar evolution and particularly for me when I was with Bersin that we were very Hybrid early on, and then we were acquired and there was that kind of older mode of consulting, you have to be there in person and all this stuff. And I remember thinking, No, you don't?! I just did this for quite a long time. And I did not have to be in person and people are totally fine.

And that was even before video calls were a thing, right? But if you are able to—and I love this conversation about Skills that I know is a part of your overall focus—but if you have the Skills to connect, and you have these unique Skills to contribute in important ways, maybe all the assumptions that we had about how we had to do work before aren't there anymore. So, I love how your career also shows that, that’s great.

That kind of leads nicely though, to another, just quick intro question, which is what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Well, I think, in the broadest sense in my entire career, really challenging and also exciting, challenging I think in a good way really, it would be balancing scholarly world of research that's published in journals and read by scholars with its application and its communication to the world of professionals, et cetera.

And as I mentioned, my evolution has kind of been from purely academic, being concerned only with scholarly things like teaching students and departmental and University policies and also publishing in scholarly journals, to now an audience that is probably, primarily now, people in business and that sort of thing. So, how much of the scholarly research can you bring over? How much of the research is really relevant? How, working with colleagues on the scholarly side to say, well, how might this be applied by someone, or how might we get a company to get excited about this and give us some data or something like that? And then on the application side, kind of balancing very often the desire that “we need to start with where we are, John,” and, “We can't go all the way to where the research says we might be in the future.” Or, if I'm working with a consulting organization, “John, we need to keep in mind where our customers are,” would be good. And so, yes, the ideas are great, and now let's work back and think about how they start where they are.

So that's been probably the fun and the real challenge of, and a little different from, a lot of academics who don't necessarily work in both places, and a lot of people who work with industry who aren't necessarily grounded in the scholarship. And then the other one is probably when to, I would call it, convert the ideas into some kind of recorded mode: When you write the book? When you write the article? How long do you work on something? How perfect does it need to be before you release it?

And of course, in the world of LinkedIn now and everything, it's really, I'm not saying you release ideas that aren't ready, but the idea of releasing an idea and letting the world chew on it and react to it, et cetera, as part of the process is a much, much easier and a more natural part of the process. You’ve got a Professor here who started literally working on an article for a year before sending it to a journal and hoping it was perfect enough to meet the scholarly journals standards, and that's still the case in academia, to a world where my colleagues and others are saying, “Gosh, put that down in LinkedIn, get that out tomorrow.” That kind of thing.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I think that aligns very much so with how Dani and I also do research; we have this whole philosophy around ‘doing research out loud’ is what we call it. And the idea, similarly—

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

That's a great phrase.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

We've got an idea and we're going to put it out there and get people's reactions. Like, what do you think, what are we missing? How should we think about this? And then we go and we chew on it a little bit, and then we come up with the next thing. But I think it's a reflection of our times, right—the much more interactive nature of how we evolve concepts and ideas to get to the best place.

John Bourdreau, HR Scholar:

Right.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Also it reflects the speed at which things are happening. John, can you imagine working for a year on an article now? Like just think what’s happened—it’s impossible, it would be outdated by the time somebody reviewed it. It's interesting.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

That's another interesting aspect of scholarship: you do want to move quickly in scholarship, often, because others might be thinking about the idea and the journals are always accepting papers. That said, it's not that it's leisurely; it's actually, there's quite a lot of urgency in the world of scholarship. However, there's also that kind of almost that expectation that so I think that it will have kind of been embryonic for a while, grown where—where you get the interaction, interestingly in the scholarly world traditionally is with your scholarly colleagues: before it ever becomes public or published in a journal, you've run it around 10 people that you trust, that you know, and they're always the people that bounce ideas off each other.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think we want to move to a little bit of context setting, because we want to share some of your great ideas. What's your personal experience with Hybrid before and during the pandemic?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I would say it's interesting that you mentioned that you were Hybrid way before the pandemic, when working with Josh, and I think even from the beginning as an academic, I was on the phone a lot. So my version of Hybrid, before video calls and everything, was that I spent a lot of my days on the phone with colleagues or others. This is going to be—neither of you are even old enough to understand it—but I remember the day that one of my colleagues came in and said, “There's this cool thing called email,” in the 80s!

And the only people who could get on were academics and researchers in the government, and it was just unbelievable that I could now type in a question to someone and know that it had reached them electronically: I’d see this typing coming back and realizing, “Gee, I don't have to go visit them. I don't have to go across town or across the country.”

So, that naturally morphed into—because I was teaching about personal computers, I was probably one of the first faculty to actively use a very, very heavy version of a personal computer that IBM created, and go home and work from home. And I think academics, when you're a Professor, you have that freedom, you don't necessarily have to be in the office, although very often you want to be for cultural reasons.

