Impact of #Mechanization and #Robotization on Organization Structures

| Jan 22, 2019 | Blogs

Human enterprise has re-invented the world many times over. With each new discovery and each further advancement, we create a world that gets further inter-connected in several complex ways structures. With advancements, we have also shaped and re-shaped work for and around ourselves as humans in ever-evolving ways. Work is primary to human enterprise and is the source of all innovations, discoveries and life improvement as we witness them.

In this context as we swiftly race towards 2020, it would be a great idea to evaluate the way work is done in enterprises today and the way it is evolving to the shifting needs of human enterprise. In a certain way, work and its structure shapes human behavior and vice versa. To understand work and its structure, it is important that both are looked in a conjunctive and not a mutually exclusive manner.

Human behavior is evolved over centuries and so has work. As we understood the nature around us, we evolved. As we went around hunting in pre-historic era, we realized that we could work better in groups rather than as a solo hunter, increasing our chances of survival. The first groups and teams would have emerged in that era. As hunters became gatherers, so did the societal bandwidth to look for more. And with that the resources. Resources and stability resulted in man’s quest for meaning. Search for meaning, made us look around and look deeper, understand the nature in increasingly differentiated ways to the extent of creating modern institutions as they exist today.

From a hunter-gatherer, to tribal autocratic, to military hierarchical-collaborative to scientific management based work division, we evolved to the changing nature of our understanding of the world and universe around us. Work evolved, requiring ever higher level of division of work & labor, and therefore ever deeper level of specialization. Humans evolving evermore in their quest for meaning, which is now deeply intertwined with work and contribution. Both affect us deeply in our social & economic status.

As we look around, we find ourselves at the cusp of a major work revolution, that has the power of transforming the way we work. The revolution which automation, mechanization and robotization is bringing to work and the workplace. While scientific management was about work division, mechanization and robotization is about work integration, rendering many jobs to be integrated together into one seamless whole.

How do modern workplaces evolve around this new way of work? Are we structurally ready for getting the best out of mechanization? With robots and mechanization relegating transactions and manual activities to near extinction for humans, humans must find their meaning in higher order work, that require fewer activities and higher judgment. The unique value add that humans would increasingly start bringing to the new workplace, in not so distant future would be around their ability to make judgments, decisions and enhance knowledge in some unique way. Work that a robot or a computer cannot handle.

Higher judgment in work would start requiring different kind of organizations and structures, taking away and reducing in size & intensity, the classical execution, supervisory and general managerial roles of the scientific management era and therefore the entire leadership paradigm, that draws heavily from the scientific management and military hierarchical-collaborative frameworks. We are a few decades away from such a reality.

So what variables would determine the organization of human effort in this post-modern reality of robotization and automation. What would organization structures of the future look like? Will they still constitute the hierarchy and matrix governance systems we see today? The evidence from some of the biggest technology organizations, that have already done away with some part of human work and replaced this by technology depict the following trends:

1.      Technology Determines Human-Work Interface: Rather than managers, work would be allocated by Programs and Technology. Human interface requirement on knowledge integration, complex judgment based linkages and scenarios would be pre-programed in the organization systems for most operational scenarios. The expert and / or integrator would typically be on-call but not full time employees of the enterprise and be required only on case to case basis. This would nearly completely shrink the requirement of middle management leaders and managers who would have relatively no value add to enterprise work, where a significant dollar value is spend today.

2.      Open-Source Organizations: The open source organizations will largely have their intellectual property available in the wider universe, with the technology being leveraged in multiple scenarios, with hitherto no control of the organization holding the intellectual property. This would break the shackles of privacy and control, thus totally transforming the governance systems. Nearly entire organization’s processes and intellectual property would be widely known in the public domain. Goods and services in such scenarios will have a completely different meaning. While, what would come to one’s mind is that we are discussing about technology companies, however, this is the same principal which would apply to manufacturing, farm or literally any sector we may think of.

3.      Work constituting Integrated Value Add than stand-alone expertise: World would have little requirement for single area expertise. Workforce would need to be adept with multi-disciplinary integrated approaches to solving judgment based problems, where the linkages are non-linear and ambiguous with no solution history. This means that human-work interface would only be brought where the work has a significant multi-disciplinary requirement either in the micro or macro perspective.

4.      Program based collaboration: All organization structures would evolve towards program based structures with short term workforce requirements. Workforce of the future will mostly be part-time program based resources which will come together to solve multi-disciplinary problems, either in an individual or collaborative situation.

5.      Self-Directed Work in a Broad Delivery Framework: Supervision would reduce to low degrees, with work predominantly being self-paced. Judgment and decision in multidisciplinary and ambiguous scenarios being the predominant work content, such work would not have the classical determinants of quantitative outcomes in a certain time frame. They would be measured by their qualitative outcomes which solve certain problems significantly.

With these and other developments of robotization and mechanization, work will get intertwined deeply across human race, evolving to higher degree of interconnectedness. Such inter-connectedness would also start to change our social structures, bringing the world community together and reducing relevance of individual countries and boundaries.

In a nutshell, organization structures of the future would in true sense be self-led and self-managed, with much more work and very limited management. If such are the times, it will truly transform the organization, leadership and management paradigm of today.