Most of us already know that the large vertically integrated enterprise of just 10 or 15 years ago has mostly disappeared. By measure of headcount, many “big” businesses have assiduously grown smaller to focus on brand, marketing, product development and product extension. Services, partners and channels are widely replacing departments and subsidiaries as mechanisms of growth and cost containment.

That means many fewer management ladder careers at businesses like General Electric (and even Cisco and Intel), but in a different context, these are ancient topics.

I am also hearing of more senior managers and execs being compensated based on KPIs of performance. A universal topic has lately been the rationalization of just about every internal business activity against the competencies that are core to the enterprise mission. It’s more pointed in recessionary times, but this kind of workforce reexamination has always driven businesses to partnerships, to outsourcing and to offshoring, three different but related things that, in the end, are about dollars and focus.

Traditional IT organizations are merely the latest to come under the microscope, and though they hold certain competencies that are core to the modern organization, their value will be revisited regularly going forward.

It is deeper than IT being "irrelevant." Corporations want to turn fixed costs into variable costs, pay providers as they go and carry as little inventory as possible. They want to access rather than buy services, whether it’s cloud infrastructure or lawn mowing based on how wet the season is. They want service levels but usually not long-term contracts. It's not about you, it's about me.

Why won't the same effect begin to trickle down in the job market? The old brick-and-mortar manager bonus system was made obsolete by codependent teamwork that is hard to score (and unlike sales or financial services bonuses in its assumptions). If businesses want to increasingly draw on internal human resources on a benchmarked and pay-as-you-go basis, and I think they do, they’ve got a fair bit of work ahead of them, starting with poor process and KPI understanding and an unwillingness to face facts.

But as they do get their act together, just remember that performance management, business intelligence and information management are likely to be the enablers of the new workforce management.

We’ll talk more about KPIs and process owners next week, but maybe you can help me by jump-starting some comments. How do you feel about the idea that we are at the front of a long trend away from salaried work and toward widespread performance-based compensation? (If you happen to be in sales, you are excused from this question.)  

And if you think I’m all wet, by all means say so, but consider some existing pop social commentary that strikes me as relevant. 

“And now for something completely different…” was a segue used again and again in the old Monte Python TV show that transitioned one absurdist skit to the next. What gave continuity to the show was the ongoing banality and lack of control over events, very much like “Dilbert” or “The Office” delivered later. “Something completely different” is really about the same thing happening over and over and the powerlessness people feel as wider events catch on.

The reality of same thing happening repeatedly in the face of disbelief was Freud’s definition of insanity. If we externalize that thought, the repeated cycles that have moved our corporate economies and workforces (while causing a lot of disbelief in the process) are more obvious.

It might have begun with the gathering of raw materials assigned to those near a resource; it might have progressed in the establishment of cooperatives to aggregate goods to market and smooth out the value of distributed labor. The transportation era had to emerge from the industrial age to link raw materials to components to finished goods that then needed to go back to market. EDI linked raw materials to components to products for every car and washing machine you own. (Remember when we used to have all those clerks?) Today’s consumer has more visibility to their personal logistics through UPS or Federal Express than huge corporations had a decade ago. There goes the mail room.

Enough examples, I’m sure readers have dozens of their own. Much of the uncertainty (and absurdity) we share with peers may well be a simple reflection of the times and another labor shift afoot that is not unlike many that came before.

These are neither the best nor worst of times. If we think about it and share ideas maybe it will give us a glimpse of where each of us in our own area might be headed next.

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