So that's kind of the historical underpinnings, and then as I've already talked about, it was kind of a natural evolution then, and more and more natural for me to be standing as I am here in Santa Fe and be able to continue to work with great folks like you.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

That's so interesting. In that answer, you mentioned tech quite a bit. How much do you think tech is leading or do you think tech is following this idea, this movement, toward Hybrid?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I think that tech—and again, let me, let me have a disclaimer, which I'll often say, which is, there are things I don't know that much about, so I'm not a super expert on the evolution of tech—like virtual reality, augmented reality, the metaverse, all that stuff, is not something that I use very much yet. So I'm still kind of technology like “this is what I use most” and in my experience, the technology was pretty sufficient for this kind of working and was sitting there waiting to be used. As you said, there were folks like you, Stacia and Dani, that were pioneering in a way. And so I think what really has come along is much more the experience and the understanding of how the tech works.

That's not to say it hasn't advanced; I think this kind of thing is—the platforms for this are better. And it's possible, some of my colleagues are saying, “John, you've got to get a headset and get into this metaverse and get an avatar and try this out.” But I must say that's not an area where I can comment yet, so maybe that's the next thing for all of us.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Right on. As Stacia mentioned, we've been virtual since the beginning; there are employees we haven't met yet, as I'm sure is true across many organizations, and so it's been a little bit hard for me at least to understand the push against Hybrid, you know what I mean? Because we've always done it—I’ve done it for 15 years. Stacia's done it for so long as well.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Yeah. Interesting.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I'm really interested, given your experience and your expertise, in what do you think the most significant things are that employees need to think about and that employers need to think in about as we approach this new era?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I think in the bigger term, we can certainly get into specifics and there are folks like Josh Bersin and others and you that are much closer, I think, to the nuts and bolts of how this is being done and all the amazing people I'm privileged to work with.

So at a high level, if I think about it, both employees and leaders, I would think about three things. One is the idea of flexibility, and as we're going to talk about, there's a good deal of discussion about flexibility in terms of where and when people work, and very often Hybrid is defined largely that way, and I think what we'll talk about today is what they do and how that opens up possibility. So the first thing would be, there is increased flexibility, and both leaders and, I guess we'll call it employees, but it's kind of a false dichotomy for me, but that's number one, that there is much more flexibility available: there’s a lot more that could be done than most people think about.

The second one is experimentation, and that's kind of to your point earlier about what would you say ‘research out loud.’ So the idea that, as I've written with my colleague, Pete Ramstad, I think the best policy for organizations is to start with, “We don't know.” And you see that increasingly in authors like Dan Pink and Lynda Gratton, Adam Grant and others; everybody’s got a book out about some element of, I don't know whether it's looking back on regrets or work design, or whatever. So I think the notion that this is a big experiment, so “I don't know” doesn't mean chaos; it can mean we're going to be experimenting, and we're going to learn from those experiments. And that would be another, I'd love to see leaders and the people that they lead get together on that idea—that it's okay if we fail, it’s okay if this doesn't work the first time. Your complaints about the policy are not things we want to tamp down, but rather clues about how we could make it better.

And then finally this shift in what I'll call bargaining power to use a word that I started with at the Industrial Labor Relations School at Cornell. There is I think, and I'll say personally, I hope kind of a permanent shift, in the bargaining position of the people who we might call the workers to take a sort of, again, there isn't really good terms for this, and the organizations they work for. So we're entering an era where I think less and less will the organization define work and then find workers for it and have a lot of the bargaining power about how and where, and what work is done. I think we're seeing a lot more shift toward the worker side of the equation.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I like that concept a lot. We've been writing a little bit about organizing the work, the people around the work, instead of the work around the people.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Right.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

These organizations have this structure that they're trying to maintain. And which kind of leads me into what I want to ask next. You have a history of thinking and talking about how jobs are going to change and how work is going to change in the future. In particular, you've talked about how we need to break jobs down into smaller components, and how that kind of changes the game. I think before we hit the Record button, you mentioned that Google, for example, has half of its workforce that is, I don’t know if you call them contingent or contractor, but they're not W2 employees. So I wondered if you could kind of give us a little bit of insight into your thoughts there.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Sure. And I think we'll talk more about this idea of breaking jobs into the component tasks and I think in a nutshell for now, I'll say, I think once you begin to think about how automation effects work, once you begin to think about the nature of how work arrangements other than regular full-time employment get created and made, then across several books over the last five or seven years—most of them with my colleague, Ravin Jesuthasan—you begin to see that you can't see all the options, you can't see all the patterns, unless you let the parts of the work, the elements in a job, run free. So take automation, for example: very often the question is what jobs will be replaced by automation, there are even websites where you can type in a job title—

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Will a robot take my job?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Yeah, willtherobottakemyjob.com or something like that. And behind them, it's interesting… consider all the research at MIT and all the work done at McKinsey and other places. When you look at how that research is done, the researchers couldn't get a handle on the probability that your job will be replaced: what they had to do was break it down into tasks. And the individual tasks may run from things that you do that that are very easily automated, repetitive, maybe physical work, to things that would be very difficult to automate, like collaborating or managing others. And every job has a range of those. And so it's interesting; that’s where you find the insights is what tasks will be automated. And then in order to say, will your job automated? You have to almost make arbitrary decisions. If 50% of the tasks you do can be automated, then I'm going to say, there's a 50% chance your job will be automated. Well, should we say that at 75 or 50 or 20?

