Category Archives: M Squared

International Women’s Day and the Gig Economy

On this International Women's Day, I thought a good post would be to talk about women in the Gig Economy. In the recent McKinsey Global Institute Report, "Independent Work: Choice Necessity and the Gig Economy", http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/independent-work-choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy, they report that women comprise 51% of the alternative work force in the United States.  In fact in the six developed economies profiled in the report, women were  not the majority in only Germany and France, where they represented 48% and 45% respectively.

As someone who was in the gig economy before anyone ever called it that, it has always been clear that women were a major component of the alternative workforce.  When I started M Squared Consulting in 1988 one of my prime observations were that credentialed women were leaving traditional corporate  environments in droves.  Whether it was the management consulting world where I was, advertising, consumer products or financial services,  the need to balance competing demands in life trumped for many women the need to break the glass ceiling.

I am dating myself here, but before the advent of email and the internet, balancing family obligations was much harder. I remember several nights at Booz Allen where I would leave at 5:30 pm to the incredulity of my ( male)  peers, head home to feed and bathe my newborn baby, put her to bed and then drive back to the office at 9 to work until midnight or 1 a.m., and roll into bed an hour later.  I'd get up again at 6a.m. to feed the baby and spend some time with her before heading back to the office that morning.  That grueling schedule was not sustainable and helped awaken my entrepreneurial streak to figure out a better way to work.

Over the years, I discovered that so many people, not just women wanted more control over time.  Whether it was to write the great American novel, support an aging parent, or salsa dance competitively, consultants chose  the independent path to make their entire  life work, not just the career part. Don't get me wrong, many also chose this path because they felt that could make more money on an independent basis and have greater intellectual challenges. But flexibility for many is a key factor.

MBO Partners has done a study on independent workers in America for the past six years and notes, as McKinsey did, the roughly equivalent level of male and female participation.  In  their most recent  study, The State of Independence in America, https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence, MBO Partners noted that men and women have different concerns and goals. For women, flexibility is more important than money.  For men, control by virtue of being your own boss was more important.

But women are not just a part of  the gig economy as workers, they are also part of the eco-system that supports the participants. From apps that provide effective time reporting, to platforms for liability insurance, entrepreneurs are seeing that this is a trend that is not going to sunset anytime soon.  One part of the eco system is co-working space.  WeWork, the giant in the segment is now the 4th largest real estate firm in the country.  But in their shadow, some women in The Bay Area decided they wanted to figure out a new way to co-work.  The Hivery, https://www.thehivery.com, a co-working space in Mill Valley,  a suburb of San Francisco, is a specialized networking space just for women. They offer all sorts of events to members, like writer’s workshops, entrepreneur circles and meditation Mondays, all intended to build a sense of community, the kind of community designed for women.

So on this International Women's Day, I salute all the independent women and entrepreneurs who have been able to design their work to support their life and their spirit rather than the other way around.

 

The Academy Awards and the Gig Economy

Since its Academy Award season, I thought  it would be appropriate to compare the Gig Economy to Hollywood.  Stephen Kasriel the CEO of Upwork  wrote an article in Fast Company last year called "Why the Future of Work will Look a lot like Hollywood."   I agree wholeheartedly and in fact wrote a similar piece years ago on the  parallels with the movie industry. I elaborated on that idea in my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy.  Here is a brief excerpt.

"The movie industry  had been a freelance marketplace, since the 1940’s.  From its origins in the 1920’s, it was vertically integrated; actors, directors, writers and technical staff worked for the studios, and the studios owned the cinemas. The time period, referred to as either the studio system years or the Golden Age of Hollywood, was known for formula movies, with actors playing very similar roles in similar stories, because the business formula was to utilize the talent that was on the payroll at the studio. (Think about all those old  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies…)  The change came in 1948 when a Supreme Court ruling  required  the studio to divest themselves of their distribution operations. At the same time, a threat appeared from another corner, as  technological advances resulted in a new media form -  television.

As the studio system broke down, the talent began to take control of their own careers.  Talent agencies emerged as the market makers in talent, and unions arose to protect various specialties.  In fact, many have pointed to this parallel as a reason why Gig Economy workers may need to unionize. In the movie business today, people come together in all the disciplines, writers, actors, set designers, assistant directors and key grips, to name just a few, to create a film. Once it is over, the various players disband and go on to the next gig."

