Marion McGovern, Author, Thriving in the Gig Economy
Clearly the gig economy is here to stay. The trend toward independent work is accelerating as more and more people abandon long term corporate employment for consulting and/or freelance careers. Driven by a desire for flexibility, control over the content, location and impact of their efforts and often a desire to make more money, the ranks of the self employed as a percentage of the US workforce has increased by 50% in the last 10 years from 10% in 2005 to 15.8% in 2015.
Although the lower skilled cohort working through digital platforms like Uber and Taskrabbit seem to get most of the press, there is a growing highly skilled cadre of experts now available on a just-in-time basis. They can work independently or alongside your employees on a team. As such, they may seem like virtual employees, but they are not. They have different motivations, aspirations and exigencies than your employees. As such, it is important that you do not treat them just like employees. And, that starts in the way in which you evaluate and engage them.
Whether you secure a consultant from a referral, an intermediary, or a self-service digital talent platform (although many of those are developing concierge services to facilitate the matching process), your vetting process should be tailored to this type of independent talent. This nuance is readily understood in financial capital markets, where treasurers deploy a variety of strategies for an array of financial instruments, i.e., your corporate treasurer evaluates and secures a line of credit differently than she does a private placement. The human capital marketplace is no different, wherein various human capital “instruments” or market segments need to be evaluated with a rubric customized for the characteristics of that marketplace, rather than a generic “one size fits all” approach.
At the very basic level, any type of recruiting practice that assesses long term fit, for example, is moot with an independent consultant. By definition, the engagement should not envision a long term and the freelancer should be considering his exit strategy in planning the assignment,
A framework I developed for my clients when I was running M Squared Consulting, one of the first firms to match independent consultants to projects, was the notion of TheFour Vs. `This tool can help you focus on the important elements in qualifying the right expert for your critical project.
The first is Veracity, or the fact that the expert actually has the skills required to successfully manage the project. Too often, this is the only attribute clients evaluate when considering a freelancer. It is certainly the primary gating factor, but the vetting process should not end there.
Versatility is also critical. A strong consultant should be able to demonstrate his ability to secure results in a wide array of environments. Someone who has only dealt with start ups may not flourish in a corporate environment. Similarly, one who had only been in VC funded companies, may not have the right mind set for a boot strapped operation. Even more basic, just having success in disparate environments reduces the risk that your environment could pose unforeseen problems. Versatility can also have some skill advantages as well, since those who have come with a broad background of operating environments are more likely to be adept at collaboration tools like Evernote.
Vigor is often overlooked but very important and refers to the ways that the consultant maintains her craft. Independent professions like medicine, law and accounting have the “continuing education” process, whereby practitioners need to complete a regular level of coursework to maintain their certification in the field. Some business specialties, noticeably HR, are incorporating this discipline as well. But many expertise areas do not have such a structure, so individuals must pursue their own path of learning. Understanding how your consultant stays current in his craft, whether through seminars, conferences, or his own research, is a key consideration. In most cases, no one wants an outdated expert.
Finally, Vision is the notion that as an expert in his field, the consultant has a viewpoint about what is happening in his world. Compensation consultants, for example, even if they do not work much with public companies should still have a view on the “Say on Pay” movement advocated by some investor activists. I would not care so much what her viewpoint is, but she should have one. It is not so hard to pick an issue, whether it is privacy, net neutrality, or ad blockers in social media. Figure out an issue that is in the strike zone of your expert and get their opinion.
Once you identify the resource, recognize that speed is essential to this group; if they don’t get your gig, they will get one elsewhere, so your protracted decision cycle may prompt them to take a project with a more decisive client. How you manage them once they are on the job us also key, but that is the subject for a whole other article.
[Image courtesy: Mark Warner]
About the Author
Marion McGovern is the author of Thriving in the Gig Economy, and the Founder of M Squared Consulting, which matches independent consultants to projects, and Collabrus, a 1099 compliance company for independent consultants in need of an employer.