And for me, the right way to look at it would be just stay with the tasks and that's a much more informative way. Same thing with contingent or non-employee sources of work, where sometimes you find that you're going to bring in a contingent contractor or other worker to do a job, but more often I think it's a project. That is, the parts of the work that would go into a job and that's what the non-standard, worker might do.

So in both of those, there is this notion of deconstruction or fluidity or melting that allows you to get better at both of them. And if you start saying, “How do we fit them into jobs that we have, and how do we try to neatly redeploy our current workers to something else, and get them out of that job?” That is often a place where leaders, quite appropriately, are quite perplexed and quite frustrated. And so that when you free up the idea and say, “Hey, wait a minute, you can keep all your people. We're just going to have them doing something in combination with automation, or they're going to work side by side with non-employee workers”—that opens up a lot more possibilities, and also requires a lot more creative thinking.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think this is super-interesting, because we just finished a couple of Seasons on Skills: organizations are trying to figure out the Skills things and what you're saying dovetails really nicely into that. These organizations that are basically breaking down the roles into the tasks that you talked about, and deciding what Skills people need and in order to actually get that done.

I think the one thing that we haven't heard yet is that idea of automation, like what is the stupid work that we could actually take off the plates of the people, and have them focus on some of the other things?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

So to speak, right? (laughs) Some of it is very, very high-level work with AI, actually. So it's an interesting point, Dani, let me just touch on that a minute: I really love the emergence of this notion of Skills as a way of thinking about work; it nicely spans the three areas of work that I think are subject to this kind of atomization. One is the work itself; jobs become tasks and projects. One is the worker—workers become a more complete set of capabilities, is what I would call them, rather than just the things they do in the job. And then Learning goes from being an intact degree to the parts of a degree, and Skills nicely covers that.

Where I think there is a caution is that if you look at the way research would think about human capability, for example, Skills are just one element of that capability. Research would say Knowledge, Skills and Abilities.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Yes.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

So ‘skill in the Spanish language’ doesn't really tell me what you're doing with that skill. And it doesn't really tell me what you're capable of. So we would think about knowledge, Skills, and abilities classically as the three components that an individual might have, and in the same way with the work to try to deconstruct the work down to the skill level, kind of, I think goes past the really insightful spot where you're talking about tasks and projects; to deconstruct a degree all the way down to Skills probably goes a little further than the really informative spot where we look at the credentials or the qualifications that people are building.

So I love the fact that Skills has given folks like me an ability to talk about melting, atomizing, deconstructing these things. And the cautionary note would be that I think of a myopic focus on Skills, an assumption that Skills will be the language, may cause us to miss more informative ways to atomize or to deconstruct work and workers and Learning.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

One thing before we kind of turn to the book, one thing I just want to add there is one of the most interesting insights we heard from that Skills Season was someone who talked about the importance of yes, understanding the Skills, but then also understanding the context in which those Skills are being deployed.

And so I think that's kind of the flip side of it, right? You've got, you've got Skills, knowledge capabilities for the individual which kind of provides you with more context on the individual, but there's also the context, the organizational context, in which someone is working, and some of the other factors such as culture, which might influence the way that those Skills are being deployed or the depth of capability, or depth of skill that needs to be deployed at any one point. So I think there's more to it than Skills on both sides.

And so there's incredible power, but like you said, we need to proceed with some level of caution.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I think just keep our eyes open for—there's kind of a fundamental question here, in any language, about what is the right unit of analysis, what's the right unit of thought. And it makes a big, big difference in every arena—if you think about physics, if you think about biology, it makes a really big difference whether you're thinking about the cell level, or the organism's components, the organs, et cetera, versus organisms. And I think it's just, it's useful and important for people to keep in mind, what's the right level that we should be thinking about.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

So let's turn to this new book that you have coming out called Work Without Jobs. There, you discuss this whole concept of shifting away from a traditional job-based system to what you call a ‘new work operating system.’ So can you tell us what that is, what that new work system is, and how it can help organizations be more agile and prepared for volatility?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Yes. We use the metaphor of ‘a new work operating system’ in the same way that you might think about an operating system, let's say for computers, or the operating system that really underpins almost anything, the process, et cetera—in this case, let's take computers.

I was recently getting ready for a TED Talk and went out and looked up metaphors for the operating system, et cetera. And what I discovered is that early computers did one job at a time. So if you're as old as I am, you remember taking a bunch of cards with holes punched in them, each card had a command on it, and they were placed in order by you and then you fed them into a machine and the machine read the holes at zeros and ones, and it did that job, and then the person behind you could take their cards and feed them in, and it would do that job.

