Mutable is a comprehensive model for business that includes a dramatic shift from the full-time, salaried staff model that has become the mainstay of the working world. Trying to stick with the status quo won’t see businesses survive the next big global crisis, according to a leading technology research consultancy.
By MaryLou Costa
What will the company of the future look like?
A lean core of leadership and management overseeing capability and skills-based teams on a flexible and third party basis, predict the future of work experts at Bloor, a technology research consultancy.
Bloor has even trademarked its vision under the concept of “Mutable Business”, which sees companies move away from the current narrative of “digital transformation”, and adopt a “permanent state of reinvention”. This is supported by the core and flexible staffing model at the centre of mutable business, allowing for greater resilience.
“Mutable is about viewing change as a fact of life. Something that is with us all the time – rather than approaching change as one big project. Companies, government and non-profits need to recognise that it now has to be a core competence that they have to set themselves up with. So they’re not going to get hammered the minute a pandemic, petrol crisis or incompetent government hits them,” argues Brian Jones, Bloor chair, international future of work speaker and former FTSE 100 board member.
Jones cites the UK high street retail casualties of the past year – Arcadia Group (home of TopShop and Dorothy Perkins), Monsoon, Oasis and Warehouse to name a few – as evidence that “the old way of employing people just isn’t going to cut it any more”. A new, more fluid model is needed to convert staff from a business overhead to an asset, he suggests.
Owning the impact of automation
It’s a perfect storm when coupled with the irrevocable impact automation is having on the workforce. Six million people in the UK alone are currently working in jobs that are expected to change dramatically or disappear altogether by 2030. Yet two thirds of these are in denial.
Mutable, says Jones, is about businesses taking responsibility for embracing automation, and creating a new people-based economy.
“It’s about companies thinking beyond how they can save money by replacing 100 human workers with robots. It’s more about what are you going to do with those 100 people that have given you their best years so far?” challenges Jones.
“We need to help businesses start thinking in terms of, what are the assets I’ve got, what are the capabilities I need, and how will this evolve? So the individual becomes more a part of an ecosystem. They might be contractors, or employees of a specialist skills-based organisation, that companies buy a specific service from.”
Mutable in the real world
To illustrate the Mutable Business model in practice, Jones gives the example of a typical house purchase. In this example different people with specialist skills are brought in to support different stages of the transaction, from solicitors to mortgage advisors: “But you don’t employ them full time, just when you need them for a particular outcome.”
He further suggests that a company sales function, which might only be at full capacity at certain times of year, could be more efficient if it was plugged in across different companies to maximise their respective peak seasons. Rather than experiencing a down period at just one company.
Indeed, the average executive currently only generates value from a third of their working time, with a third spent on activity that doesn’t deliver an outcome. Another third is spent on tasks that could be done by someone more junior, at a lower pay rate, enlightens Richard Skellett, founder of the Globalution Group of consultancies and parent company of Bloor.
“Organisations say people are an asset, when, fundamentally, that’s not true. People are on the balance sheet as a cost and liability – it’s often their biggest cost. Moving to Mutable creates more monetisation opportunities for both companies and employees. Companies need to think about what is their core, how they strengthen that, and how they add skillsets to it,” says Skellett.
Jones also makes a comparison with Bloor itself, whose analysts are all independent contractors, yet all have a revenue-share stake in the business. This points to how companies adopting a mutable model can’t simply detach themselves from their workforce – even if the majority of them will likely be directly employed by a specialist third party who will assign them to a portfolio of other companies, and may also provide further benefits.
Employees as marketable entities
In this landscape, employees will have to invest further in themselves as a marketable, highly-skilled entity, as task-based job descriptions will become redundant, in favour of an outcome-based model.
“Individuals are going to need their own value proposition, and be able to demonstrate their capabilities to organisations, while organisations themselves will also need to understand how to manage these capabilities, and how to bring it all together to create the outcome they want,” explains Jones.
“Being proficient in service integration and management is going to be critical.”
Sounds like a potentially rough deal for people compared with the now lighter and more profitable companies they will be outsourced to. But Jones puts forward a number of benefits for individuals in a Mutable model.
One of those is greater job security across a more dynamic marketplace. “An employee who’s employed by a company that goes bust is not in a good place. So when businesses and other organisations are successful, that’s got to ultimately be good for the people that work for them,” Jones reasons.
“And if that’s indirectly through a specialist skills service provider, then they haven’t got all their eggs in one company’s basket. Being part of a company that’s providing services to others is probably going to be safer.”
Mutable working is, by its nature, also flexible, because of its outcome based orientation, Jones adds. It then better accommodates people challenged by constraints in a traditional work structure, such as people with caring responsibilities, those who are neurodiverse, and others with health conditions.
How Mutable is already manifesting
The shift to mutable, then, will touch everything – HR, recruitment, contracts, salaries, benefits, training, culture, loyalty, engagement, revenue streams, profitability, company partnerships, and more.
Sound scary? Well, mutable in a form is already starting to manifest in the rise of side hustles, portfolio careers, and the growth of gig economy platforms. The alternative, Jones indicates, is businesses facing productivity issues to be left behind their competition or wiped out by the next big crisis.
So who’s actually moving to Mutable? Bloor is currently engaged with a significant number of companies to implement a mutable framework, Jones shares, with many more discussions in the pipeline. Meanwhile, Find Your Flex is looking for innovative companies to pilot a Mutable framework with, as advocates of a truly flexible future of work.
“Flexible working is not about employees moving from working five days to four days or working part-time, or hybrid,” states Find Your Flex CEO and founder Cheney Hamilton. “There’s nothing flexible about working like that.”
The future is flexible
“Becoming Mutable is such a different conversation to that which both business and the media are used to having, especially when addressing how flexible working will impact UK businesses. This is because it’s less about employee contracts and legislation and more about the organisational change that is required to operate a truly agile and flexible workforce.
“The Find Your Flex Group measures at 89% on the Mutable assessment. Our 8 permanent staff never work more than 30 hours per week, which works perfectly with the outcomes required of our team members. For the areas of our business where we need variable support, we rely on a team of trusted freelancers, contractors and outsourced services. In addition to this we work with a network of businesses and HR specialists, who share our values, to help us deliver our platform and services. A service that it would traditionally take a business ten times our size to deliver.
The road is long, the path clear.
“It’s absolutely fascinating now to help businesses, through Mutable, to find their internal flexibility within their current workforce and external flexibility, for their new hires or Mutable outsourcing partnerships.”
But Hamilton adds that most UK business is still formulaic rather than adaptable, as evidenced by the volume of businesses needing to furlough staff throughout the pandemic.
“Let’s face it, the current 19th century work models most businesses are built on, are no longer fit for purpose. They’re not future of work ready. When a business is Mutable, it can navigate through anything the world throws at it.” she continues.
“Once an initial cohort of businesses innovate in this way, others will adopt it. Mutable offer a future of work where people are allowed to work at their most productive and most importantly, are actually happy at work. That’s what we’re missing at the minute.”
MaryLou Costa is a freelance writer fascinated by the future of work, especially changes that advance women’s careers. Her work has featured in The Guardian, The Observer, Business Insider, Stylist, Raconteur, Sifted, Digiday, UNLEASH, Marketing Week and others. Plus she has appeared on Times Radio, BBC and Sky News.