That left many companies with a smaller set of knowledge workers retained because they could think for themselves, as well as use their intuition, personal skills, and so on, whether for sales, customer service, product design, or operations.
The new workforce favors those who rely on themselves
The result is a workforce of nomads who come together as needed, using a wide range of resources in a variety of locations. Inevitably, that nomadism accentuates the importance of the tools these employees use to do the work they're valued for. As each person's individual strengths vary, so do the tools they prefer to use -- and begin to insist on using.
This phenomenon is by no means unique to knowledge workers. Many tradespeople -- contractors and chefs, for example -- have long used their own equipment because of the perceived better fit, quality, and/or feel. Software, computing devices, and the like are the knowledge worker's equivalent.
Given these fundamental shifts in both business structures and the type of value desired from individual employees, a rift has developed between those new realities and the structures that live on from the "company man" era. For example, employees are told to manage all or most of their retirement savings and to keep up their skills on their own dime and time. The company may help a bit, but it no longer takes care of employees in these ways. The notion of a job marriage, where doing your job meant lifelong employment and a secure retirement, is gone.
Thus, the relationship between the employee and employer has changed to one of ad hoc participation. As long as it makes sense for both the employee and employer, the relationship stands. When either decides the relationship is no longer desired, it's over.
The clash between old and new creates the clash between users and IT
Yet the old "company man" approach lives on in IT and other operational systems. One example is the notion of a standard technology environment, where PCs and their software are reliably stamped out in identical units like cookies in a Mothers factory. The other is the notion that employees need to be protected from risk, by having it removed via technology wherever possible.
In other words, whereas employees are told to act like adults when it comes to their retirement and skills, they're treated like babies when it comes to technology usage.
As workers are told to be more independent and self-supporting, they're fenced in at home. Abbie Lundberg, the former editor in chief of CIO magazine and now a technology management consultant, has a great analogy for this situation: IT, the CSO, the legal department, and often HR treat business employees as babies who they lock in the house so that they don't crawl out into the street and get killed.
The better metaphor, she says, is to think of business staff as teenagers who are going to drive the car whether you want them to or not. It's better to teach them how to drive and set limits and expectations such as having a curfew and no-consequences permission to call for help if they do get in trouble.
The truth is that if you fence them in, they will find a way out. And that is what will get them -- and the company -- in trouble. Remember, today's knowledge workers are valued for their creativity and drive, and their technology familiarity lets them act on it in the realm once the sanctum of IT.