Even early personal computers, the CPU kind of did one thing at a time. You did your word processor, and then you shut that off. And again, your listeners are not old enough to remember. Now, today, it looks like you can do many, many things at a time, and you can. Now that doesn't mean that you've got multiple CPUs running your applications; what the smart thing that engineers did was they took that single central processing unit, which is the source of the work, and they allow it to work in 10 nanosecond segments—much faster than you can think; it's watching you. And when you stop typing, it can go do the spreadsheet for 10 nanoseconds, or the video for 10 nanoseconds. And when you're watching the video, it can devote CPU time to that while the other applications are resting.

So you can move quickly and quickly between all these applications, not because we created a CPU for every one but because the work available was segmented into those nanoseconds. And in a sense, that's kind of what we're talking about with the notion of work with people is the notion of moving from thinking about work as a job at a time, a job holder at a time, a degree at a time, to a system that allows the parts to freely connect and to do that potentially in a much faster way so tasks and projects can connect to atomized or deconstructed worker capabilities like Skills, and those can be gained through an atomized set of things like experiences or partial degrees or credentials.

And so ultimately in its full form, the new operating system would be based on those deconstructed elements rather than being based primarily on the job as the unit of analysis.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

You mention in the book that there are four principles that underlie this new system. Can you talk to us a little bit about what those are, and then we'll connect them specifically to Hybrid Work?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Sure, so I'll just go through them quickly. One, the first principle is starting with the work rather than thinking about starting as jobs. I think it's easy to understand it when I say it; I think when we looked at organizations, what you see is the systems that underpin them, and I think that the way of thinking of most leaders, workers, policymakers, et cetera, is to think about ‘jobs.’ We hear policymakers talk about good jobs. People think about getting a job, et cetera.

So we say, start with the work, not with the jobs to allow people to free themselves from assuming that the work has to reconfigure into the current jobs we have, or, like you can measure a nursing shortage by saying, what do I measure? Well, I take this job called a ‘nurse,’ regular full-time job. I take the people in it who are called nurse job holders, and they have qualifications for that and then I look at how many of those we're going to produce by the nature of the four-year degrees that people are going to get in the future and that can produce a number when you look at the gap. However, if we thought about making that work more fluid, other people might be able to do parts of a nursing job. And the same thing is true in organizations. So starting with the work does not mean we won't have jobs: what it means is take a group of jobs, for example, let them fluidly meld, and then consider how you might reconfigure them. And you might end up with jobs at the end, but you might end up also with partial jobs, and then work being done by automation or other workers.

And then, so that brings principle number two is about combining humans in automation, rather than replacing humans in jobs with automation. So that's principle two, we've talked about that a little bit: principle three is to that idea of thinking beyond regular full-time employment. So a vast array of work engagements, contractor, gig worker, even volunteers, even your employees volunteering to take on projects, crowdsourcing. So when you open up that ecosystem, as I4CP calls it, and as David Creelman called it in our book, that ecosystem of potential workers may include lots of people that will not be engaged as regular full-time employees.

And that's principle three, and then principle four is allowing people to flow to the work. And that's to that idea that you mentioned about designing the work around the people, o the notion that when we let these parts of the job be fluid, you may be able to say, “Well, everybody has a job,” but we can allow people to flow to where they're most needed. And you get away from, “Well, I'd love to help you, but that's not my job,” and “Do I need permission for that?”

So again: sometimes the new operating system does end up with work that is not in jobs, it’s just free-floating projects done by lots of different kinds of workers, but also these principles can be applied to a situation where you might say, we expect to end up with ‘jobs,’ however, we've begun our thinking, not at the job level, but at the deconstructed level.

I like to use the metaphor of ice cubes in a tray could be seen as jobs, right? And we can think of ice as a cube of ice, and then, but they're melting, and they're melting because of COVID and disruptions, et cetera. And those liquid parts that are kind of floating on the table now are re-freezable. When I did my TED Talk, I ended with a slide that shows an ice cube tray you can buy that freezes ice cubes into the shape of the Titanic the ship, and an iceberg. And then the laugh line is the people who made it say, you can now make a drink called a gin and Titonic, right? 🙂

That's kind of my example of, could we think of work that creatively, and we still might end up with frozen ice, but it would look very different than being in cubes.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You think some industries are closer to this than others? And I’m thinking, particularly—it’s a leading question, but I'm thinking particularly about—

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

(Laughter) Like you guys are!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

(Laughs) About agency type worker, tech in some instances, or professional services?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Sure, yeah, I think that's a very good point, Dani. And in writing the book, we pointed to say consulting firms or professional service firms, or the professional service organizations—like in IBM, they have professional service organization. And I absolutely think you're right, that they have many of the components of what we're talking about: what was interesting to me when I asked Ravin, my good colleague who was working at Towers Watson as we wrote the book and now is working at Mercer as we kind of finished the book, and in the book, I said, “Why don't you describe how consulting firms do it?” And, this is, I don't want to put words in Ravin's mouth, but for me, I was kind of surprised at how oh, what shall I say, how early stage it is.

