Tag Archives: Consulting

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.

 

A Merger in the Gig Economy…Or Not

As part of my research for my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, which will be coming out next spring, I had the opportunity to interview Stephen DeWitt, the  CEO of WorkMarket. http://www.workmarket.com

Although it sounds banal to say it, Stephen is a visionary about the future of work and how technology will enable on-demand access to skilled workers globally  in a marketplace that many will find hard to _dsc5674imagine or even anticipate.  As I explain in my book, in today's environment, the immediacy of access to resources is highly conditioned by the skill set sought; I want my Uber driver right away, but I may be a bit disconcerted if my interim CFO showed up on my doorstep in 5 minutes.  Our mental models are not quite set at the right speed  now, for the way Stephen sees the future. Stephen sees that CFO, or chemical engineer or strategist arriving seamlessly when a company needs it  thanks to custom talent pools and the algorithms that will continue to evolve and load balance expertise levels.

As he shared with me as well as John Battelle in his great newco piece, A Total Rethink of How Work Should Work  https://shift.newco.co/a-total-rethink-of-how-work-should-work-5dc3980ea52#.76ychzmxi , to imagine the future you need to think of the futures you know.  Think Star Trek, for example, if Captain Kirk is in need of new expertise to make the next voyage, do you think he is just going to list it on LinkedIn?

Which brings me to the point of this post.  A major acquisition was finally approved last week to remarkably little fan fair, especially when compared to the press when the deal was announced. LinkedIn is now officially owned by Microsoft, an organization not known for successfully integrating acquisitions. LinkedIn is of course the largest talent marketplace  in the world, even if it doesn't operate like a digital talent platform. (With apologies, of course, to LinkedIn Profinder, which is trying. )

It has a significant role in the Gig Economy, though, since it is a key element of an independent worker's digital brand. Look at me -- I am posting this on LinkedIn in addition to my own blog as part of my own branding strategy. I even have a section in my book on how to optimize your digital image on LinkedIn. So will this primacy as a venue for independent experts to showcase expertise change in the new Microsoft world?

It is hard to say. An article on this topic by Dina Bass on Bloomberg yesterday https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-13/how-microsoft-and-linkedin-can-make-this-expensive-deal-work said a key to the deal is to "let LinkedIn be LinkedIn." The public plan is to keep the two companies separate and develop those ever popular "synergies" to enable skilled professionals to be more productive.  As an Apple fan who has always thought apple design far superior to Microsoft and other platforms,  that didn't seem like a natural outcome to me.  (Let's face it the Microsoft stuff never works quite as well on a mac...)

But my bigger concern came from the video conference the day they announced the deal. Microsoft CEO , Satya Nadella, said he wanted to help make the LinkedIn members more successful in their "jobs".  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/linkedin-microsoft-changing-way-world-works-jeff-weiner In the new world of work, the one that I see and the one Stephen DeWitt sees, it isn't about "jobs" it is about the work and skill sets and managing independent careers. Hopefully the new combined Microsoft and LinkedIn leadership will see that and plan accordingly.

A New Operating System for the Gig Economy

An article in Forbes today suggested the title of this post, that companies need a new operating system for the Gig Economy.  The article entitled, "How Businesses must Adapt to Accommodate the Growing Freelance Workforce",  http://www.forbes.com/sites/under30network/2016/12/05/how-businesses-must-adapt-to-accommodate-the-growing-freelance-workforce/?utm_source=TWITTER#17edc57f42f5 was written by Peter Johnston, the CEO  and Founder of Lystable,  one of the companies that now comprise what I like to call  the Gig Economy EcoSystem.

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These firms and their founders, like Peter, have recognized that the independent work trend in the United States is not going away.  Between workers wanting more flexibility, technology reducing the market frictions of just in time expertise and a highly mobile workforce the usage of independent workers will only increase.  Given this expected growth, there is money to be made in creating enabling mechanisms to make it easy more more companies to jump on the band wagon.

