The Age of Unreason - 20 years on

The Age of Unreason – 20 years on

Charles Handy is one of the World’s pre-eminent management guru’s, was one of the first to see the flaws in the ‘jobs for life’ concept and wrote about the importance of ethical business practice years before it became mainstream. After reading a recent interview with him, it dawned on me that Handy’s excellent book ‘The Age of Unreason’ was first published over 20 years ago (1989)!!

One of the concepts promoted in the book was that of the ‘shamrock’ organisation, where there would be ‘three leafs’ of worker consisting of, a core of permanent employees, independent contractors, and temporary workers.

Handy predicted that the intensity of competition and an increasingly unpredictable economic environment would result in the ‘shamrock’ approach becoming common place. The insightfulness of Handy’s prediction is truly remarkable as 20 years on many organisations are using the ‘three leaf’ approach to maintain a lean and competitive workforce. Handy referred to a “network of peripheral staff brought in to carry out specialist/project based work”, and these are the modern Interim managers of today, brought in to perform change management and other tasks.

The current recession has seen more flexibility in the work place than perhaps even Handy predicted, as workers have acted like butterflies, jumping from ‘leaf to leaf’. For instance, some employees made redundant have tried their hand at contracting and some experienced interims have looked at permanent roles due to diminishing interim rates. Employers have been swift to seize the moment and some have engaged rookie interims at half the cost they would be paying an experienced interim; with less than favourable results in many cases!!

But the fees some companies have been paying for Interim Managers seem unsustainable and as we come out of recession and unemployment falls (latest figures reveal 7,000 less unemployed) I expect that a more orderly ‘shamrock’ will return. That said, Handy has pointed out that the UK workforce will need to develop 'portfolio' lives, a mix of different bits and pieces of work, some for money, some for fun, some for free and it will be interesting to see if this resonates in 2010.

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