So yes, there's billable projects and all that kind of thing, but I was surprised at how it kind of revolves around a human leader that is the person you report to, and you still have a job, and flowing is not really quite as smooth as we might say it is. I think, where you really see good examples of this is freelance platforms. In fact, The World Economic Forum calls the work, this new type of work, ‘platform work.’ Doesn't mean that you it's all going to be freelancers—it could be a platform inside the company that's used by employees, it could be a platform like LinkedIn that is used to, kind of, express what you can do. And so that’s the platform world, and of course, if you want a webpage done, if you want a program written, et cetera, places like Upwork and Fiver and of course there are platforms where you can get a CFO on an assignment. There are platforms—Upwork will create a team for you, a lot of people don't know that, but if you go to Upwork and say, “I want to build an app,” you don't have to find all the talent necessary to build that app: they will just say, “We'll find them for you, and we'll put them together for you, virtually.”

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think that's really interesting: we use Upwork, but we also have a part-time CFO and a part-time CMO.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Interesting!

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah, we use little parts of their time, because we don't need somebody full time yet. I think it's a very interesting concept.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

That's a great point, Dani. Yep.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

We want to hook kind of what you're saying back to Hybrid Work—we could talk for hours about this! The last two years have switched things up for us a little bit and maybe open the minds of some organizations that have been fairly closed and structured although, we are seeing some back-to-office plans that scare us a little bit. Talk to us about this new operating system in these four principles with respect to Hybrid Work arrangements?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

So I think the fundamental thing that I would want to leave listeners with—it's a great question, thank you, Dani—I’m going to over characterize just a little. Okay, I think organizations are tempted to think about Hybrid Work and of course, a lot of attention is there, about we have these jobs and now we need to ask where and when people will do them. And so lots of discussions about, When do you come in, when do you not come in, if you can work at home, and even lots of discussions about how we arrange on-site work, when you must come in, and how that's scheduled and all that sort of thing.

So the “where” and the “when” are getting a great deal of attention, and I don't want to over characterize, it's not that organizations are not aware of the rest. I would just add “what,” in this case, then maybe a little bit of “who.” But the “what” would be, well, wait a minute, let's look at that job. So instead of asking, when do you do your job at home? When do you do your job on-site? Or what about these people who are on-site doing a job that needs to be done on, are they second class citizens, how do they compare? I think what I'd suggest is this new work operating system would invite organizations to say, “What if we looked at it at the task level? What if we looked at the person at the capability level.” And that might allow you to do things—and we see examples of this, I was just reading an article this morning in HR Executive, by folks at Liberty Mutual, who are talking about taking a job and asking what tasks within it are the remote ones, and what tasks within it are the ones that should be on-site or in-person.

And one can imagine, then you could take all the remote ones and say, that's a job. And that's for people who want to work remotely and will take all the on-site ones and that's a job, and that could be for people who want to work on-site. I think the notion of what do you do on-site is opening up this idea that if you come on-site and the tasks you're doing are sitting in a cubicle or on a Zoom meeting, at the task level that would say we could probably take all of those and allow more flexibility. There are other tasks, and we're increasingly learning how to use workspaces better, but we might say in general, tasks that work better with in-person, maybe collaboration, maybe socialization, that kind of thing.

So if you free yourself up and ask kind of like we did with automation, what are the tasks that are absolutely remote-possible? What are the tasks that are absolutely not remote-possible? What's in the middle? It seems to me that that's a better basis for the experiments about work that Hybrid Work is creating. It's a better basis for the, I'll say ‘negotiation,’ but let me also say ‘collaboration,’ between the worker and that frontline leader who's trying to figure out how to answer their concerns about the commute, et cetera. If we break it down at the task or project level, does that offer us a better language to figure this stuff out?

My experience—and we've got a couple of clients where I've been working on this—is that that really does open up some options. Now it's daunting because the systems don't always support it. But the option discussion, I think, is much more fruitful if you can get to that deconstructed level—to talk about work without being limited by the jobs.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think that's so interesting, I hadn't necessarily thought of it that way. We're reading a lot about this right now, obviously as everyone else is, and we hear a lot about second-class citizens that are Hybrid, for example, or second-class that. How do you counteract some of those traditional systems that face time is very important, and collaboration and being onstage is more prestigious than maybe sitting in a back office, crunching numbers, those types of things. How do you deal with that?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Yeah, that's a great question, Dani. And it's obviously a bigger issue about culture and about the evolution of the way we think about work and leadership and all that sort of thing.

I think COVID has advanced that five, maybe 10 years: everyone has now experienced that productivity, generally, actually, went up among people who moved to Hybrid. Microsoft has done some amazing research on their own population, I would really recommend people get a look at that. So surprisingly productivity went up, culture and socialization didn't go away. I think Microsoft research would suggest that they probably needs attention. So I think in terms of the book, I think one of the things I'd say is, think about work at its atomized level, at its deconstructed level, and workers at their capability level and see if that opens up some options.

I do think that to stretch it a little, the second-class citizen remote versus Hybrid discussion often assumes a fixed job. And I think if you were able to say, it really is true for example, that the reason I, as a supervisor, find it hard to work with you when you're Hybrid is that I can't see your work, or I can't talk to you about your work off-the-cuff: if you could, if you could drop down and say, well, what parts of my work does that affect—what are the tasks where you and I would agree, you need to see me doing it? And then what are the other parts where you don't really need to see me?

