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by Phil Stott | October 25, 2012


If the past few years have taught us anything, it's that there's no such thing as a safe job. With industries turning over and innovations upsetting the established order on a regular basis, keeping ahead of the pack when it comes to employment can seem like an ever more difficult task.

That's where Lynda Gratton comes in. A Professor at the London School of Business, Gratton is an expert in people development within organizations (she's written seven books on the subject, including her most recent, 2010's The Shift). If anyone should know how to equip themselves for the demands of the future workplace, it's Gratton.

At a recent appearance at the World Business Forum in New York, Gratton outlined five forces that she believes will change the way we work—"globalization, society, demography, technology and energy." Recognizing and responding to those forces will be key to planning a successful career in years to come—something that Gratton also had several insightful tips on. Check out her points, then have your say on them in the comments section below.

Shift 1: Serial Mastery

The days of the generalist, says Gratton, are over. To succeed in the workplace of the future, employees will not just have to be specialists in what they do, but in many other areas—which means that employees will have to keep developing their expertise and skills, for their entire careers. At the very least, you'll always have to keep on top of developments in technology, and ensure that you're up to speed with industry news and changes, to stave off the dangers of disruption and obsolescence.

Shift 2: Collaborating Across Boundaries

In a world that is becoming ever more connected, it makes sense that workplaces are becoming flatter and less compartmentalized—something that Gratton believes will continue into the future. As a result, people of different generations, specializations, functions and cultures will all be expected to collaborate more closely to develop new ideas and achieve success for their employers.

Shift 3: Nowhere to Hide

The flip side of all that connectivity is that it's harder than ever for people to keep secrets, or to control their own narratives. And the more visible a person is within an organization, the bigger the challenge they are likely to have projecting an image that is at odds with reality. Hence, Gratton's suggestion for corporate leaders in this brave new age: be yourselves, rather than trying to "play the role" of being a leader, as has been common in the past.

Shift 4: Meaningful Networks

To survive and thrive in the modern workplace, Gratton recommends curating meaningful networks of colleagues, with consideration given to three distinctive types of relationships. The first of these is a "posse"—a support network made up of people who have your back in the workplace, and will help you to meet your goals. (Pro tip: don't ever use the word "posse" to describe such a group—especially to the people you consider to be in it.)

 The second group Gratton describes is the "big ideas crowd"—a group of people who may be very different to you (and not necessarily in the same functional area or even the same company), but who can give you ideas, ensure you stay on top of the latest developments, and stimulate your creativity.

Gratton's final relationship category arose out of the realization that traditiona; societal structures are breaking down. Because people are much more likely to live their lives in a different location than the communities they grew up in, Gratton believes that finding people who can take the place of family or community members can make a big difference to many. These "regenerative relationships" can go far beyond the workplace, and are often more about a sense of community and perspective than directly related to work or career issues.

Shift 5: Lost Legitimacy

There is little doubt that companies are no longer viewed in as positive a light by the general public as in past generations. This "lost legitimacy" has been accompanied, says Gratton, by ever-higher expectations on companies and leaders—from environmental performance to transparency. As a result, one of the biggest challenges facing those companies and leaders is to try and regain that trust. The easiest way to do that: practicing business in an open, ethical and transparent fashion, no matter your position within the company.


What do you think of Lynda Gratton's reading of the future of the workplace? Have your say in the comments.

--Phil Stott,


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