It is no surprise, that  in the business analog, the first players  to become independent were the stars,  just like in the movie model. Back in 1988  ( before the internet...ouch!) it took me no time to build up a strong network of consultants numbering in the 1000s.  Independent expertise of the most credentialed sort  has been around for decades, well before the advent of what people typically think of as the gig economy,  i.e. the uber drivers or free-lance workers on the Upwork platform. It's the stars, the highly accomplished independent consultants and interim managers,  who wanted to take control of their careers and make choices about how they would use their talents.

 

In the meantime, digital platforms and traditional intermediaries are making it easier for talented independent workers to find that next gig.  One firm, Tongal, which touts its innovative approach to content creation, works with companies and brands to produce TV commercials, digital advertising, and social media videos in crowd sourced competitions with the creative talent on its platforms.  Since 2014, it has held and annual Tongie Award celebration https://tongal.com/tongies to recognize the amazing talents in its network and the just as impressive content they have created.  A 2016 winner, "Children are Children", a video  for the Ad Council and the No Different From Us Refugee Project was very moving.

So when you watch the Academy Awards and think of all those glamorous stars, remember, they have already moved on to their next gig.

 

The Entrepreneur’s Organization in San Francisco Turns 25

Entrepeneurs Organisation Celebrates 25 Years!

The Entrepreneur’s Organization, (EO) had a celebration last week to celebrate the start

Veteran Entrepreneurs Organization Reunion

Veteran EO Members at the Palace of the Legion of Honor

of its San Francisco chapter 25 years ago.  I was one of the intrepid founding members of what was then called the Young Entrepreneur;s Organization,  or YEO.

(As an aside, I was 7 months pregnant when I joined EO.  I remember the other  mostly single young members being shocked when they politely asked me if it was my first child, and I replied, “no, it is my third.”)

Back in 1991, you had to have sales of $1mil before you were 35,and you were kicked out of the organization at 40. Many members went on the the Young President’s Organization, (YPO), once they hit their 40s.  As one of my kids once said, who would want to be in the Old Entrepreneur’s Organization?

About 10 years ago, they got rid of the Young in the title and just branded the association as the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO).  As one of those folks who made the transition to YPO, I have to say that EO was different YPO remains a wonderful organization for me and I am proud to be an active member, but it was not the same as EO.  In YPO, you could have members who were hired guns, presidents recruited to grow, turn around or manage an existing enterprise.  Similarly, there was the “lucky sperm” cohort, of those presidents who stepped in to a family business.

In EO, everyone was a founder.  Everyone had that experience of  having that kernel of an idea in your mind.  You kick it around, you nourish it, and ultimately you get it growing. As a female entrepreneur, I liken it to being pregnant.For awhile when you are pregnant, only you know what is happening inside your body  Chances are, your husband doesn’t even know for a few days anyway .  But slowly it becomes apparent to others.  At some point, i.e. the birth, to continue the metaphor, you let some others into the tent.  Still, you are very careful how it grows.  Over time more people become involved, but you  remain the one most involved with shaping the future of this enterprise.

As the business grows, your entrepreneurial role is akin to  parenting.  Gradually, other people begin to influence the development of the company.  At some point, you realize you are no longer in total control, and then there is the moment when the company is growing in ways that you had never envisioned. Hopefully you imbued it with the right core values to ensure that this maturation is true to your original vision.

EO was a great support while making this journey.  Sharing concerns, opportunities and problems with a like minded group of peers was a tremendous learning experience.  I grew in ways in those years that I did not appreciate at the time. Along with MIT and Inc. Magazine, EO put on the Birthing of Giants Program.  This was an amazing  program for a cohort of 40 young entrepreneurs.  We would spend a week together each spring for 3 years. In the intervening years, many things would happen to the fortunes of these young firms and their founders. Companies, went public and bankrupt, firms were merged, rolled up or sold. And through it all, we learned lessons from each other that would stay with us through the years.

So I was grateful to be able to attend the wonderful 25 year celebration at the Palace of the Legion of Honor last week.  The EO chapter put on a terrific program with 4 different speakers, all of whom were inspiring and provocative. One lesson EO taught me is we can never stop learning, so it was wonderful to continue my education at this event.  Thanks EO.

Adventures in the Gig Economy

Thriving in the Gig Economy and the Hourly Nerd

So I am working on a new book, "Thriving in the Gig Economy", a subject I happen to know a lot about from my experience at M Squared Consulting.  That said, though, there are many new players since the days when I ran M Squared.  As fodder for my book, I am walking the  talk and exploring new platforms and using gig economy resources along the way.

I have registered as an expert at a number of sites.  The most remarkable experience was with Hourly Nerd.  (Really, they thought that was a good name, but I digress.) The Hourly Nerd pitch is that the consultants or "nerds"  on their platform come from only select business schools.  To underscore this, they ask that all potential consultants sign up using their business school email.