I just think that's a richer discussion and would allow the leader and the worker to maybe come to some agreement, which is hard to do when they're saying, I need you in the office two days a week and the worker rightfully says, but I'm sitting in a cubicle on Zoom meetings and you're not around. And I think that's more of a task-based issue than it is a job-based issue or an issue of second-class citizenship, et cetera.

Same thing with work that's largely on-site—people working in a laboratory, for example. You need to be in the lab when you're working with this equipment, or when safety is an issue, et cetera: however, almost always, there's some part of that kind of work record keeping, et cetera, that if we were allowed to think of that separately, it could be done at home. And in fact, they call it work crafting in the world of industrial psychology—people have always crafted their work inside a job description. And with COVID, people learn how to craft their work so that they did stuff that could be remote remotely, and stuff on-site that was on site at the task level.

I'm not sure it's a full solution, right? We still need, generally, to learn more and understand more about what we mean by needing to see you, or else people I see will be favored, something like that. Lots of that goes beyond just the work design and thinking about work in an atomized way, but I think there is something to be said for finding a new language that would allow for those nuances.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

What this strikes me as is a remarkably adult and mature set of conversations. (Laughs)

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

(Laughs) Maybe I'm in my academic world, Stacia: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if,’ you know. (Laughs) I agree with you more so than, I'll just say it more so than many of the conversations and frameworks that I'm sure you and certainly I encounter.

As I began to be kind of pulled back into the world of work, I had a number of clients who wanted me to work with them because their leaders said, “We need a policy.” Originally it was in 2020, when we all go back in the Fall, and that's, of course that's extending. But it was a lot of leaders in human resources generally, but also leaders in areas saying, our top leadership wants policy. You’ve got Jaime Dimon, who said, “I want our people back in the office and some of them don't like to commute. And so what?” I would say that if Jamie Dimon had said, “A lot of our banking customers don't like to drive to branch banks… and so what?”

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Yeah.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

—He’d have been laughed out of the boardroom. So I know he knows how to think about this when it comes to customers in a very sophisticated way and I think the same analogy might apply there.

I agree with you that this is often framed in a way that that is not as adult, let's say, but I think not as productive would be the way I would put it. And that's why I really lead with the idea of what if you thought of it as experiments, and you applied the same agile experimentation mindset to work that you would for software or products or something like that. And I think that that would lead to, I don't know that I want to say ‘adult versus juvenile,’ but a more, let's say a more productive, more kind of equal discussion, more substantive discussion rather than just being frustrated by a policy. Go ahead. Excuse me.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

That point is exactly where I was driving this ‘equal’ idea. And it seems to me like what you're talking about is in many ways, both a reflection of and probably going to perpetuate, a fundamental shift in the contract between employees and players.

And I don't mean a legal contract; I mean, the kind of broad, broader societal contract that we have. And so as you think about that, for both the organizational leaders who are potentially embarking on this, and there's some level of giving away—a perception anyway—of giving away power might argue that they don’t at this point, but there's that perception. And then for employees who are certainly as you, I think you mentioned at the beginning in a stronger bargaining position, if you will in terms of their relationships, as you think about those two sides, what advice or thoughts would you have for them as they're thinking about in renegotiating the social contract?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I think that's a really good question. I think one of the things you mentioned is it's already here in many cases. And we see it, whatever you want to call it, The Great Resignation, The Great Reengagement, all that sort of thing kind of goes to that theme—that what's going on is a shift in power.

And I think one of the important things is to recognize that it's already happening, that COVID and others disruptions have kind of opened that up, and they've revealed and made more prominent the information that workers now have that organizations used to have exclusively. Tech has done that, platforms have done that, people can talk about Glassdoor or Skills-based platforms or LinkedIn—all of those things are kind of opening up visibility through the transaction at a very nuanced level. And that visibility, it’s very much like purchasing an automobile where it used to be that the dealer held all the information, and you had no way to get it except to go into that dealer and let the salesperson hopefully help you understand financing and features and all that stuff. Today, the purchaser walks in with all of that from the Web and it's a very different relationship between the purchaser and, let's say, the dealership that's offering the automobile.

Well in the same way, organizations that are offering work are seeing that relationship change with workers. And so, one, it’s already here and so to wish for, or to try to very sincerely want to go back and do it the way I did it as a leader, because I know how to do it, it works, I know how to engage people; if I just have a box that's a job that with a line that reports to me, that I know how to do.

And I think it's quite fair—it’s not in a way that I want to keep power. It's more like, this is what I know. So first, understand that that's probably changing, that's one. And then I think begin to experiment, so you don't have to do this all at once. It doesn't have to happen everywhere, but there are areas of work for every leader, for every worker, where you could experiment with negotiating a different arrangement: you could experiment with calling something a project. One of my favorite ongoing real-time experiments, not that I'm doing but that the world is doing, is organizations like Unilever and others using platforms like Eightfold or Gloat or the talent marketplace of Workday, just to name a few.

