Monthly Archives: December 2015

How mentoring strengthens your edge

Most people think of mentoring as a way to share the expertise gained over a long professional life.  That is a true statement, but not nearly comprehensive, since mentoring can expand your horizons in so many ways.

Fr those of us who may be semi retired, or flunking  retirement in my case, being an active mentor keeps you engaged in an ongoing business, like being a board member without the fiduciary obligations.  Moreover, it can keep you current in what is going on in the business segment today.  That currency is so important and so seldom appropriately valued.

Back in the M Squared days, I had a framework for evaluating consulting expertise, the “4 Vs”.  It frustrated me that so many people interviewed consultants as though they were hires, when by definition they are not. As such, it is important to screen for other factors, like the ability of the consultant to work in different environments, i.e., their Versatility.

The Vigor factor, was the idea that to be successful, you need to keep current with your craft.  Various professional disciplines achieve this by having continuing education requirements, whether it be in medicine or the the law .  But how does a marketing consultant keep current, or a CFO, a compensation consultant etc? There are ways, like attending conferences and doing research. When hiring a consultant, it is important to understand this dimension of their expertise.

Being a mentor can add vigor to your experience, because you are staying current with your mentee’s business.  Slack wasn’t around when I stepped down ( the second time) from M Squared, but I understand its power because of my connection with other ongoing businesses.  Similarly, I am getting new insights into how companies must recruit and manage millenials which differs from how I dealt with the gen-xers.  Having those new perspectives arrayed against the depth of experience makes for some very powerful insight to share.  It’s all good.

As for the other Vs, feel free to guess…

 

 

Unexpected Returns from Mentoring

We all hear that as successful business people we need to give back and we should be mentors. Cheryl Sandberg has made an industry of women mentoring up and coming women in all sorts of organizations.  The value proposition to the mentor though has been presented as a duty by virtue of our experience and expertise, and that is doing the role a disservice.  The truth of the matter is being a mentor is a tremendous  learning experience as much for the mentor as the “mentee”.

When I started my business, I was in the Young Entrepreneurs Organization  or YEO  (now just EO, since they lost the young part…).  Through an affiliation with  WPO, the World Presidents, of which I am now a member, I was matched with two great mentors.  One was my go-to-guy on financial management issues, and the other was a great marketeer who was invaluable to me years later when I sold my business. He was the one who at a wonderful dinner of YEOers and their mentors, toasted our relationship saying that  being a mentor was in ways more rewarding  than being a father, because unlike his children,  I actually listened to everything he said.

Now fast forward some 20 years and in the spirit of turn about is fair play, through WPO,  I have a few mentor relationships of my own.  They are  with entrepreneurs who have very successful professional services businesses, different from M Squared but still in the human capital space.  At times we may talk about difficult or unforeseen issues, but typically we focus on moving the business forward.  It is wonderful to make a suggestion or an introduction that could strengthen a new direction.  Similarly, sharing tough moments  can often resonate for my younger colleague  as he/she faces a difficult decision.   In those conversations you learn about yourself for in the telling is the lesson.

Yesterday I learned even more, for yesterday I discussed my new business idea with one of these exceptional leaders. Her perspective was very valuable, and fresh, since she is in an adjacent business constantly.  She let me know about quasi-competitors or substitute services of which I had been unaware.  She questioned certain premises and raised new issues.  I learned not only more about the business segment I am exploring, but I learned more about  her critical thinking processes, the questions she would ask and the approaches she might take.  It was enlightening, refreshing and energizing.

They say mentoring is a way to give back  But, with an homage to the holiday season, it is in the giving that you receive.

1099 Questions about the gig economy

Professor Laura Tyson of the Haas Business School published a great piece  last week about the challenges of the gig economy.https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/11/how-can-we-protect-workers-in-the-gig-economy/

She focused on digital labor platforms, noted that nearly 400 million people have posted resumes on Linked In The problem, and of course there always is one, is that as this contingent workforce has grown through the likes of Uber, Taskrabbit and Upwork, employment has not, since most of the work is done on an independent contractor basis. As such,these individuals are  paid on a 1099 not a W2, and separated from the employment based benefits which provide the proverbial safety net via health insurances and retirement programs. She goes on to discuss the policy implications as well as the interesting coalitions being formed around this issue.

Although Professor Tyson discussed the independent contractor (IC) issue as a relatively new phenomenon, it is not. Independent consultants, and other professionals like  real estate agents  have faced this issue for decades.  For many, creating the answer to the safety net issue was part of the calculus of starting their independent business in the first place. These individuals were making a deliberate choice to create an independent, professional  lifestyle , another point that often gets lost in the IC debate.

