Good Work Guild: inspiring the future of work - RSA blog - RSA

Good Work Guild: inspiring the future of work

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  • Work and employment

The Good Work Guild was launched by the RSA’s Future of Work team in September 2021. Its purpose? Imagine a modern guild, focussing on community and social innovation aimed at engaging future of work practitioners, advocates and social entrepreneurs working together to ensure everyone can pursue good work in an age of technological change.

The main goal of the Good Work Guild was to convene a diverse global ecosystem of Fellows. This network would then act to tackle the most pressing issues related to economic security and labour-market transforming technologies. In doing so it would foster collaboration, share learning, and incubate opportunities for collective impact.

Underpinning these efforts were five principles. These stated that everyone should enjoy work that:

  1. provides enough economic security for people to be able to participate equally in society;
  2. does not harm people’s wellbeing;
  3. allows people to grow and develop their capabilities;
  4. provides people with the freedom to pursue a larger life;
  5. positively nurtures their identity and sense of self.

Over the guild’s twelve-month journey, members explored the future of work landscape and participated in sensemaking and visioning exercises with our Research team. They also hosted several case clinics. These sought to demystify key challenges through peer-to-peer learning about economic security, worker voice and co-governance of algorithmic systems in the workplace.

The guild also self-organised and elected to pursue shared advocacy and collective action on a range of themes. These included how data-driven technologies can advance good work principles, learning about good work and socialising its values, economic security for a better planet and promoting intergenerational dialogue around the future of work.

Looking to the future of work

With members from around the world engaging in different aspects of the future of work ecosystem, the guild became a powerful vehicle for our Fellowship. It offered fresh perspectives to key stakeholders on the selected themes and nurtured possible areas of experimentation.

Good Work Guild Journal

Discover the ideas for improving work practices that the team uncovered as part of the Good Work Guild.

Some of the ideas generated include an open-source diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment tool for organisations (especially small and medium-sized enterprises), redefining economic security to reflect the current planetary emergency and policy recommendations promoting intergenerational perspectives on good work.

The guild’s twelve-month journey is a powerful tribute to our living legacy of shared advocacy, social innovation, and community to confront 21st-century challenges.

The Good Work Guild is hosting its celebratory year-end summit at an interactive online showcase event on 22 September 2022. Join us as we reflect on the new ideas and recommendations on the future of work and how they might enrich future efforts beyond the guild. Register here below.

Good Work Guild Summit: final showcase event

Join us on Thursday 22 September at 5pm BST to celebrate this year-long journey with Fellows and members of the Good Work Guild.

Get involved

Do you have examples where some of the ideas from the Good Work Guild are already in place? How do you think the ideas of the Good Work Guild would be most efficiently implemented? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Does this relate to the Future Work Centre? I'd followed that for some time and incorporated the ideas into my work and communications on career issues. I liked the four scenarios and could see their operating clearly in my economy. I haven't seen anything from the FWC for some time. Does it still operate? Is this group taking its place?

  • I read your Good Work Guild Journal and was deeply disappointed. At the risk of turning this into a rant, here are some of my concerns: 

    •Language: who exactly was this document aimed at? I now regard myself as a defrocked Six Sigma Black Belt, but still remember a key learning: make sure one has operational definitions that are clearly understood by everyone involved. The first two paragraphs on Page 6 are just a collection of terms (e.g., sensemaking, shared advocacy, gamification, etc.) with which I am unfamiliar. I suspect many others might be too, but what it seems to suggest is that the vast majority of people will have difficulty engaging with actual workers who will think you are speaking in Sanskrit. This smack of an academic document by academics aimed exclusively at academics. 

    •Taylorism: (a.k.a. Scientific Management). Looking at the age profile of the people involved, I’m not sure many will remember Tennessee Ernie Ford’s global hit in the 1950s, Sixteen Tons. Please look at the lyrics which remind me of F W Taylor who promoted the division between Thinkers (perhaps you guys?) and Doers, the Doers not allowed to, or encouraged to think. Can any of you remember that guy in the white coat standing just out of vision watching you work because he was an Industrial Engineer, was an expert in how you worked and his analysis would tell you how to improve without engaging you? I may be a tad unfair but your paper smacked of this approach. Did you engage with people who actually worked producing things in order to get their thoughts? 

    •Leadership: I may have missed it, but you seem to have ignored the critical role leadership plays in the well-being and education of the workforce. Can you do this without taking a very hard look at current leadership thinking and how it impacts lifelong learning in the workplace? This might be a very biased view, but in my experience, the vast majority of current leaders point their prayer mats in the direction of Milton Friedman and his edict of maximising shareholder value: nothing else matters. I don’t believe this is compatible with growing the capabilities of the workforce to ensure the long-term health of the company: you can see many examples of once giant companies, now shadows of their former selves because of Nobel Laureate Friedman. 

    •Lean: A small minority of organisations have tried to emulate Toyota’s leadership philosophy with varying degrees of failure (because of the Friedmanites). Toyota focuses on growing the capabilities of the people through an obsession with kaizen from the CEO down. Toyota grows managers who are great coaches (the most critical consideration for promotion). You may want to look at Toyota’s A3, which looks like and quacks like a form but is a way of guiding a productive coaching dialogue between the person who wants to make a change, an improvement, and his coach, usually his or her direct supervisor. CEOs also use the A3 to help them with their challenges, often seeking the help and advice of their subordinates. You talk about intergenerational dialogue being a problem. Please look at Toyota’s Skills Matrices, and then ask who helps train the people requiring training in a team. I could bang on and on, but what struck me about your paper was that it was looking for new solutions without looking at existing good practices. 

    •Leadership Education: I taught Lean to MBA students in India for nearly a decade. Again, I may be biased, but the degree tends to produce young Friedmanites who continue to perpetuate what I see as inhuman practice. The degree is strong in data analysis and weak in people development or morality and ethics. Why have you not examined this “gold standard” of management education? 

    •The RSA Website: My problem as a Fellow is that there seems to be very little cohesion in the Fellowship. I did apply to join your guild a while back but answer came there none. Instead, I wrote a comment piece, Life-long learning, sustainability and work ( I am not suggesting this is a seminal piece, but only three people seem to have read it, one a friend who is not a Fellow. What does that say for our sharing of ideas? Have any in your guild reads it? By the way, I believe you need a good editor, and I can recommend Rachel O’Brien who helped me with my piece.

    • Brilliant commentary. Thank you for taking the time. Also enjoyed your comment piece.

    • Hi Owen Thanks for interest in the article and your extensive comments. I'm incredibly proud of the work of the Good Work Guild, the perspectives they put forward and the ideas generated throughout the process. The Good Work Guild Journal is presented as an artefact to that incredible journey and the deeply rich insights and shared learning cultivated by the Guild over the past year. However I also welcome your feedback and the challenges raised above and open to continued discussions on how we can further engage with Fellows about the future of work landscape.

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