And obviously Josh is kind of an expert on that ecosystem of offerings. What it is, here's a platform: you, as a leader can post a project; if you don't have enough people in jobs to do this work, people around the organization can see the project and some of them can volunteer outside their regular job to do it—that’s kind of the story of these platforms right now.

That to me is a good example of a place where leaders and workers are going to find themselves beginning to experiment with, How do I share my workers on projects with other leaders? And when I post a project and they work for me as a volunteer for a while, what should they take away from me as a leader? Jonathan Donner and I wrote a piece in Sloan Management Review of one of the essence of it was what happens is leadership happens faster because you're going to see, you're going to connect with workers on projects that are quicker. And so the workers experience now with leadership is going to be maybe 4, 5, 7 leaders in a year instead of just one.

And that has the capacity for good things to happen fast if your leaders are ethical, values based, consistent in the way they see the organization and its relationship. It also has the ability to make bad things happen fast if leaders are inconsistent, discriminatory, et cetera. So it's a really interesting moment, but I think probably the biggest point is it's probably already here, there are places for you to experiment, this doesn't require willy-nilly giving up everything you know—some feel the work you have as a leader is going to be in jobs, however, begin to open your mind to the shift in power and that the discussions need to happen probably at a more atomized level.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And I think what's interesting is I think in your book, you mentioned the famous William Gibson quote of, “The future's already here, just not evenly distributed.”

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Right. William Gibson.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

And that was even the case before the pandemic, since for instance, W.L. Gore was doing this type of work and had been doing so for decades—Cisco.

And so I think, the good news about all this is, yes, they are experiments, but many organizations have been experimenting and so there's some things that we are as a community able to learn and to glean from that. I think your point about acceleration of the impact of leaders and their quality is really on point, because that is certainly what I understand of the W.L. Gore experience.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

That's a great point, Stacia, you just made it beautifully, much, much more succinctly than I did. If you look around, you will find, it's not that scary in a way. If you look around and you, once you see, once you open your eyes to see work this way, you're going to find some places where it makes perfect sense for you and the people that you work with to practice this, or organization examples where they've been doing it. And they then you can see how their leaders adapted.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I think it's not just the leaders, it’s the systems as well. We didn't get to indeed like half of the questions that we have, but the way that you hire people, the way that you move people around, the way that you account for organizations, all of that right now around the role, but these organizations have figured out a way to experiment, even when the traditional structure is there.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

The shorthand is everybody's got a talent lifecycle diagram. It starts with planning, then it gets to finding, then hiring all the way around to people leaving. What I suggest is take that talent lifecycle diagram, and consider what each part would look like if you adopted the new work operating system.

That's often a really nice, quiet exercise that an HR leader or others can do without having to go public, but just say, okay, well, let me look at this. Where would we, where in the lifecycle might be the place we could begin experimenting, or where we really must begin experimenting?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

So for those, John, who are looking for models, for example, you, we mentioned W.L. Gore, we mentioned Cisco, we mentioned a couple of others; do you have other companies that people should be looking at as models?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Well, the ones we use in the book, Unilever gets mentioned a good deal. Genentech gets mentioned a good deal. My good friend, Dean Carter at Patagonia, was kind enough to share an example where as they needed fewer on-site retail workers, front meeting customers, but they needed more call center workers, they basically deconstructed and reconstructed the frontline retail job and realized lots of those capabilities work in a remote call center environment, and so they gave them essentially a call center station in their homes, and they could move between the store and the call center.

Lots of examples of automation at a distribution center level are running example of that—how things melt every time you change the automation, and then people can flow to the work. Again, for me, once I see it, once I realize that these things exist as components, for me anyway, you start to see it everywhere. Once I tell you about the Titanic ice cube, all of a sudden you don't see ice the same way anymore, so I think there's really a lot of really good models happening already out there. And in Work Without Jobs, Ravin and I made our attempt to point to some of the more prominent ones and to give people lots of types of models.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I love that. Two last questions. The first one is, final advice—advice for people that are just getting started with breaking jobs down, but also in the context of Hybrid. What would you tell ‘em?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

So aside from the nuts and bolts, I think, can you step back and see it as an experiment? That would be– my number one is, “Doesn't that help you avoid feeling like you're stuck?” and with all that comes with it, failing fast learning, et cetera.

The other one of course is see, see it in deconstructed or atomized ways, fluid ways. And then I think start where there is energy and where there is a space. So for some organizations, it might be the automation's already happening, our leaders are all ready: we have in the book, a set of what we call triggers and it's something like, well, automation's happening. And, and leaders are saying, you told me I get back this many FTEs, but I can't shift the people—I still need ‘em!

When you hear that, at the moment, no one's going to say to a leader or to an HR leader, please bring me that new operating system that Ravin and John wrote about. I hope everybody reads the book, and then pretty soon they just say ‘new operating system!’ But for now, what you hear is, “I thought automation would lift and shift the people in the jobs, and it isn't.”

