The gates are open.

One of the things that Covid-19 has done is to leave a vast number of gates open. Most of us brought up and trained to be managers in an industrial era are familiar with the notion of gatekeepers. We were taught that a gatekeeper is anyone who blocks the way between us and the key decision-maker within a target organisation. They might be receptionists, admin assistants, departmental heads in HR or similar. Equally, the gatekeeper might not be a person, but an organisational dogma, like trying to talk to politicians reliant on business donations about climate change.

By definition, for gates to exist, there has to be an enclosure that they protect – a physical or organisational space. Pre-Covid, the very nature of offices provided lots of gates, and managers who relied on them to keep the people who did the actual work neatly organised, visible and “protected” from outside influence. Technology was already changing that, but Covid has blown it wide open. With many people working from home and out of sight, many of those gates have been left hanging on their hinges, swinging in the wind as the work season changes.

I used to work with organisations where HR were fierce gatekeepers. Get through the gate, and the work was easy and the rewards good. Coaching and leadership development was a $350bn industry. It was just accepted as necessary to keep those people inside the enclosures well behaved and effective in keeping the system going. 

However, with the gates swinging open, many of those people have escaped into the wild. They have escaped the water cooler in the enclosure for their local café – physical or digital, where they encounter many different people and ideas. They still do the work required of them, of course, often more effectively, but they are far more aware of their surroundings, and the opportunities that exist. The “great resignation” does not look like a blip, but a permanent feature. The days when management could drive round the enclosure and throw out food and encouragement to people is over. The gates are open.

I’m noticing it in the work I do. Rather than organisations, it is with small groups who share purpose and values. They are not looking for knowledge or training; they are exploring ideas in spaces where their organisation cannot see them. From a business model standpoint, the money is not as easy yet, but the professional and personal rewards are much higher. Working with free-range talent with a light in their eye is a joy.

As the gap between what young talent expects in times of climate change and business action widens, corporate bullshit churned out to mollify no longer sticks. The gates are open, opportunities abound, and the data on job vacancies lends substance. Like all those whose insights are inconvenient, people like Rachel Carson with Silent Spring, James Lovelock and Gaia theory and David Graeber on Bullshit Jobs are often ahead of the current reality when they speak their truth. Eventually, however, the substance of what they say materialises, and we are in such a time.

Organisations must have a great reason to exist beyond enriching shareholders because they can no longer keep the people who do the work in enclosures. 

The gates are open.

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