Is the future of work outcome based?

As technology, society and business continues to change and evolve, is the future of work going to be increasingly focused on outcome-based engagements?

Posted by: ZivioReading time: 5 minutes

Outcome-based, statement of work projects are already a popular method for businesses to get things done. Covering everything from company-shaping strategic advice with a big consultancy to delivering short-term IT projects with an SME, some estimates put annual global services and statement of work spend over $1trillion USD.
But as technology, society and business continues to change and evolve, is the future of work going to be increasingly focused on outcome-based engagements?

Technology will continue to change the scope of work

The first driver that's likely to push the future of work to more outcome-based projects is technology's rate of advance. The exponential rate of technological progress means traditional roles that require humans to be present and undertake repeatable tasks can be replaced or augmented by technology.
Technology has always been a solution for replacing simple and repeatable tasks. But as technology advances, the scope of what can be automated will change. All trades and professions will continue to see technology creep into the workplace: robotics in construction and manufacturing, smart vehicles in transport and logistics, AI in middle-management decision making.
However, this is not to say, technology will make people completely redundant. In PWC's survey into the workforce of the future, 73% believed that technology can never replace the human mind. It will simply mean people will work differently - 60% of PWC's respondents believe fewer people will have stable, long-term employment in the future, which suggests the human element of the future's workforce will shift to solving specific problems – solutions that can be translated into outcome-based projects. 

Society will think about work differently

The Covid-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated a number of changes in the workplace. Remote and flexible working are now far more accepted after many businesses were forced to ditch the 'we need to see people in an office to get things done' mentality.
Attitudes towards projects and people have shifted significantly away from managing attendance to delivering results. Presenteeism is shifting to performance. Roles are shifting to requirements. 
Mckinsey's report into the future of work shows there is a reduction in migration, especially in Europe. As fewer people move around businesses will find it more difficult to maintain a traditional workforce of permanent employees – the location specific constraints on language, culture and travel will compound skills shortages. 
Of course, the solution could be to build a diverse network of specialist suppliers who can replace headcount with outcomes.

Businesses will turn to outcome-based delivery

In addition to changing how people think about work, businesses are also having to behave differently. Businesses have never been able to afford to carry passengers, but the need to reduce waste and cut unnecessary costs is now even more important.
As outcome-based project delivery allows a business to leverage milestone-based invoice payments, it is an effective method of ensuring a business is getting a good return for its investment with greater clarity of direction and deliverables.
Added to the short-term need to reduce cost, businesses also need to continue to innovate and respond to rapidly changing markets, customer demands and spending behaviour. 
The inevitable changes to market conditions and customer behaviours will create new challenges (and opportunities) for every business. They will need to find solutions to new commercial and operational challenges. 
As businesses look for these solutions, professional services procurement teams need to be able to enable and encourage innovation but, at the same time, defend against rogue spend. 
In other words, professional services procurement must support and facilitate an increasingly diverse range of outcome-based engagements with both new and existing suppliers, instead of being seen as red-tape or something to be 'worked around'.

The outcome-based future is not so distant

PWC present a vision for 'four worlds of work in 2030', highlighting different possibilities for the future of work. In reality, it will be a mixture of the four:
  • Innovative companies will thrive
  • Consumers will always demand specialist solutions
  • Large organisations will get larger (but will need to remain flexible)
  • Sustainability, environmental and external forces like Covid-19 will shape markets
  • People's attitude to work will continue to shift to place importance on doing meaningful work whilst living a healthy life
All of these factors support the concept of working toward outcomes, with a fluid resource of specialisms brought together ephemerally to deliver results.
An alternative suggestion for the future is where organisations retain 'people not positions'. Accenture, Deloitte and PWC all pose a scenario where the organisation of the future shifts and adapts to change by retaining, retraining and reorganising teams to the needs of the business.
Of course, in reality, no business has the luxury of being that patient. To continue to meet short-term productivity and profitability goals, businesses will need to augment their core workforce with external 'off-balance-sheet talent' like external suppliers who can deliver more immediate results.

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