Lystable, https://www.lystable.com  along with others like ShortList https://shortlist.co/about/ promise to eliminate the logistical problems that can make engaging consultants a human supply chain nightmare.  For unlike employment and its sourcing partner, recruiting wherein a centralized corporate solution is offered, securing independent consulting services often tends to be a one-off endeavor in most companies.  Procurement ( and not recruiting typically) may imposes guidelines and rules that may be followed or not; many savvy managers have figured out over the years how to get around those pesky rules in order for the department to bring in their talent of choice. These external workforce platforms capture contract details, engagement letters, Statements of Work (SOWs)and payment details. Many handle on-boarding and post project reviews. Perhaps most importantly though, they provide an overall dashboard for how external expertise is being deployed in the enterprise.

Johnston points out thee business benefits which are real.  Speaking as someone who dealt with the initial forays of procurement in the vendor management world, creating an appropriate environment for independent talent us well overdue. Changing that operating system is key, but so too is changing the mindset.  Efficiently and effectively using independent talent is a competitive advantage.  And now, as deployment methods are becoming more enabled and thereby  making the workers more mobile, those workers have more options.  They can go to their client of choice.  So just as employers want to be the "Employer of Choice", they also need to give some thought to being the "Client of Choice. " For many firms, that will be quite an operating system change.

Work, Jobs and the Gig Economy

As I work on my book, Thriving in the Gig Economy , I have had the opportunity to talk to many experts, from CEOs to futurists about the future of work.  I was thrilled last week when one of them shared my pet peeve, one that is all the more acute in an election year --  the fact that so many Americans equate work and jobs.  Work is so much more than a job, or more precisely a "regular full-time job".  work encompasses all sorts of pursuits, from part-time work, to self-employment to gigs to volunteering.

If you look at the definition, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/work, it is "an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:"  In fact in all 11 definitions cited, the word "employment" never appears.

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None the less, we constantly hear our politicians talking about how important it is to create jobs.Yes that is important, but as the world is changing with technology and new work models.  What is unfortunate about this focus on jobs and not work is the attachment of social infrastructure to employment. Employer provided  health and retirement benefits are great for current employees, but leave all of the other workers, from part-timers to gig workers potentially at a disadvantage.  Moreover, the employment oriented fringes may constrain an individual's entrepreneurial path; it will be tougher to become an independent consultant if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

That said, the government has a vested interest in bolstering traditional  employment structures, and that interest is not in benefits but in taxes.  It is a lot easier to collect employment taxes from companies than from a myriad of individuals. As such, the argument that we need to revise our vision of employment, can fall on deaf ears.

Charles Handy, an Irish economist and expert in the world of work, said in his new book, The Second Curve, writes, “The strange truth is, if you have a so-called proper full-time job today, you are in the minority.  The world has changed and few have noticed.”  We need to take notice and enable opportunity accordingly.

Yet Another Research Report on the Gig Economy

Albert Einstein once said, "If we knew what we were doing we wouldn't call it research." How fitting in this case.  Yet another report came out this week estimating the size of the gig economy. Pymnts.com released their research http://www.pymnts.com/gig-economy/2016/gig-economy-growing/ done in conjunction with Hyperwallet, which attempts to define the the size of the independent work marketplace.

This is on the heels  of the recent McKinsey Global Institute  (MGI) study, "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.  In that comprehensive report, the authors had a significant disclaimer about the problem of data collection in this area. The annual contingent labor study done by the Department of Labor was discontinued in 2005, so thee are no government statistics about participation. Various entities,including companies in the space, academics and think tanks, have launched efforts  to explore the subject.  So there is no dearth of data about the gig economy, the problem is each study has been  done with a slightly different approach. In fact the MGI study even included a great graph comparing the size estimates emerging from these disparate research projects. It tried to isolate the specific industry segment which was being addressed by the researchers.  For example, it  listed 5 different studies, including their own,  that sized the independent workforce in the US as a percentage of the working population.  The results were broad ranging,  from as little as 16% to as high as 27%

So given that the numbers don't quite jive, who is right? Since I am working on my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I have been wrestling with this issue quite a bit.  I have decided that  potentially they are all right; you just need to be cognizant of how they have framed the question. MBO Partners, for example , provides the best ( and only) historical perspective, having issued its report on the State of Independence in America  for each of the last 6 years. https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence/mbo-partners-state-of-independence-in-america-2016 They focus on independent consultants in the professional services space and estimate the market size at just south of 40 million participants. They define 3 primary categories of independents: full time, part time and occasional.  MGI, on the other hand, has a higher size estimate based on four categories of workers, including two groups, who are working in this way out of financial pressure rather than personal choice. They include some categories of workers, like doctors and therapists, who may or may not be captured in the MBO Partners data.

