Review of Lead the Work by Boudreau, Jesuthasan, & Creelman

I’m always on the hunt for examples of what it means to Think in 4T. The forward to John Boudreau, Ravin Jesuthasan, and David Creelman’s book, Lead the Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment offers a perfect example. The gig worker has a variety of targets (professional development, community, and benefits) and has designed his work with resources across all of talent, technology, and technique to reach those targets. This gig worker is ahead of the curve and most of our organizations need to catch up.

A few years ago I attended an HR conference where I found myself on a panel with a freelancer. He had no desire to work for a corporation, nor a manager for that matter. And he was clearly very good at his craft—someone my company would want to hire. “I get that you love the independence,” I said. “But what about your training and development? How do you stay on the leading edge of your craft?” “Meet-ups,” he said. Seeing my uninformed gaze, he went on. “We get together online and arrange festival-like gatherings, often on the campuses of Bay Area companies, inviting the best players to come and speak. Great for networking too.” I tried another tack. “What about a sense of community? Don’t you get bored or stale working alone all day?” “Co-working,” came the reply. There are really cool workspaces that can be rented with other freelancers, and a Starbucks downstairs for meetings. I was getting rather desperate at this point. “What about benefits?” I inquired. “What happens if you get sick?” “The Freelancers Union,” was the answer. (p. xvii)
— Diane Gherson, Senior VP Human Resources, IBM

Beyond Employment

We’ve gone well beyond employment as the only way to get work done in our organizations and Lead the Work offers clear frameworks for thinking about how to take advantage of our increasing flexibility. Your company may run an innovation competition asking your customers to help design new ads. Your website is updated by a series of freelancers working on Upwork. You are strategizing about how to borrow skills you need for a key project via an organizational alliance. Work is done by people inside and outside our organizations (and by technologies owned, rented, or borrowed -- but that’s another post). Boudreau, Jesuthasan, and Creelman help us see all the possibilities but also weigh the pluses and minuses for our work and society.

Leading Work—Not Managing Employees

The title, Lead the Work, sings to me and the title of Chapter 1 even more so: Leading Work—Not Managing Employees. Management and leadership are still critical, but we start with the work to be done and think about how best to design/engineer for that target. (This reminds me of the key ideas in research related to substitutes and complements to leadership.) 

Figure 10.1 highlights the most extreme settings across the range of possible design approaches, but our options are vast. Think of each of the bullet points as being an end-point on a range of options. For example, an assignment can be a chunk of related work or a set of deconstructed tasks. It can be colocated or global. The people doing the work can be traditional employees, work for an intermediary, or be pure freelancers (See the book’s Figure 5.1 for the full set of ranges.) They consider each stage of the work lifecycle.

In a prior post, I’ve mentioned Marion McGovern’s Thriving in the Gig Economy: How to Capitalize and Compete in the New World of Work. That book is a great guide for workers in today’s economy. Lead the Work gives us the mechanisms to build the foundational organizations.

What about automation?

With the continued rise of automation (from static automation to artificial intelligence), you might wonder why technology wasn’t key to their arguments regarding how work gets done. Have no fear, Jesuthasan and Boudreau launch their latest book Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work on October 9, 2018. Pre-orders are available now. My review will post the same day.