The Future of Work: A Manifesto

There is a lot about the world of work that’s done gone broke. I know that, you know that. We all know that. We know it because we’re all really good at talking about the problems. We blab on and on about them. We point fingers. And when it comes to work, we usually point those fingers at the institution. Rarely do we look at ourselves and ask, “what might I have to do with this problem?”

I spent three days last fall locked in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with some of the brightest cats in the Talent Management, Marketing, Social Media, and Leadership space. We didn’t have any rules and we didn’t have no stinking boundaries. We didn’t really even have an agenda. But we shared the common belief that “work” needed a big old nasty refresh. And we set off to hash that out a bit more. The following Manifesto reflects a lot of what we cooked up during our time together. Yes, it’s long. Manifestos are supposed to be. But it’s only in its infancy and we’ve purposely kept the clay wet so we could further mold it as we gathered feedback from people like you. It reflects the collective thinking of  Joe Gerstandt, Jason Lauritsen, Jamie Notter, Janyne Peek Emsick, Jen Benz, Eric Winegardner, James Papiano, Stuart Chittenden, Mike Wagner, David Ballard, and Maddie Grant, who penned this beauty as only she could.

Read it. Reflect on it. Let it marinate. And then let loose. Share it. Tear it apart. Pile on. Help us fire up this discussion. Join us. Mold the future of work…


The future of work starts right here, right now.

This manifesto is about the future of work in a post-­Cluetrain world. This manifesto is also about an emerging ideology of business, where people are at the center of a human ecosystem instead of boxed into a mecha­nical system.

If markets are conve­rsations, then the people who are doing the talking and the listening and the sharing are the most important asset we have. The groun­dswell exists and is power­ful—we’re part of the groun­dswell and we can make the future of work happen right now, in lots of little ways.

Heard the phrase, “the future is already here – it’s just unevenly distr­ibuted”? We all have the social capital to help fix that.

Let’s talk about the things that human beings bring to the table in a work environment. Let’s leverage our human attri­butes and make people and all of their whole selves the fuel that makes organizations and busin­esses grow and flourish. Let’s unleash our power as networked indiv­iduals. Let’s make Dilbert cartoons and The Office something we can enjoy as the relics of a past indus­trial, mecha­nical age. Let’s stop work from sucking. Let’s empower ourselves and each other to make our lives better, and thereby make our societies better.


Some truths we hold to be self-­evident:

  • Work matters. We want work to suck less – for everyone, not just the few lucky ones.
  • The disti­nction between “work” and “life” is artif­icial and a barrier to lever­aging both the power of the indiv­idual and that of the organ­ization.
  • Work is the expending of effort for the creation of value. If there’s no effort, but it’s still consi­dered work, it should be autom­ated; if there’s no value, the work is pointless and wasteful.
  • Work is the process of creating something for the purpose of human flour­ishing. Let’s get rid of what doesn’t do that. Work has meaning for every indiv­idual. Work involves identity.
  • Work involves a sense of belon­ging. Work has meaning for the networks each indiv­idual is connected to.  Work has meaning for the local community and for the global commu­nity. Work involves social respo­nsibility.



I.  Human beings are the most important asset we have. 

  1. We need to bring our whole true selves to work. Human­-ness has value for the organ­ization.
  2. Our best work is at the inter­section of what we like doing, what we are good at doing, and what we get paid for. Our goal is for those three things to blend more. Flow has value for the organization.
  3. Work is about learning. Learning is never complete and we have a respo­nsibility as indiv­iduals to makes sure we’re always learning. We also have a respo­nsibility as organ­izations to provide resources and envir­onments for learning. This is not a choice, it’s an imper­ative. Learning has value for the organization.
  4. Work involves colla­boration with others. Work doesn’t happen in a vaccuum.  Collaboration - both internal and external – has value for the organization.
  5. We have a need to commu­nicate and share what we do and how we each do it diffe­rently. We work better in the open. Transparency has value for the organ­ization.
  6. We are able to do more than one thing. Our indiv­idual skills, whatever they are, have value and that value is marke­table.
  7. The formula for marke­tability is the same for everyone but the weight of each component is different and may change over time. Agility, defined as the capability to evolve with our networks, has value for the organ­ization.
  8. We are connected and we bring networks with us to work. Our conne­ctedness has value for the organ­ization.
  9. We will feel a sense of belonging and purpose if we’re involved in the direction and purpose of the system. Ownership has value for the organ­ization.
  10. We build relat­ionships. Relat­ionships - and the human emotions involved in nurturing them – have value for the organ­ization.
  11. We need to give as well as receive const­ructive feedback. Truth has value for the organ­ization.
  12. We will trust our employers if our employers trust us. Trust has value for the organ­ization.
  13. We have intuition as well as intel­lect. Intuition has value for the organ­ization.
  14. We all aspire to love what we do. To love where we work and who we work with. Love has value for the organ­ization.


