Consistency culture vs. Collaboration culture


A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion with one of my parents’ friends, and it’s left pondering the size of the shift we’re seeing around working practices. Without knowledge of my own career history, he asserted that people who move jobs often are ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ because they’re seen as ‘unreliable’. 

I’m thirty five, and moving between organisations every few years is entirely normal for my generation. The longest place I’ve ever stayed was for three years, and even during these short time periods, I’ve had several roles. 

It sounds trite to say that ‘the world of work is changing’, but that doesn’t make it any the less true. That retired friend of my parents left a workplace that valued consistency, loyalty, and hierarchy. Your work was judged over a period of years rather than a period of weeks. These days, successful workplaces are data-driven, integrate technology well, and value speed, agility, and communication. 

I’d suggest that organisations that are having problems are likely to be those somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. On one end is ‘consistency culture’ which esteems hierarchy and loyalty. Success means working steadily and reliably and can often involve being good at office politics. You can tell if you’re in this kind of culture if you spend your days in face-to-face meetings and replying to emails. At the other end of the spectrum is ‘collaboration culture’ which values speed and communication. You can tell if you’re in this kind of culture if you have daily stand-ups instead of long meetings, and your team is using something like Trello or GitHub to manage what to work on next.

One of the reasons I decided to go freelance last year is that there’s no longer any such thing as ‘job security’. The notion of a job for life is redundant, with things changing so fast that it seems ridiculous advertising a job as ‘permanent’. In practice, that means about as much as your local garage giving the brakes on your car a ‘lifetime warranty’.

Given that I’m likely to continue to change roles often, I wanted to avoid finding myself stuck in the kind of ‘consistency culture’ where I’ve found my unwillingness to play politics has counted against me. These days as a white-collar knowledge worker I get to call myself a ‘consultant’ and am a member of the newly-defined technical middle class. If I were less fortunate in life, if I had fewer credentials, if I had made different decisions, then I may have become a member of the ‘precariat‘. 

So, what constitutes a ‘career’ these days? My answer would be that it is a collection of roles that you craft with a deep sense of personal conviction in order to make an impact on the world. To quote Steve Jobs, what kind of dent are you trying to put in the universe?  

Returning to my parents’ friend, I’m guessing that aligning a personal mission to his working life is something he probably never thought about. For me, I’m driven by a desire to help people work more transparently and openly. That’s why I co-founded I want more holistic ways of representing ourselves to the world. Hence my work around Open Badges. And I think that defining and developing the digital skills we need to work well in ever-shifting landscapes is important work. That’s the focus of my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset.

The era of a ‘job for life’ is over. If you want a meaningful career and overarching story to knit together a series of jobs, you have to provide it yourself. What are you trying to achieve? Can you tell your story forwards as well as backwards? 

Image CC BY-NC-SA AJ Cann