Now there is the rub.  When I went to business school, email had not yet been invented.  I know I date myself, but that doesn't make me any less qualified as a consultant.  I must say, to Hourly Nerd's credit, they responded immediately  when I pointed out that I did not have a Haas Business School email since that would have been impossible in 1985,  and  since I knew that they were not intending to discriminate against older MBAs,  there had to be another way for me to apply.  Needless to say I was vetted rather quickly after that.

In my 3 weeks of  being in the nerd ranks, I have received 2 inquiries, neither of which was really appropriate for me.  Since I chair a not for profit humanitarian NGO, I received a request to do research for another non-profit in a totally different field.  Clearly they need to work out the difference between functional expertise and industry expertise in their algorithm.  The second was a bit more on point, looking at employee utilization in consulting firms.  However, since the consulting firm I ran was a hybrid firm, providing independent consultants, gig folks or nerds in their parlance ,  to projects my expertise was not quite on point.  As they say, three is a charm, so I wonder what might come next...

In the meantime, I am securing some programming talent in this gig economy as well as research time from some other platforms.  I am intrigued to experience the customer side...I will keep you posted.

 

Independent Contractors and the Bubonic Plague

Katy Steinmetz of Time Magazine had a great piece this week summarizing a joint Aspen Institute /Time study on the future of the gig economy. http://time.com/4169532/sharing-economy-poll/?xid=tcoshare  She discussed what may be the first attempt to quantify how many Americans are participating in the various aspects of the sharing world, from shared car services, to rented rooms, to odd jobs, as either a buyer or seller.  As you may imagine, the numbers are fairly staggering, with more than 44% of Americans taking part.

She also gets into the implications of the employment status of those who offer services.  In most cases they are classified as independent contractors (ICs)  rather than employees.  ICs, of course are not subject to withholding taxes and ineligible for benefits typically accorded employees.  Ride sharing giant,  Uber, is facing a class action lawsuit, where drivers are claiming they should be employees not ICs, an action now scheduled for June of 2016.

The IC versus employee  issue is a murky one and Steinmetz does a good job explaining the accurate and curious fact that there is no one legal definition of an employee. The IRS has 20 points which define employment status, but the primary factor comes down to who directs and controls the work.  That subjective framework is why the subject is fraught with abuse from both sides of the transaction.

Later in  a brief comment, she explains that the ambiguity of this body of law is inherent in its origins in 18th century England.  She didn’t quite get that one right…it was a bit earlier.

Our current employment structures are based on  the Master Servant body of English Law which is actually from the 14th century. As the bubonic plague, also called the Black Death, ravaged England, there was a need to identify who was the master of a particular area and who was the servant — hence the name.

Although the Uber case and others in the sharing economy have put the IC vs. employee question in the forefront, it has been an issue for years. Issues can create opportunities; companies like Collabrus Inc., which I founded, as well as others like MBO Partners, have created business models to eliminate the ambiguity inherent in the misclassification of workers.

Issues also create investigations. In the mid 90’s, I testified about the problem at hearings in Sacramento. At the time , the state of California was ardently pursuing anyone who was paid with a 1099 (an IC) versus a W2 (an employee), claiming that those receiving 1099s were just trying to skirt taxes. I explained there in the new world of just in time talent, old employment designations  and the social contract that goes along with it  were no longer relevant.  I ended my remarks pointing out that the bubonic plague ended a long time ago, so maybe it was time to update our regulations,

The wonderful State Senator, Milton Marks , of San Francisco, who served in the California senate for more than 30 years at that point chimed in and said, “She is absolutely right .  I know because I am so old, I was there  in the Middle Ages.”

I have to smile when I think of that hearing.  I also have to agree with my original assertion, it is time to rethink our employment law structures as the gig economy grows. IC status shouldn’t have anything to do with the bubonic plague, rather it should have to do with empowering individual business pursuits.

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…

 

 

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…

Thanksgiving Thoughts

M Squared alumni may remember this message, since I was often asked to repeat it year after year.

When my son, Kevin, was in 1st grade, his class made a quilt of all of the boys’ notes explaining the things for which they were thankful.  Looking at the 20 scrawled missives, its amazing how many of the boys were thankful for vegetables. The funniest was the son of a liberal, syndicated radio talk show host  who was thankful for “food, his family, the government and the Pentagon.”My favorite, of course, was Kevin’s, and it went like this:

“I am thankful for books, my friends, my family, my voice, my food, markers, my brain, and toys.”

