Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Forum – the changing face of work

In this forum, I want to pluck your brains.

I write a fair bit on changing management patterns. This includes the use of technology, the organisation of work and changes in perceptions, structures and roles.  One of the interesting questions here is just when particular approaches affected particular workplaces.

Remember the telex? While this dates back to 1926, it really exploded during the 1970s. Like the telex, the fax has a longish history, actually predating the telephone. In 1964, the Xerox Corporation developed the first commercial fax machine. By the late 1970s, a number of models were available. By the early 1980s, fax was fast replacing telex.

These are technology examples. If we look at organisational examples, consider the emergence of the executive, While the idea of boards or executive committees has a very long history indeed, the mass spread of the idea of the executive as a form of governance is quite recent, especially in the public sector. It links to what we now call corporatist models. 

I come now to my questions to you. If you look at your working life, what are the really big changes and when did you first become aware of them? Feel free to go in any direction you like. I’m just interested in what you have to say.


Winton Bates said...

Jim, I find it hard to believe that the idea on an executive is new. Going back to biblical times, I have the impression that Joseph had that role. Perhaps the idea of a board taking collective responsibility is a somewhat newer concept than individuals being given executive responsibility.

Coming to the question you asked, I don't remember any of the technological innovations having much effect until well into the 1980s when research staff began doing their own typing. Prior to that, changes in computing were affecting quantitative research.

2 tanners said...

Before my time: Airliners. I have been through the history of the negotiation of the general agreement on tariffs and trade in Geneva. Boats, steamer trunks of documents and poorly handled discussion because you couldn't have all the experts or any of the really senior staff overseas for that many months at a time.

Innovation 1: Flextime. Started as a way of being able to handle staff personal needs and peak workloads. Within 20 years it had become a way for all except the most junior of staff to work well over the number of hours for which they were being paid.

Innovation 2: Email. Very slow to start. Later, in many cases replaced the telephone and completely replaced the fax, due to its ability to both create and attach documents of any nature. Increased the ability to rapidly communicate. In some cases this has not led to much, in others, such as disaster relief, it has been critical. There's also an evidential path.

Hope these 3 are of use.

Oh and crowdsourcing, which you presumably find potential in since you're doing it right now. :)

Anonymous said...

I like both the above comments, but in my life I'd have to say the three things which have affected my work and life are 1) the Poseidon share run - because I think (in hindsight) that this marked the start of Australians' love affair with 'official gambling'; 2) the mobile phone - whereby we enthusiastically embraced the concept of the slaves' anklet; 3) the press turning from loyal to cynical as regards our democracy, and those who run it.

These things filtered down (into?) the whole of society, and how we deal with, and regard, each other.

If I'm allowed a 4th I'd agree with email as an invention of the devil.


Winton Bates said...

I can relate to all of those comments. I remember Poseiden, but more particularly, Tasminex options, from which I earned what seemed like a fortune one week and then lost it the following week. Flextime was a magnificent innovation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Winton - was trying to remember 'Tasminex'. I really do think that era was a significant awakening in Australian life. Sorry Jim; probably off-topic as usual.


Winton Bates said...

Yes kvd, for me it was a time when lessons were learned. I learned that shares sometimes go up in value just because other people think they will go up in value, but they can fall in value for the same reasons.

Jim Belshaw said...

I do like the way that conversations run on in my absence. Good stuff!

Winton, I think of 1985 or or 86 as the year of the executive. That was the time that the Secretary and two Deputy Secretaries in DITAC combined to call themselves the Departmental Executive, replacing previously more open and diffuse decision processes.

This was also the time that performance reporting emerged.

Track forward. Now all agencies have these. Look at the Treasury web site. The structural section begins with our executive.

In 2007 I wrote a slightly incredulous piece looking at the way this process had slowed decision making. The rise of the executive or internal board, often at multiple levels, has run in parallel with the obsession of governance on one side, risk management on the other.

Jim Belshaw said...

2T, this is indeed an example of crowd sourcing! Yes, they are useful examples. Ah, flex time. I remember it first coming in. Then it was a useful and flexible device from a management perspective, aiding flexible staff management That was before rigor mortis set in!

Jim Belshaw said...

Ah, Poseidon. From memory, I bought at 90 and sold at 120. However, kvd, that was not the start of our love affair with official gambling. That began almost immediately with European settlement.

Noric Dilanchian said...

WHEN were the really big changes? Now.

HOW SO? (1) The way people work with each other is more flexible, needs discovery instance by instance. Much less is a given, fewer and fewer people are "employees" reporting to "executives". (2) Executives symbolism is being replaced in part by that of founders and entrepreneurs. Although executives seem so yesterday, they hold old money, old power, and linger, dominating traditional media and its suit culture fixations. (3) Executives made decisions everyone else executed; now electronic communication facilitates interaction making the way decision are made or recorded so different from traditional formats in agendas and minutes. (4) Organisations were typically pictured as pyramids and morphed into some other shapes (time does not permit explanation here) but now I see very different patterns of influence. Instead of command and control structures we see hives in which big data is processed, symbols created, branded and sold to the populace. It was ever thus, it is just done differently now facilitated by new means, collectively a big change.

I'll end here. You did say "Feel free to go in any direction you like." So I took up that invitation.

Jim Belshaw said...

Now that's interesting, Noric, for I find myself disagreeing with you quite profoundly.

If you were to go back to when we first met,we would both have argued this. It seems to me that the reality is that the opposite has happened. The old old and the new old (Google, is an example)fall in the same class. The technology enforces old command and control systems.

Anonymous said...

In PM&C in about 1994 it was Roger Beale who got email to start replacing minutes, phone calls and meetings. Email was there but little used. He was a Dep Sec with a physical disability. Earlier, at the end of 1989, when I first joined PM&C, there were about five people per screen (word-processors). Wd have reached about 1:1 by about 1994. Presumably the Typing Pool had already577 died by about 1988.
- Michael O'Rourke Canberra

Jim Belshaw said...

That's an interesting example, Michael. Would you believe, I used to share a house with Roger!

Around 94, my then consulting group did a pilot survey for Australia Post on the substitution of electronic for physical communications, including Canberra interviews. One conclusion was that email was then on the cusp of taking over. The impediment was senior staff who did not want to use it!

John Stitch said...

Jim - from my memory the first of the big technology changes that affected me were colour television. They were pretty much all Rank Arenas and were the difference between what Motel you were likely to stay at as they were a big selling point in the 70's much like free WiFi is now. Another one I remember was Quadraphonic sound systems. Wow! You hadn't really heard Black Sabbath unless it was hitting you from 4 directions at once and finally one that I suspect would be dear to your heart was the Star Writer. The problem with type writers was that what you typed was what you got. I remember fiddling around with white out and that correction paper that you typed over to fix mistakes. But the Star Writer opened up a whole new world of correct typing without having to learn to type. And who can forget the joy of sitting back after you had typed and checked a passage hitting ENTER or some other key and watching as the Star Writer took off like some secretary taking dictation!

John Stitch said...

Oops sorry Jim I put the above in the wrong post