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The existence of a 'war for talent' suggests that the ideas, skills, knowledge and experience carried by individual people are strategically central; that the winners will be those companies that can attract and retain the best talent. This situation would seem to put people in the driver's seat. Repeated waves of downsizing, however, suggest the opposite; individual people are much less central than the need for flexibility and efficiency. Which is it? Are people at the centre, or are firms?
Historically, of course, the firm and its needs have been at the centre. But a number of social and demographic trends point to significant changes in the traditional configuration of power. Centuries ago, Copernicus realised that the Earth revolves around the Sun, not the reverse. In management, we may be in the midst of another Copernican Revolution, a revolution in which the relationship between the firm and the employee is inverted, and in which the 'customised workplace' replaces the hierarchical, military-inspired model that has served so long and so well.
What is the 'Customised Workplace'?
Over the latter half of the 20th century, firms have been caught between increased shareholder demands for higher returns and mounting pressure from competitors on price, quality and product differentiation. These pressures have led many companies to develop customer-focused mass customisation strategies, and the most aggressive among them permit clients to customise a particular product or service within a wide range of options.
Thanks to the application of information technology to the manufacturing and service sectors, …