The crowd at a London conference for young entrepreneurs. More and more young people are choosing to forgo the corporate rat race.

Credit: EG Focus / Flickr Creative Commons

The Changing of the Corporate Guard

March 1, 2013

What will unify the companies of tomorrow? Well, the fact that they don't look anything like the companies of today. Kara Miller asked Bob Pozen, former chairman of MFS Investment Management, author of “Extreme Productivity,” and lecturer at Harvard Business School and Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps, former COO of eBay, and author of “Re-booting Work” — how can businesses survive the transition?

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There are radical changes afoot in the workplace — from which employees are most valuable to how companies measure success. And while some companies are eager to hang on to their 9-to-5, climb-the-corporate-ladder ways, industry titans agree: the old ways are going extinct.

The Entrepreneurial Age

So, you’re a productive and smart employee. What it takes your colleague in the next cubicle five hours to do, you can knock off in four. But instead of rewarding your productivity by letting you go home early, or accrue more vacation days, a traditional company will just give you more work. That’s a problem, says Bob Pozen, former chairman of MFS Investment Management, author of “Extreme Productivity,” and lecturer at Harvard Business School.

“The problem is not with you, the problem is with the company,” he says. “So you’ve either got to try to change the company or you’ve got to go to a different company.”

Or start your own company — Maynard Webb is the former CEO of LiveOps and former COO of eBay. He also wrote “Re-booting Work,” an ode to shaking up the traditional workplace. Webb notes that many top college grads are now turning down offers from companies like Facebook and Google to strike out on their own.

“Companies have become so stodgy…[that] everybody is opting to want to be an entrepreneur,” he explains. “More and more people want to decide what they want to do. They want their opinion to be listened to and they want to set their own rules.”   

Pozen and Webb think that fewer and fewer CEOs will be absolute leaders, like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.
Photo Credit: Joi / Flickr Creative Commons

Abolishing Hierarchy

Of course, not everyone can be a successful entrepreneur. Pozen points out that the true test will be where bright young graduates choose to go after their initial entrepreneurial spirit fails. Catching those “second generation” employees, he argues, could ensure a company's successful future.

“Lots of young people are going to start their own companies. Probably a relatively small number are going to succeed,” Pozen says. “But [those who don’t succeed] are not going to go to command and control companies. They’re going to go to much more collaborative companies.”

What exactly makes a company collaborative? Pozen envisions a future in which fewer and fewer CEOs are an ideological force, like the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Instead, CEOs will serve as mentors to their employees, set company goals, and recognize a good idea when they see one — regardless of which employee generates it.

Webb also believes in dismantling hierarchy in the workplace. During his tenure at eBay, everyone from entry-level engineers to the CEO sat in cubicles. Webb remembers that the communal work environment established camaraderie and boosted productivity. 

“If there was a problem that someone was calling [the CEO] on, I would have my teams working on it before she got off the phone,” he says. “She’d turn over and say, ‘Hey Maynard, we’ve got to get on this,’ and I’d say, ‘We’re already on it.’ It was pretty cool.”

Want to usher your office into the future? Ditch the meetings.
Photo Credit: IHA Central Office / Flickr Creative Commons

Reward Ideas

What advice do Pozen and Webb have for companies looking to create a more collaborative and productive office culture? Ditch the unnecessary, recurring meetings. Minimize your “to-do” list — if an email is important, deal with it right away. If it isn’t important, delete it and move on. Keep work at work — encourage employees not to check work emails during their time off.

And above all else, reward employees who think outside of the box. Pozen, who advises the media analytics company Nielsen, admires the company’s yearly awards given to the employees with the best ideas. Those who win, he explained, are given the chance to make their suggestion a company reality.

“The real key question,” Pozen asks, “is when people have new ideas, are they allowed to run with them?”

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