His litany of thanks is so complete, it can suit all of us. To paraphrase him, may we all be thankful for knowledge and the wisdom of the ages; for the people we love and care about who are so central to our lives;for the ability to articulate ideas and/or celebrate in song; for the abundance we are so lucky to share – especially in our country; for all of those things that make our world colorful and alive; for our own ability to create the future; and for the wonderful things that bring us enjoyment and fun.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

The New Book via the Old One

To think about the new book, I need to go back to the old one,  A New Brand of Expertise; How Independent Consultants, Free Agents and Interim Managers are Transforming the World of Work.  The title is a mouthful, I admit, but it wasn’t my idea. That idea came from the publisher.

book

Speaking of ideas, it wasn’t my idea to write a book actually.  In 1998 I was visited by a British CEO, Dennis Russel,  who ran a business somewhat like mine in the UK. He sought me out specifically because he had written a book entitled  Interim Management about this nascent industry of brokering the expertise of senior executives.  He wanted to publish a US version, but his publisher said he needed a US co-author.  Once I read the book, I understood the publisher’s constraint.

Although we were in the same industry, his book did not speak to my marketplace.  His book was far more about the tragedy of British Managing Directors (MDs) who needed to find a new purpose in life.  The MDs came off as somewhat pathetic fellows who were cut down in their business prime of life and needed to craft an alternative.  I say” fellows” deliberately, since Dennis apologized in the book for using only male pronouns.  It made sense, you see, since no MDs in those days were female.

The US story and particularly the San Francisco Bay Area story was one of empowerment and success.  My MDs, the independent consultants with whom we worked, were not folks who needed a shot in the arm after getting laid off from a financial firm.  Rather, they were competent, pedigreed individuals who made a career choice to go into business on their own.  They were relatively evenly split male and female, although certain expertise areas could have a higher concentration of one gender or another.    This was not a business by default but rather one by design.  The stories I told were of incredibly accomplished individuals who were best in class at what they did.  Additionally many of them pursued other interest at the same time; our consultants were playwrights, pilots, sculptors, musicians and entrepreneurs who were crafting a professional life that enabled them to pursue all of their goals, not just business ones.

It didn’t take me long to agree to be the coauthor. In M Squared I had the perfect laboratory to do my research.  I could do deep data dives on our network of 12000 consultants, and I could also select several consultants to profile in a far more in depth way, capturing their stories, and adding the essential dimension of authenticity to what could be a rather dry business book.

It was an interesting process. My editors at Butterworth Heinemann kept quitting — not due to me but by happenstance.  Later, an Inc. Magazine editor for whom I had written several articles gave me hell for not pressing the publisher for a consistent editor.  “They help you write the book”, he  said in an exasperated tone, after the book was in final proof stage.  I guess I just didn’t need the help.

Ultimately, my book was very different than my colleague’s book because our worlds were different.  Now 14 years later, the world is different from what it was.  when I wrote the original book, social media were two words seldom found together in a sentence.  Linked In did not exist, so the online connectivity and access that is taken for granted today was not a factor in how that market operates.  The marketplace is now fundamentally different.  It needs a new book…

All you have to do is ask

I was driving out to a business meeting in the California Central Valley listening to The Last Lecture audio book. A wonderful book filled with life lessons that author Randy Pausch offered for his children and as his legacy,  I would not recommend it for long drives, since I frequently found myself brushing away tears as I changed lanes.

One of his lessons was that sometimes you just need to ask.  I had to smile because as he was telling that story which revolved around a Disneyland ride, the phone rang interrupting the passage.  It was the CEO of an interim management firm in Southern California.  I had called her last week and left a message explaining who I was and that I was considering reprising my book, and since she was in the space I wondered if she would be willing to be interviewed.  I was disappointed to have not received a return call, so her call while I was en route to Lodi was an unexpected pleasure.

We talked for quite awhile and she was highly supportive of my potential project.  Toward the end of our conversation she paused and asked a bit tentatively if I had thought about a co-author and would I consider her. At that point my mind raced.

One issue I know I will have in updating my book is that I know longer run M Squared.  M Squared had provided the laboratory for my work.  I had surveyed our network of consultants for data about this demographic .  Then I chose 16 of the most interesting and diverse consultants to interview in depth about their careers, motivations and aspirations.  This yielded rich stories that added depth and texture to my book.  I hadn’t been quite sure how I could gather those same insights.

Being a truthful person, I immediately mentioned this to my colleague, and she agreed that her network of over 50,000 consultants could absolutely be used for the project….50,000, I thought, that will certainly do.  This is clearly a partnership to explore.

Randy Pausch was right.  Sometime all you need to do is ask…

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