II. Organ­izations that flourish are systems that maximize the value of their human assets.  The blurring of bound­aries between the “I” (indi­vidual human beings) and the “we” (orga­nizations and systems) creates value that is both shallow and deep.

  1. Markets are conve­rsations and organ­izations can harness conve­rsations in order to create value.
  2. The pace of change is accel­erating. The only way an organ­ization will keep up is through its people, who have a natural ability to pay atten­tion.
  3. Indiv­iduals represent nodes and networks. Organizations need to recognize the value of building relationships with networks.
  4. Proximity is no longer a prere­quisite for relat­ionships and networks. Let’s make the techn­ologies that enable virtual commu­nication invisible and ubiqu­itous, so we can just get on with it.
  5. Organ­izations need to better under­stand indiv­idual talent, and they need to better under­stand how to commu­nicate the requi­rements for needs­-based work.
  6. Indiv­idual talent means indiv­idual custo­mization; which means an expon­entially longer tail of marke­table and monet­izable skills.
  7. Indiv­idual talent means hyper­local talent; invisible techn­ology means that hyper­local talent has global reach.
  8. Indiv­iduals have a wealth of so-called “soft” attri­butes that provide organ­izational value and are therefore marke­table and monet­izable.  Let’s start paying for skills like the ability to:
    • build relat­ionships
    • act as a bridge
    • distill infor­mation
    • focus deeply
    • debate
    • influence
    • facil­itate
    • see the bigger picture
    • tell a story
    • manage compl­exity
    • draw meaning
    • write persuasively
    • manage group dynamics
    • solve open-ended problems
  9. Strategic trans­parency is the only way to achieve trust; trust is the only way to maximize the value of the people in a system.
  10. Trust provides structure and predi­ctability in a much more powerful way than hiera­rchies and organ­izational charts do.
  11. Strategic trans­parency enables clarity over control, also known as scalable simpl­icity – the capacity for all parts of the system to work towards the common goal of the system.
  12. Decen­tralized leade­rship requires less middle manag­ement, but more middle level thinking.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “keeper of the story”. To make sure there is trans­parency flowing from top echelon to front line.
  • The role of manag­ement is to facil­itate difficult conve­rsations and manage conflict.
  • The role of manag­ement is to facil­itate the finding of solut­ions; not to dictate them.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “conn­ector”, to match people with the right skills and abilities to projects where those skills are most needed.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “brid­ger”, to protect and ensure inclusion – to ensure that different voices and persp­ectives are heard and involved in the work of the organ­ization at all levels.
  • The role of manag­ement is to eradicate the fallacy of “best pract­ices” – to ensure there is constant learning and agility in business proce­sses.
  • The role of manag­ement is to be the “spac­e-maker”, to ensure learning can happen on a conti­nuous basis by providing conta­iners where exper­imentation is encou­raged.
  • The role of manag­ement is to remove hurdles to engag­ement.
  • The role of manag­ement is to release the flow of infor­mation and data and to get it to the right people at the right time. The new workplace is data-­driven; but infor­mation is not wisdom. It’s the human analysis of the data that drives value.
  • Data is the start of exper­imentation and learning, not the end.
  • The role of manag­ement is to hire talent that is agile enough to shift and flow based on market need.
  • The role of manag­ement is to get out of the way.

13.  Leade­rship is the systems’ capacity to shape its future. Leade­rship comes out of the group and parti­cipates at every level of the system.
14.  The new human workplace has a respo­nsibility for the susta­inability of all the resources it uses, including human beings.  The new human workplace therefore has a respo­nsibility for social good…

The story doesn’t end here. Over to you. What say you about humanizing and the future of work?