One area that has very limited data available is the use of digital talent platforms by gig workers.  The new PYMNTS report is targeted specifically at this.  In fact, they specifically don't include the group of "freelancers" who may get their work from intermediaries, like M Squared Consulting http://www.msquared.com or Business Talent Group. https://businesstalentgroup.com/business-strategy-consulting-google/?gclid=CLLwv-vy-c8CFUKTfgod6t8HGA.  Given the exclusion of this key population, the graph which showed the type of professional services procured through the digital talent marketplaces was telling.  The professional service in the highest demand was photography. The senior level independent consultants do not appear to be represented.  I have yet to comprehensively go through this report, so I can't speak to conclusions the authors may have reached.  Perhaps there will be more to come on this in the future.  At the very least, there may be more to come in my book.

 

 

Curt Flood and the Gig Economy

As a San Francisco Giant fan, I am sad to say that the baseball season is over for me.  (And of course, as a Giants fan, I must now root for the Cubs against the Dodgers, But I digress...) But none the less it is October, when the baseball season reaches its inevitable climax.  So as I work on my book about the gig economy, I thought it was fitting to do a shout out to Curt Flood, a man who changed baseball and the world of work in a major league way, pardon the pun.

Curtis Charles Flood played 15 years in major league baseball  from 1956-1971, playing for the Cincinnati Reds ( or Redlegs, as they were known at the time) the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Senators.  He had a solid career, with three all star

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo)

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo)

team appearances and seven  golden glove awards. He won two different hitting titles and still today is ranked third behind Willie Mays ( a Giant , of course) and Richie Ashburn for most games played in center field.  However, his impact is not what he did on the field., rather it was what he refused to do off the field, namely accept employment terms that no longer seemed appropriate to him.

Before 1969, players were bound by the reserve clause in baseball, which made players beholden to the first team with whom they signed.  The had no say about their  futures once the contracts were signed.  Team management could make the decision to trade or release a player without so much as a "how do you do" to the athlete.

When the team wanted to trade him after 12 years to Philadelphia, Flood refused, saying,"I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold."

Floods case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and due to the fact that Justice Powell had to recuse himself because of his ties to the Busch family, the owners of the Cardinals, he did not win.  However his action and the attention it garnered paved the way for change and ultimately led to free agency in baseball.

So what does this have to do with the gig economy?

What Flood wanted was control over his professional life.  After all that time in the league, he felt he was owed that. Various studies have shown that when professionals decide to start consulting independently it is for that same motive -- control over their life. MBO Partners  2016 State of Independence in America Report says that over 60% of consultants cited control of their time as a key factor in going out on their own. Similarly, the McKinsey Global Institute's  recent report entitled Independent Work: Choice Necessity and the Gig Economy noted that the independent workforce is larger than previously thought and that most participants choose independent work for its flexibility and autonomy.

What Flood did, by challenging the reserve clause, was to create a new notion of how employment relationships can work, a mental model that could be extrapolated to other businesses. Many people may only think about the free agency in sports, but it has its analogues in all sorts of other professional fields now as well.   In fact, in the aforementioned McKinsey report, they cite different categories of gig workers, and the high end consultants who pursue the independent work option by choice are dubbed in the study as free agents.  So thank you Curtis Flood for making your stand so that you could get the gig you wanted.  The gig economy is in your debt.

 

The Gig Economy – A Class Act…or not…

gig economy

Since I am working on my book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I have been paying particular attention to the various Uber  employment lawsuits.  Even though  I am focusing on the high end of the gig economy where independent consultants sell their services and intellectual capital, the commodity end of Uber drivers can't be ignored, since it seems to garner all of the headlines.

