Tag Archives: interim management

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individual's entrepreneurial path; it will be tougher to become an independent consultant if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.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.

Hollywood and the Future of Work

Stephen Kasriel the CEO of Upwork just wrote an article in Fast Company 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 movie model. I pointed out that 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 to take control of their careers and make choices about how they would use their talents.

 

But there are two salient  but potentially related differences  between the movie world and the high end of the gig economy.  The first is that no one seems to take issue with the movie model.  The fact that talents of all sorts, from cinematographers to actors to musicians, come together for a one year gig  to make a movie and then disband is not derided as a dangerous model. This gig economy is accepted for what it is - the best way to complete a large scale cinematic project. However the other key difference is the fact that  Hollywood is a land of unions. The  writers, composers, actors and directors are all in a union or guild.  Additionally, the agents who represent them are also union members.  Is it this labor affiliation that spares the movie model from criticism?

Just today, the AFL CIO declared that gig workers should be employees.  They implied but did not suggest outright that therefore they should be union employees.

I can't speak to the low level roles in the gig economy, but I can speak to those who represent the most skilled, the consultants who have gone independent by choice.  One once told me she never wanted to be an employee ever again.  I will extrapolate that she wouldn't want a union card either...

 

The Freelance Marketplace Platform Race

Now that I have embarked on my research for the next book on the high-end of the on demand expertise marketplace, I am having a lot of deja vu moments.  Certainly, there is the fact, that though I have been gone from my old firm for several years, things have not changed that much. Tremendous, credentialed  expertise of just about any type is available on demand. Companies continue to avail themselves of this resource in new ways, and new competitors continue to arrive touting different points of differentiation.

It is this last area where the deja vu comes in, because the new platform competitors appear to be cropping up everywhere.  My twitter feed is cluttered with entreaties from one firm to beta test a new platform that "won't suck." (I couldn't help but wonder if they shouldn't get a free

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The Pets.com sock puppet

lance copy writer to come up with a better ask...) Quite frankly, I am reminded a bit of the frothy days of the internet when pets .com  became the 4th ( yes 4th) online pet supply store.  Despite the fact that dog food is not a high value shipping product, the firm had an amazing IPO valuing it at close to $100 million  in 2000 and was out of business 9 months later.

 

I am not suggesting that the online freelance marketplaces are headed for the same fate.  Indeed, I think technology is creating the platform to enable a market to be made in talent, in the true economic sense of the word market. I look forward to better understanding these business models to see how differentiated they really are.  Certainly, some are defined by the type of talent they seek to attract; the sites working with copy writer won't appeal to CFO's, but dancers will do... Interestingly, one in the UK, combines a totally automated service with consultant mixers, so freelancers can gather together.   I can't help but wonder if freelancers will subscribe to all that operate in their area of expertise, or if they will  choose just one.  If it were me, I'd definitely go for the one with the mixers...I am a sucker for cocktails...

 

 

Expertise 15 years later

Expertise and the Independent Consultant

I recently reread my book, A New Brand of Expertise, published in 2001. It was a book about, as the tag line said, how ” free agents, independent consultants and interim managers are transforming the world of work.”

bookIt was an odd experience, after all of these years to read the words. Perhaps more prolific authors are used to it, but for me it was very strange. I was surprised at the passages I didn’t recall at all, (really, I wrote that?) including some rather remarkable anecdotes. I had to laugh at the few (and luckily there were only a few) references that didn’t hold up at all; for example, my advice to new consultants to build a personal brand offered Martha Stewart as the role model. Obviously this was written before her prison sentence. My opening chapter referenced the Donna Reed show, because her husband, ” the company man” was becoming an anachronism. My guess is there isn’t a millennial around who could relate to that TV reference. (Oops, I am dating myself, but I only saw the show in reruns as a very young child…)

What dismayed me was one aspect of the forecast I made 15 years ago about what would happen to this nascent independent marketplace in the years ahead. I had suggested that on the horizon there could be some simplification of the legal ambiguity that was a threat to the dynamic growth of an independent talent market. I offered hope that U.S. 344, the Independent Contractor Simplification Act, authored by then Senator Kit Bond of Missouri would pass. I was overly optimistic. Not only did it not pass, it never made it to the floor — It died in committee the following year.

And now, the independent contractor issue is in the limelight again as the “gig ” economy has been caught up in the ambiguous regulatory environment, as firms like Uber, Handy and Instacart try to maneuver in the anachronistic definition of employment today. . In the meantime, the free agent and interim management part of the gig economy has only continued to grow. Perhaps the sharing economy, led by the Uber driver lawsuit, will help bring much needed clarity to this issue. Isn’t it about time?

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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