Image Credit: Stuck in Customs

  • Steve Browne

    Charlie – your collaborative work here is brilliant and palpable. Just reading it gets me geeked to charge into the business world even more for the cause of keeping the “humanness” of the workplace in the forefront. I applaud your manifesto and am proud to join in !!

  • William Tincup, SPHR

    Signed and shared… fantastic way to start my day…

  • Maddie Grant

    Thanks SO much for posting it here Charlie! Can’t wait to hear what your crowd thinks of it.

  • hrfishbowl

    Thanks, Maddie, for successfully capturing our discussions, rants, debates, spit-balling, and musings. You have fueled the fire, my friend. xxoo

  • hrfishbowl

    we need your passion, steve, more than anything. bring it. bring it. bring it.

  • hrfishbowl

    this goes nowhere unless you’re on board. hurdle one averted…

  • Jon Weedon

    I love this. There is nothing here that I’d see removed. Pass me the pen, I’ll sign up right now. There are a couple of things missing that I feel are relevant insofar as they have value for the organization and they humanize it.

    First, the creation of happiness. The link between productivity and happiness has been well established. So has the critical role your line manager has on your personal happiness and that of the team around you. And yet how many times have I heard it said that good management should not be a popularity contest? Yes it bloody should be. Unpopular managers are a drain on productivity because they make people unhappy. All of the things that will make you a popular manager are those things listed in your manifesto. Trust, learning, transparency, relationship building etc, are all important in creating a situation where employees feel good about their work and are happy to be there.

    Secondly, I think there is something missing about presenteeism. In this increasingly networked and distributed world, great work no longer requires your physical presence all day every day. Your success needs to be measured in terms of contribution to the bottom line as well as to the maintenance of a positive and happy climate at work. It does not need to be measured in the time you spend at your desk.

    I can’t wait to see how this develops! You guys rock.

  • Chris Plush

    Yes ….. just yes! This is refreshing, accurate, aspiring ans so much more. Best of all, it is achievable. Fantastic … count me in.

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  • ThisIsLars

    Bravo Charlie. This is the kind of thinking we need, at a time when we need it.

  • China Gorman

    Ah, I love the smell of a manifesto in the morning….
    My favorite part: but infor­mation is not wisdom.
    Great work.

  • Lance Haun

    Thanks for sharing this, Chaz. As someone who has had these sort of conversations a lot, I appreciate how much work this takes to get what you think into the finite space of writing. Especially for something this big, it’s a challenge.

    I’m going to throw darts at this because I think this is an important enough of a discussion to not simply let it pass by. So a couple of thoughts based on this:

    1. There is a huge gap of thinking about what to do about blue collar work. Discussions about future of work tend toward the discussion of knowledge work but I’d argue that figuring out the way forward with the people that keep the lights on, indoor plumbing running and our flights up in the air is more important. I wonder what we are specifically envisioning for a group of people where flexibility, creativity and empowerment may not always be in the chips?

    2. I grew up with a group of people who were told they could do anything. They went to college for four years, got into debt and then graduated with a degree that was in low demand. Some even doubled their bet and went for post-graduate work and still didn’t get into their choice of career. Given that a skill-gap exists in some industries (and could grow with the retirement of the boomers), what do we do with industries whose supply of labor runs out? And what do we do with industries flush with people willing to do work but simply not enough demand to deal with all those who want to do it?

    3. We’re in a global economy and the decisions we make in our labor force impact other’s economies. If you’ve bought an electronic device in the last decade, chances are it was made in pretty crummy conditions. While automating or outsourcing all of the jobs we don’t want to do may fulfill the desires of our country, somebody else is going to be doing that job here. I’m not obsessed with ascribing guilt but what responsibility do we have to the entire world economy to make sure they are part of the future of work? And can we attain our goals of a bright future of work without it?

    Given the people involved and the length of discussions, I’m guessing you guys touched on all of this at some point. I’m curious to hear what people think about it though. Thanks for posting and opening it up.

  • NGA_Anita

    Charlie, great work. Fully behind “Work is about learning and learning is never complete” and like the way you phrased the role of management.

  • heatherbussing

    My manifesto is: First get clear about what you want to achieve. Then agree on a plan and the check points to see if the plan is not working/needs adjustment. Give people the resources and autonomy they need. And let them do their jobs.

