Sunday, 27 April 2014

Free Bird

A little earlier this year a well-known and respected HRD commented that consultants and contractors do not have the same “skin in the game” as permanent employees and hence do not put in as much effort as their established colleagues. Although I think I understand the logic behind his statement, and perhaps I am just lucky, my experience of self-employed individuals during the past year has been the exact opposite. Without exception, the itinerant and contract members of the team have put in as much thought and effort as their permanently employed co-workers.  Indeed, without their help we would not have achieved significant, desired and beneficial change across the organisation where I work.

Last week the Independent published an article entitled “Is this the death of the traditional employee?” It highlighted some significant changes that have occurred within the UK since 2010, one striking fact is that according to data released and celebrated by the coalition government, 2/5 of all new jobs have arisen as a result of a significant growth in self-employed workers. 15% of the UK workforce (circa 4.5 million people) are now freelance workers. The article goes on to ponder whether these people have been forced into self-employment (perhaps as an alternative to retirement, having been made redundant following the economic collapse in 2008, or because of a loss of income support but still needing to provide for themselves and perhaps a family).  Similar points about the rise in the self-employed sector are made by Barrie Hopson, the co-author, with Katie Ledger, of “And What Do You Do?: 10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career”, on his blog.

Many hats are required for a successful portfolio career
I am aware of the issues for many people on zero-hour contracts (as indeed are many more of us, now that Ed Miliband is planning to use it as his calling card to persuade the Scots to remain united with England and Wales).

A better blogger than I, Rick, who writes Flip Chart Fairy Tales, has been raising the matter of self-employment and the poverty trap for over a year now – if you want data on the subject read his recent post on the self-employed – the nouveau pauvre. I don’t in anyway wish to seem to be supporting the increasing divide between the affluent and the poor.  It is a matter of concern that the median self-employed annual salary is only £12,000 per annum. The Independent’s piece questioned whether, as the employment market picks-up, these people will seek permanent employment.  Perhaps the recruitment firms, or the websites such as LinkedIn, Monster and Jobsite are best placed to answer that, as they will see the number of job seekers in relation to opportunities. However, in my experience, the people who are self-employed and currently working with me (and who admittedly are not on incomes of £12,000) have no desire to resume employment with a single business.

Rich/Poor Divide
King George V driving to Epsom Derby, 1920 

with a beggar running beside his carriage
I like the fact that I can bring in particular expertise, such as an artist and corporate observer or a great coach and L&D expert, or a truly smart OD specialist, as and when I need them, but that I don’t have talented individuals, on my payroll but not using their specialist skills, when an internal requirement is not there. Talking with the freelancers I work with, they love the variety of multiple challenges that their choice of career provides and they find the diversity of projects and organisations enjoyable. I learn from them and they gain skills from doing stuff for my organisation. We all have fun and it is rewarding. I am fussy and believe in working with people I like and respect and whom I know will do things better than I could. When I returned to work following maternity leave I only did so after I had hired a nanny who was significantly better at looking after children than I was. I apply a similar approach to hiring self-employed specialists.

I am probably the biggest winner from the arrangement. In a fortnight’s time I am co-facilitating an industry leading Leadership Development programme in conjunction with the Professional Services team at Judge Business School of Cambridge University.  In addition to the academics, I have brought together a number of experts – how lucky am I to be able to assemble a dream team with complimentary skills? Doing things like this in real life beats any fantasy football game and I learn from and thrive on the diversity of thinking and approach.

Super heroes - a dream team
In some ways, I am a good example of a portfolio careerist.  However, I started enjoying the benefits of variety long before the term came into common parlance. The author Erin Albert who wrote “Plan C: The Full-Time Employee and Part-Time Entrepreneur” says that individuals who are trying to decide whether they should stick to working for a sole employer or to become a freelance entrepreneur should look at the patterns of their earlier life and what they enjoy/have been successful at doing, especially when at college or university.  I deliberately immersed myself in a broad gamut of areas when a student, from acting, debating, rowing, painting, cooking, rugby, academic studies, running a fly fishing school, belonging to societies, organising balls and charity events, socialising, holding down a job and I was vice chair of the JCR and president of the Law society, as well as being captain of the first boat for my college. I have always been fond of personal freedom and variety it brings.

Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynrd

Much of the secret of success is being able to understand yourself and to appreciate what you enjoy and are good at.  As well as capability and desire, you need a degree of self-discipline and focus and possess the skills of a juggler, to hold down multiple roles. 

Marc Chagall, The Juggler (1943)
If you are unsure as to the kind of environment that suits you best and what you should look for from your work environment, this simple quiz might aid your thinking.

In my career, I have been so fortunate to date, in that I have been able to cross successfully between different roles and sectors. I am a lawyer who has worked as a derivatives dealer within the financial markets, before deciding that I find people more interesting than numbers or contracts (although I can do both). I have worked in corporate psychology and founded and lead successful businesses, before moving into HR. Everything I have done has added to my knowledge and skills and I bring bits together to help me solve problems every day (both at work and in my broader life). My Twitter self-description of being a “creative connector” applies to how I work, as well as to the opportunities I am able to provide by connecting people I know.

Variety is the spice of life
Spices in the market in Marrakech, Morocco 
How fortunate I am. I thank you for being the people I interact with and with whom I have done and I am able to do interesting and varied things. If I can help you or if you need someone to bounce ideas off, I would be delighted to hear from you.

I'm Lucky - Live performance by Joan Armatrading

1 comment:

  1. The "skin in the game" argument I find problematical. You have to do something pretty awful as an employee to lose your job, whereas as a self employed consultant, you are constantly on call for your actions and your future is more or less at the whim of your client. Admittedly you can mitigate this by having more than one client etc. I treat every assignment as if it is the first time I've gained a piece of work and would argue that this keeps me fresher than when I knew the wage would appear whatever happened.