This week a rather important ruling occurred that seemed to receive very little attention, which is surprising, since it suggests Uber's independent contractor lawsuits may lose class action status.

Last week,  a Ninth Circuit panel effectively reversed a decision from 2015 . A year ago, a judge had said that that the arbitration agreement in Uber's contract with its drivers was unenforceable.  The contract was designed to say if you have any dispute with us, Uber, you need to resolve it through arbitration rather than through the courts.  In this particular case, three drivers had sued Uber for saying they violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when the company ran background checks on their driving records.  The FCRA, as all recruiting managers know, is the law that requires candidates for employment authorize any  background checks.   The decision said that Uber's arbitration clauses were fair, valid and enforceable.

By asserting that the arbitration clauses are valid in this case will have implications in the attempts of some drivers to create a class action.  As an outside observer, I applaud this.  Since I have the gig economy on the brain  and am an avid Uber customer, I have taken to quizzing all of my drivers about there thoughts on the lawsuit.  I wish I had thought to jot down the results, since my sample size is now in statistically valid territory.  That said, my recollections of the results are these:

  • Only one of about 25 wanted to be an employee
  • 2-3 did not know about the lawsuit at all
  • The majority did it part time to fit their schedule , as one said to me last Sunday, "why watch a football game when I can earn some extra cash for 2 hours?"
  • Most had other jobs including teacher, masseuss, contractors, programmers, hairdressers etc.
  • A large minority also worked for the other driving services

My very unscientific conclusion then is that it is a very diverse driver pool.  A key attribute of a class action lawsuit is that the participants in the class are largely similar.  I don't know that this is the case.  It is time for the independent contractor laws to be brought into the current century in a time when the gig economy of indepndent workers of all sorts is growing.  Potentially these lawsuits facing Uber will help make that happen. .

The Name Game in the Gig Economy

Catalants and the Gig Economy

I love to be right.  A few months back I blogged about my amusing experience applying to join the Hourly Nerd  digital talent platform.  I asked the question, "$22 million in funding and they couldn't come up with a better name?"  This week they announced a new name -- "Catalant".

I have been involved as a client in several corporate naming exercises.  With only good thoughts for my old friends at Landor Associates, I just love the whole explanation about why a certain combination of letters will be a good new name.  Now that owning the URL is paramount, most existing English language words are taken, as are well-known Latin or foreign terms.  (My son who was a Classics major could be a source of some good ancient Greek phrases though...)

So Catalant is a combination of catalyst, talent and brilliant, or so they say.  The name change theoretically ushers in a new future for the well-funded digital talent platform  where they tout the new world where " companies can instantly access the precise talent they need  when they need it." The video is lovely, despite its obvious overstatement.

The world they describe is not that new.  I am fairly sure I had virtually that same verbiage in the marketing  materials of my company, M Squared,  25 years ago.  Similarly, other firms that have been around a while, like The Business Talent Group (BTG) and Cerius Executives are demonstrating how companies are using on demand expertise.  Maybe this model is new for Catalant, but it is not so new for the world.

In an article in BostInno, the founders mention that the original intention was to go after small businesses but now they see that big companies can use them as a source of flexible talent. Their algorithms are key to that value to large companies. Their platform can index all skills and find the right person.  That may be so. For me, it is all about trust.

My former company -  and BTG and Cerius for that matter -  provide  our big company clients more than algorithms; we provide trust and judgement.  If I told a client he really should talk to Harry for a sensitive, strategic project even though Harry may not seem on point, they did it because they trusted me and my understanding of the consultants, the gig and their environment. Perhaps algorithms may get there, but as someone in the Hourly Nerd, excuse me, Catalant network, I have yet to be matched with a project appropriate to my skills. As such, I am still a bit of a skeptic about the perfection of the algorithm.

And by the way, I learned from the Bostinno article, Hourly Nerd isn't going away entirely.  It will be the product offering to the small business marketplace So big companies get brilliant talent and little companies get nerds...go figure...

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.

 

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