That is a moment where if you're an HR leader or other, you say, Oh, wait a minute—let’s go to the principles of this new operating system. You say, we've got a bottleneck. I can't fill my job requisitions. We are forecasting a shortage of millions of nurses; well, let's step back, if possible. There’s the example of Providence Health, where they melted the nurse job and moved the components of it to different parts of the hospital. So nurses could stay at what they call ‘top of license’ work. So that's another trigger point. Another one is new priorities, like belongingness, diversity; if we say it's everyone's job, then it kind of becomes no one's job, so maybe we create projects that are very specific—that’s what Unilever did on its platform. So new priority, new stakeholders, that's another place where we don't have any jobs about this, it’s nobody’s job to do sustainability. It's nobody's job to do ESG: when you hear that, what I think is in your mind should go, Maybe they're saying I need a new operating system and they don't know it.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I like all of those because it kind of takes the anxiety out of kind of moving in this direction and all.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

I would love that. I hope so, Dani, thank you.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Our final question is a question we ask everybody that's on our podcast, and that's what we call the Purpose question: Why do you personally do the work that you do?

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

That's a pretty easy one, though I didn't come to it right away. So I do this with the vision in mind of making a very humble contribution to the enormously good work that folks like you and all those people that I work with in companies do.

So a tiny, humble contribution—but at the end that the work relationship, that the work environment for frontline people, for workers, gets better; that some of the things that don't make sense get corrected or taken away, that the relationship between a worker and a leader is better. So again, it's like by presenting this new operating system, maybe instead of workers saying, “Man, I hate automation. It never works the way they say,” some workers get the benefit of a leader who says, wait a minute, let's think about this at the task level and find new solutions, and you have a better conversation, a more adult conversation.

So making the work relationship better is really, at the end of the day, what again, what I hope in my humble way, putting a few seeds out there that much more, much more competent people take up, is kind of what it's about. My dad worked for IBM back in the 60s, and he fixed those computers that take up a room, the big tape drives and all that. And he did it with a team by pulling up the floorboards, pulling down the wall panels and going into the wiring and looking for faults and that kind of thing.

And I once asked him, do you enjoy your work? And he said, IBM's—and it was; my mom and I still benefit from IBM and the benefits, and I've had the chance to work with IBMers, it's an amazingly good company—and he said, “I have a good supervisor. And I just wish that the supervisor knew and had the capacity to take us out to dinner as Repair people the way they take the Sales group out to dinner when they complete or beat their quota.”

And he wasn't complaining; he was just saying, isn't it funny that in a great company like IBM, that just isn't a policy. Is there some way I can humbly contribute to that supervisor would have the opportunity to take him out to dinner.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

I love it. That's a beautiful answer. John, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Thank you both. It's a play. Thanks for the great questions.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Thank you: we really appreciate the time and, and we're aligned with you trying to make our humble contributions. So thank you!

John Boudreau, HR Scholar:

Thanks.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Thanks everybody for listening to this episode of Workplace Stories. Dani and Stacia, how can listeners get more involved in the podcast and pf course with your incredible research work?

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

Well, they can follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on the podcast platform of your choice. And you can go to and rate this at podcast.com/workplacestories and leave us ratings and reviews.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

You can also share this or your favorite episode with a colleague or a friend.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

You can check out our website at redthreadresearch.com to follow all of our latest trends in people practices and sign up to participate in some of our research.

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

Or Stacia, they could maybe…?

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

Sign up for our weekly newsletter at redthreadresearch.com/newsletter, and consider joining the RedThread community by joining our membership.

Dani Johnson, RedThread Research:

And lastly, we're on Twitter at redthreadre—that’s R E D T H R E A D R E, or look up RedThread research on LinkedIn and follow our work.

Stacia Garr, RedThread Research:

I’d just like to add for our listeners that we’d love to get to know you a bit better. To that end, we’d like to invite our listeners to head over to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps – don’t worry about all that detail, it’s in the Show Notes — and tell us a little about yourselves!

There’s a short form that you can fill out in about a minute. As a thank you, the first 30 people who tell us about themselves will get a 7-day trial for a RedThread membership, so you can have a peek under the curtain of what RedThread Research.

And if you miss that cut off, no worries–we'll still gift you a copy of our Skills vs. Competencies report! So, please, go to redthreadresearch.com/hello-wps and tell us a bit about yourselves!

Chris Pirie, The Learning Futures Group:

And thanks so much for listening.

We are very grateful to the teams at Class and Perceptyx for their sponsorship on this episode and Season of Workplace Stories.

Workplace Stories is a production of RedThread Research and The Learning Futures Group.

Thanks for listening.

Heather Gilmartin Adams

Heather is a senior consultant at RedThread Research. Trained in conflict resolution and organizational development, Heather has spent the past ten years in various capacities at organizational culture and mindset change consultancies as well as the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a bachelors degree in history from Princeton University. She has lived in Germany, China, Japan, and India and was, for one summer, a wrangler on a dude ranch in Colorado.

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