    The more complicated you make this, the more the plan defeats the purpose.

    One major reason work sucks is because we are too busy maintaining our systems and reviews, constantly changing the processes and technology, and creating rules to deal with things that should be handled with a conversation.

    Another reason work sucks is because large, publicly held companies are required to constantly show a profit. This creates an environment that discourages investment, creativity, failure, and risk. It encourages control, the status quo, and fear. So it’s good to step back and look at the system itself. You may just be putting lipstick on a pig.

    The first place to start is to get rid of the weasels. Especially if it’s the boss.

  • Liam Barrington-Bush

    There’s some amazing stuff here, and glad to see such an articulate piece emerge from so many great minds!
    The only thing I’m left wondering, is if the role of management is still a bit overstated? From my experience, and from much of the stuff I’ve really enjoyed by Margaret Wheatley and others in the complexity thinking world, we are moving towards vastly more self-organised systems in which “The role of manag­ement is to get out of the way” is the absolutely crucial difference between the old work and the new work… Almost everything else there, I reckon, in the best workplaces, everyone else besides management can be doing…
    This is what is emerging in a range of grassroots social movements over the past decade – with Occupy as the most obvious current example – and where I feel quite strongly a lot of organisational learning can start to learn from… if they have the courage to associate with people who rarely, if ever, discuss ‘the future of work’, yet are still beginning to manifest parts of it in remarkable new ways :-)
    I wrote a bit about this when reading Maddie and Jamie’s amazing Humanize book last year:
    But want to emphasise that this is really critical stuff! Thanks for starting/picking-up the conversation!

  • hrfishbowl

    dude, i typed up this great response to your great comments. i posted it…i thought. then it disappeared. whoever runs this blog is a clown. i’m stuck in a meeting right now (which you can tell i’m really present for) but will retype my response before day’s end.

  • Info

    This is really what we need, companies must tumble and put their Ego’s and traditional way of thinking “over board”. It is al about shaping a climate were we facilitate individuals and teams to help them growing talentd. It’s about leadership with appreciative inquiry, discover passions and provide tools so individuals can easily develop “their destination”.

    The dantefactor

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  • hrfishbowl

    i like that one too. and it’s one i think many people and organizations are utterly confused by. thanks for chiming in.

  • hrfishbowl

    glad to have you on board. spread the word, keep the conversation going. you have a lot to add to it!

  • hrfishbowl

    thanks, chris, for your strong endorsement. hope to engage you further…

  • hrfishbowl

    heather, i like this a lot. and i’m particularly in-tune with keeping this simple. we trip over ourselves all damn day long in the workplace. upon reflections, it’s really quite comical. we need to remove the clutter, infuse some trust in one another, and see what happens. hope to hear more from you…

  • hrfishbowl

    thanks! coming to some commitment around what it means to “manage” i think is terribly important in this discussion. management is where all too often where the community breaks down.

  • hrfishbowl

    jon, your input is awesome! i think popularity for the sake of popularity is misplaced. but popularity as a result of doing all the right things is maybe more powerful than any other single component of the workplace. and i love your ideas on presenteeism, which i agree the world is fundamentally changing the definition for. one can be present without being there. in fact, some would suggest they can be more present without being there. thanks again!

  • hrfishbowl

    “companies must tumble and put their Ego’s and traditional way of thinking “over board.” yes. thank you. i’d love to learn more about the “Dante Factor”, by the way. I took a quick look – and it’s very interesting. thanks

  • hrfishbowl

    your perspective is so on point, liam. it’s dan pink’s “autonomy” that resonates with me. it’s the ideas that boundaries should be established, but they should be drawn in sand, not put up with chain-lined razor wired fencing. thanks for the link and for your contributions to the ongoing discussion.

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  • Heather Bussing

    Do you know Jay Shepherd? He is amazing at simple, clear and works. Here is a piece he wrote about the results triangle. It’s one of the best things I’ve read on how to approach issues, problems or change.

  • hrfishbowl

    love shep, love this post. brilliance in its simplicity. thanks for sharing.

  • Seth McColley, SPHR

    This is freakin’ brilliant! Pass the pen…where do I sign? I’m going to print this and read over a few more times, but you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head here with this manifesto. Thanks to all of the thought leaders who took the time to create this and share their collective thoughts with the HR community. Please know that you are appreciated.