From my research several years ago ( which clearly needs to be updated) a significant minority of ICs were able to secure benefits through a spouse.  Further proof of that is that when we set up benefits programs for ICs the greatest interest was in tax deferred income and retirement products.  Granted, the sample we were targeting included the highest paid ICs, so they would have had arguably the greatest economic flexibility.  In the last 5-10 years, the IC ranks, thanks to the new digital platforms,  have grown to  include lower wage workers.

Conversely, according to a recent article in the Economist, the data does not support amazing growth in this IC economy,  with the caveat that labor statistics are egregiously poor in both the UK and US .  (Indeed, the US government discontinued the tracking of contingent workers  in 2005 by eliminating the Contingent Work Supplement . Senator Mark Warner  has requested  that  the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the IRS reinstate it.  ) In a 10/23 article, the author, Laura Gardiner,  notes that the number of self employed workers in the US is actually falling and the proportion of full time workers  in both countries has not decreased. Freelancers represent only 2% of the workforce in Britain.

Gardiner goes on to suggest that this non intuitive lack of growth may be the result not of  bad statistics but of improper definitions.  The gig economy, also the sharing economy, includes the 1099 worker but also encompasses the AirBnB hosts, for example, who don’t see that extra income from renting a room  as  job related. This is true for many participants in the sharing economy, suggesting that the true size of the current market activity may be significantly understated.    In some cases the income may go unreported but in most it will just appear as 1099 income. As such, that may be the better metric to track.

The  Bay Area Council Economic Institute did just that.  It compared the growth in the number of  1099s  issued ( not the dollar value)  with the number of W2 returns by year and indexed for inflation.  Although 1099s tended to peak  and then retract after recessions, as demonstrated in 1990, 2001 and 2007 the pattern has changed.  Since the financial crisis and attendant recession in 2009, 1099s issued has continued to rise, while W2s have shown greater variability. 

By 2025, Tyson suggests the gig economy will approach $2.7 trillion in global GDP. Hopefully by then we will have a better understanding of how the marketplace functions,  and a much better handle the policy infrastructure needed to support it to ensure the independence and flexibility it affords can be sustained.

 

Repurposed Expertise

At the Vision 2020 conference, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack described the importance of humanity in business, connecting at a personal level with your clients. He then went on to describe a customer service exchange which was an homage to the original Star Wars movie.   Although it was a great story, I was still struck by his opening riff on the origins of the rapidly growing messaging company; he and his colleagues repurposed some software from another life, “pivoting” to the messaging space.  I fixated on this point, perhaps, because I had been in the repurposing business as well, but I repurposed expertise.

You hear about “repurposing” a lot in the software business.  Instagram had famously flopped as a platform until it was repurposed as a photo sight.  In the human capital space, though, its not a term of art.

Independent consultants ( like those from M Squared or The Talent Group or Cerius Executives)  are accomplished professionals who have a body of expertise in a given discipline.  With every assignment they take, they are, by definition, enhancing their  intellectual capital, since even though one engagement may be similar to another, each has its unique challenges. To meet those challenges – or opportunities — they need to repurpose their arsenal of management  and consulting skills. My favorite gigs were always those where the client agreed to engage a consultant who was pivoting to take the assignment, by applying expertise in consumer goods to digital media, for example.

As I think about my book project, perhaps there should be a repurposing chapter…

#GivingTuesday — pass it on

As the Chair of a not for profit Board, I think “Giving Tuesday” is a tremendous innovation in philanthropy.  Giving Tuesday is December 1 this year.  It is meant to follow the crazy consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday with generosity, a benevolent opportunity for people to share their holiday largess with community organizations, advocacy groups and other wonderful causes. Now in its fourth year, Giving Tuesday has become a global movement

The innovation comes in to play because it is driven by social media.  From its start in 2012, there are now 30,000 partners in 68 countries, 32.7million Twitter impressions, and most importantly a 470% increase in online donations since it was begun.

 

Special campaigns are now being launched around the social media power of Giving Tuesday.  A generous donor to ReSurge International, for example, has offered to match 2 to 1 every dollar donated on Giving Tuesday, meaning gifts will have 3 times the impact, enabling 3 times as many poor people to receive reconstructive plastic surgeries which will transform their lives.   If you feel so inclined, gifts can be made safely and securely online at http://tinyurl.com/oxvyd4g.  

Be sure to give to some organization on #GivingTuesday.It is a wonderful way to begin the holiday season.

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