Home' HR Monthly : June 2019 Contents June 2019 HRM magazine 13
here is a movement afoot. Work, it preaches, is stuck in
the past. Your organisation, the way you interact with
colleagues, you r role itself – they should be different.
Not just because it’s convenient or because disruption is
inherently good, but because it's imperative for businesses and
society at large.
The movement is fond of ideas and phrases such as ‘flat
organisations’ and ‘innovation capability’. No doubt this rings
a bell. Maybe the language – the insistence on distinguishing
between a policy of being agile and a philosophy of agility,
for example – strikes you as just a bunch of jargon. But that’s
not the case. Its philosophy might be the most viable market
solution to what technological change is doing to our jobs.
Dominic Price is part of the movement. In fact, as the
officially titled ‘Work Futurist’ at Atlassian (arguably
Australia’s most exciting tech company) he’s basically an
ordained minister. And, even if you rolled your eyes when you
read ‘futurist’, I bet you your salary he could convert you.
Price is personable, persuasive, and knows his subject. He’s
not solely a theorist, pontificating on business ideas he will
never have to realise, he regularly applies his knowledge. A nd,
frankly, it doesn’t hurt that his title began as a joke.
When Price started work at Atlassian, Scott Farquhar, one of
the company's co -founders, insisted he didn’t care about titles.
The company considers itself a meritocracy, which means while
internally they have some structure, ex ternally staff can call
themselves what they want. Despite this assurance, Farquhar
does have pet peeves. Price explains.
“ We were brainstorming ideas for the role and someone
said, ‘futu rist’. A nd I was like, ‘ We can't ever call me a futurist
because Scott will go berserk.’ And then I was like, how much
fun! Because me and him are often on stage together, and he
would have to introduce me as a futurist.”
The name stuck, and as jokes are wont to do, as time passed
it became less funny and more accurate.
“The whole point of the role is, how can we understand
more about the future of work? So that’s distributed teams,
the construct of nine-to-five, knowledge workers, cognitive
diversity – all the things that make up that future workforce.
And instead of trying to predict what's going to happen, how
can we build practices today to get there?”
Brave new role
So what does a work futurist actually do? According to Price,
his role is split fifty-fifty between internal and ex ternal tasks.
For the latter, he attends conferences, roundtables and
talks to outside companies in order to spread the message
about Atlassian’s approach and learn from them. “Watching
an organisation with 35,000 people go through an agile
transformation is my equivalent of an MBA. I’m going to learn
more from going through that with ANZ than I can from any
Harvard article, right?”
The company’s most successful products are project
management and collaboration tools, so this makes Price
something of a brand ambassador. He talks about the future of
work, and his company offers software designed to enable it.
The other part of the job is improving Atlassian internally,
through coaching, running workshops with teams and building
Perhaps the best way to think of his role is to remember that
it didn’t exist three years ago. Price describes its invention as
a “roll of the dice” and a “three to six month experiment”
the company wasn’t sure would work and that it “bears little
resemblance” to its initial conception. In other words it’s proof
of the theory; it’s a role from the ‘future of work’.
The discussion around this can get really abstract – my
grandmother would have called it ‘airy-fairy’. So it’s useful to
ground it by describing the theory in action, beginning with a
workplace practice and tracking back to how it’s supported.
A useful example is the Atlassian practice of what Price calls
“friction” or “sparring”.
“It’s where you've got two different mindsets rubbing up
against each other. A nd if you're in a trusted environment,
if you're in a psychologically safe environ ment, that friction
creates value. We don't look for agreement, we don't look
for consensus. Collaboration isn't high fives all around, it's
structured, heated debate and argument. When ex ternal people
see it, it looks like we're arguing.”
To maximise the effectiveness of this, Atlassian fosters
diversity (it’s a company value, and a report it released last
year on the topic was very well received). “It’s not based on
hierarchy, it's not based on power or tenure. It's based on
your unique perspective and your unique experience. We then
work on, how do you argue like you're right, but listen like
you're wrong? So yes, put your point forward with passion,
and gusto, and energy. But then once you've put you r point
forward, close your mouth, open these big floppy things on the
side of your head and listen.”
So that’s the practice and a value that lies behind it. But
how do you make sure it’s adopted? Atlassian’s answer did not
involve a policy (why they chose not to will become apparent).
“ We use the power of storytelling. So when we have that
diversity, debate, the argument and something wonderful
happens, we blog about it internally. We've got a very open
culture around storytelling, but we don't just tell the stories
of what went well. We tell the stories that went south as well.
23/5/19 6:35 pm
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