  • Melissa Fairman

    Charlie – I absolutely love this. Sign me up. I’m thinking of highlighting my favorite parts and posting it on my office wall so I have a constant reminder of the type of organization I want to build, contribute to and be a part of. One thing I would add:
    1. Accountability – this is implied in many of the statements but I think it should be expressley stated. No organization or person can be succesful without also being accountable to themselves and their peers. Great work!

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  • Jennifer

    I have so many thoughts about this thread it is hard to begin, but I agree completely.
    The system of “work” as we know it has been broken since the collapse of the housing bubble. What do “we” have to do with the problem is not even talked about. Why didn’t consumers join together and fight the bad decision making? Why did people fail to read the mortgage contracts they signed? Why didn’t people yell louder before the crap hit the fan demanding change? It is well and good there is noise now, but what about listening to the people who said “this is going to happen” and kept warning society. Very few were stepping up then.
    When I was laid off, I found opportunities out there to start earning money right away. The work I do now is NOT my chosen career and I consider myself an active job seeker to get back on track in my chosen path. Most people are not willing to take work outside their chosen career. I could write about countless stories of people who cut their nose off to spite their face because of linear thinking. The most critical problem facing the workforce is the unwillingness to switch gears and do something else even on a part time basis.

    I like the analogy of the “Clue Train” because I have interviewed and spoken with thousands of applicants as a business owner, for a corporation, and now with various volunteer groups assisting the unemployed. Work does matter and it should be a part of which you are, not a separation. I think when you separate work/life it makes it a task and less enjoyable. Why would anyone want to spend 8 or more hours a day with people they do not like performing tasks they do not enjoy? I did it for years wound up with stress related illnesses, major surgery, high blood pressure, and the doctors were mystified over the root cause. The day I left that company, my health problems disappeared and oddly enough, my income nearly tripled. This is why unemployment does not scare me, I see it as an opportunity to think outside the box and try something new. Talk about this human flourishing, I am looking forward to seeing where I land and what contributions I will ultimately be making as I approach my income goals.

    In the past month, I have been put through the ringer. I had the perfect job in my field lined up with a start date when the funding was pulled a week for the job was to begin.
    I find another opportunity and get to the final round of interviews. I get through the phone interview with flying colors. The HR Director calls within 20 minutes stating she spoke with the hiring managers and they want to meet and discuss the role further. The Hiring Manager negotiated terms and salary and a start date so she could have my offer letter ready at the conclusion of the meeting and give me all the pre-employment paperwork. I show up to the interview only to find corporate changed their mind and they did not want to hire that role at all.

    After an afternoon pity party with that loss, I focus on the P/T work I am already doing to change my mental outlook. While talking to others recruiting sales reps, I learn about another position that requires specialized certifications that I hold. I go through the interview process, have a start date along with the offer letter and received all pre-employment paperwork. I was asked to clear my calendar the week before my start date to have lunch/dinner with the client while they are in town and to be brought up to speed. I call to confirm the meeting only to learn the client changed their mind and wanted the position housed in another state. I could have the job if I was in a position to move within a week and pay all of the relocation expenses.

    With all of those disappointments in a one month period, how do you keep faith that any job offer is legitimate?

    I think this is where it is so important for employers to really learn how to value their people and it needs to start from Day 1 to set the tone. Although I am not making anywhere near the money I was making before my layoff, the fact I am valued is why I continue work the P/T sales and per diem trade shows for NAP. I am vested in their success just as much as the employees I hire for them because of the way I am treated. I have people in management who call, just to check in and see how I am holding up during my unemployment and can they do anything to help me. They keep their eyes open for new opportunities in my field. They know I am taking some courses at AMU focusing on zero waste policies, and recapturing values and they connect me with industry professionals who have been invaluable to my education. The work I do for them is not my passion, but the environment and culture is one to be emulated.

    Just a few observations and thoughts…

  • hrfishbowl

    damn straight. accountability “is not a dirty word” as my buddy Jason Lauritsen over at BulletProof Talent is fond of saying. we need to be more explicit about that! thanks, mel.

  • hrfishbowl

    that means a lot, seth. thanks for the endorsement. we continue to think about how to keep the conversation going and where best to commune on that front. i hope you’ll come back and chime in once you’ve let it marinate some more…

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