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PRAMOD CHANDRASHEKHAR, HEAD – LEARNING & DEVELOPMENT, WELLS FARGO INDIA SOLUTIONS
Knowledge, The blueprint of future office
Pramod Chandrashekhar (Head – Learning & Development, Wells Fargo India Solutions) highlights that with insatiable appetite for knowledge in today’s youth, organisations of the future are going to resemble universities
Issue Date - 01/07/2012
 
Why cannot we ‘withdraw knowledge’ 24/7 like we withdraw cash from ATMs? I looked with an undisguised expression of surprise at this 20-something techie, the originator of the question. He was making a case for e-learning portals to be available in kiosks around the city.

I thought: next he will ask why we cannot pluck knowledge off trees! But in mid-thought I stopped. What if it is indeed possible? Technology today has no bounds with very little left to imagination. And, is it also not true that someone would have smirked decades ago at the question: ‘Why can not we withdraw money from machines anytime, anywhere?’ So, out loud I told the young man, “Yes, why not? May be, sometime in the future there will be Automatic Knowledge Machines (AKMs).”

Increasingly, as a learning and development professional, I have learnt to accept radical and out-of-the-box conjectures about future. I believe organisations need to cultivate the ability to take such unexpected projections in their stride. I continue to see fantastic ideas of how the offices in the future will take shape; some within my existing organisation and some from around the world. (I read about an office in California where cubicles can be dismantled from one spot and set up elsewhere by employees themselves to accommodate rapidly evolving teams.) While some of these predictions are driven by remarkable technological advances of the past few decades, the rest are a result of new shapes that job roles are taking in current times.

The future of the employee’s role in an organisation is bound to be more dynamic. Back in the ’70s, if one had a ‘good’ (read secure) job, one was a sincere worker and had no apparent grouses with the organisation. One would retire from that place and was considered a steady contributor. The same employee today has a completely different agenda – he comes to office to be challenged. So, if the challenge is not satisfying enough, despite a good organisation the employee tends to move on. As a result, managers will have to, in turn, challenge themselves further to keep the employee of the future more engaged and motivated.

Aligned with the eagerness to be challenged is, and will be in the future, the excitement to attain more knowledge in their immediate and related areas of specialisation. The young man who asked me the question about knowledge withdrawals is one amongst many such young men and women today who have a seemingly insatiable appetite for knowledge. Going forward, the hunger will spread, and in the coming decades we will have more and more brains to feed. Charles Handy made this prophetic statement that corporations of the future will increasingly begin to resemble universities or colleges.

While talking about the Protean Career Model, Douglas T. Hall observes that the ‘career’ as we once knew it – as a series of upward moves with steadily improving power, income and designation – has died. The trend is more towards highly self-directed rather than organisationally orchestrated ‘Protean Careers’ named after the Greek mythological character Proteus who could change his form and shape at will. The 21st century employee is more preoccupied with meaning than money and learning than attainment, and is willing to forsake the steady and secure career for a more dynamic, self-directed one. So, for organisations it would do well to understand that, with time, careers will be far more complicated and self-prescriptive.

 
At Wells Fargo India Solutions, we have already incorporated such expectations in our role-change policy, which is a significantly evolved version of the erstwhile promotion scheme. The policy offers round-the-year opportunity for our team members to move into their dream roles across the organisation. There is also a distinctly observable trend where team members own specific organisational initiatives that have no connection with their role descriptions. In that sense, new organisational structures should be able to accommodate such individual aspirations and function effectively while being dynamic and flexible.

While the office structure itself will be radically different with a blend of virtual environment and plug and play, more space will have to be allocated for opportunities of personal growth. For instance, Wells Fargo centres in Hyderabad and Bengaluru have been designed to have theme-based fun, association, and recreation zones.

The leadership too encourages personal or professional advancement initiatives even if there is no concrete connection to the bottom-line. While our centre in Hyderabad, with its museum theme, connects team members to the 160-year-old legacy of Wells Fargo & Company, the Bengaluru centre is being designed with an eye on the future. Information will move incredibly faster with time. Roles will become increasingly complex with sophisticated skills needed in technology and processes, while education and training will become virtual. We have a fully automated library open 24 x 7 and even on weekends for team members.

No one can predict the future. So it makes sense to be ready for the unexpected; to have fast thinking and turnaround times to adapt ourselves as individuals – and collectively as organisations – quickly to the needs of the time. If you conceive an idea, chances are that someone else had thought and implemented it already. Incidentally, I found out that, in fact a company in the United Kingdom has put up its own knowledge kiosks across a city where employees can punch in their login and ‘withdraw knowledge’.
Arshiya Ismail           

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