After a recent presentation at the Auckland Business School, I was asked a pointed question—and flubbed the answer. I was asked if my emphasis on "people-development-first" amounted to keeping unnecessary workers on the payroll.
I said of course not—and stopped there.
But that stopping point (no "make work") has in fact been my starting point since 1999, when I published a 3-book series that we called "The Work Matters":
The Professional Service Firm50: Fifty Ways to Transform Your "Department" into a Professional Service Firm Whose Trademarks are Passion and Innovation!
The Project50: Fifty Ways to Transform Every "Task" into a Project That Matters!
The Brand You50: Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an "Employee" into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion!
At about the same time (actually Y2K), I had audaciously written in a Time magazine cover story, "I believe that ninety percent of white-collar jobs in the U.S. will be either destroyed or altered beyond recognition in the next 10 to 15 years."
That "absurd" prediction doesn't look so outrageous today. E.g., consider this headline from the 11 November 2014 Telegraph (UK), "Ten Million Jobs at Risk from Advancing Technology: Up to 35% of Britain's jobs will be eliminated by new computing and robotics technology over the next 20 years, say experts from Deloitte and Oxford University."
So the idea, then, in an oversimplified nutshell, is to avoid organizational and professional extinction—and in fact pursue growth—by vaulting up the value added chain. In my shorthand: Become a remarkable "brand you" performing 100% value-added "wow projects" in an organizational unit transformed into an innovative "professional service firm"—e.g., devoted to applying intellectual capital to the organization's products and services. (The overall "home" organization, per my model, seeks differentiation by becoming a de facto "collection of integrated professional service firms.")
As you will see in the attached presentation, "The PSF++ Solution," many are on this road. Consider this, for example, from a recent Economist story: "Rolls-Royce now earns more from tasks such as managing clients' overall procurement strategies and maintaining aerospace engines it sells than it does from making them."
There is more than one path to salvation in the face of exponential technology change—but whatever the path, it will in some form or other require adding new value through "soft services"—and transforming oneself into a distinguishable (specialist/brand you/growth-obsessed) professional.
Or so I believe. (Wish I'd said all that in the first place.)