A decade has passed since I last held a “real” job. My kids call the work I do now “Daddy’s Phony Baloney Made Up Job” but hey, it pays the bills so what can I say?
I didn’t realize when I left corporate life 10 years ago that I was actually beginning to ride a wave that continues to grow. I had joined the gig economy. What’s that? A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and companies sign up independent workers for short-term engagements. Companies don’t have “employees”, they have consultants or contractors. Think Uber – every driver works for themselves. Rather than a corporation of thousands, we have a thousand corporations of one.
According to Intuit, by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will be independent contractors. It’s liberating in some ways and incredibly stressful in others. No guaranteed paycheck. No paid-for healthcare or other benefits. You can set your own schedule and work as you choose but you have to go find that work. I mean, unless you’re a pro, playing a lot of golf doesn’t pay the bills.
We’ve become a society where we’re on our own. Putting aside what may be happening with small social safety net we do have here (no politics, please!), many more people are going through their daily lives without the safety net a “real” job provides, and many of the full-time jobs that are out there pay wages that haven’t increased in years because the demand for the shrinking number of jobs is still high. We have seen the growth of businesses and services that support individuals rather than corporations. Sites that help you find gigs (as opposed to full-time employment) are plentiful although in many cases they become places where it’s a race to the bottom with respect to what you can get paid.
What strikes me is that I struggled in many ways to get my business on a good track despite many years of business experience, having managed dozens of people, and being responsible for a multi-million dollar P&L. I often wonder how many kids starting out in this economy are going to struggle and fail without any sort of mentoring. I don’t mean the relatively easy stuff such as how to keep a proper set of books so you don’t have tax issues. I wonder about the hard stuff that involves learning how to formulate ideas and how to express them. It’s the stuff that we don’t learn in school that forms our business education (and that means you too, MBA’s). It’s hard to get that while you’re on your own.
This trend of being on your own is going to continue and to grow as more companies downsize and robots of some sort begin to perform tasks once performed by humans. Who is going to program and service those robots? Independent contractors, no doubt. Maybe you?
I’m going to be a little self-serving today, but it’s based on a comment someone made to me the other day. You’ll probably be able to figure out what the comment was as you read on.
Imagine that on your way to an appointment a drop of something – coffee from someone’s cup, condensation from an air conditioner – spills onto your shirt. You’d see it and deal with it immediately if it was on the front of your shirt. If it spills onto the back, you’d probably not even notice it until some kind-hearted soul mentions it. That, dear readers, is why you need people like me.
When I grew up in the business world, I had a lot of people coaching me. My immediate boss and his boss were always ready to encourage me (and not always in the nicest of tones) and help me to grow. They let me know where the less-visible (to me) stains were. That situation is less common today in a world where there are a million corporations of one as opposed to a large company. Today’s smaller companies have much less institutional memory from which they can draw as well as less personal experience on the part of the founders and employees.
Part of what I do is to coach. I’ve run into some potential clients who tell me that they don’t need coaching, just more hands to do the work. While the latter half of that statement is assuredly true, they also need someone to point out the stains on their backs. Most consultants I know don’t have a political agenda. We’re not after your job nor are we burdened with your past or present. We are charged with helping you and your business to grow. No, you can’t do the latter without doing the former. A business is only as good as the people managing it. My peers and I are there to look at your situation and to help you reach your goals.
I’ve been doing “business” for almost 40 years (yikes!). In that time I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve seen a lot of others do the same. I’ve seen great managers and horrible managers. Part of what clients pay me for is an insurance policy of sorts. My experience ensures them that they won’t have to make the same mistakes I did. They get the benefit of the learning without the pain of the experience. What I and my peers bring is why football teams have coaches up high in the stadium – to get a broader perspective.
Most professional golfers have swing coaches. All sports teams do too. The coaches aren’t caught up in the second to second physical involvement that sport requires. They can see and protect your back. I can do that too, by seeing the parts of you and your business that you can’t or won’t see and by letting you know what’s going on in those blind spots. Call me?
I see that American Airlines and USAir announced their long-rumored merger this morning. I’ve flown over a million miles on American so I know it quite well. Over the years I’ve flown USAir from time to time but it I’m certainly not as familiar with it. Why do I bring this up?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve been through several corporate mergers. I was with ABC when CapCities bought it and then again when Disney bought CapCities. I was at CBS when Viacom bought it. From those experiences I learned a couple of things that I think have broader implications even if your company isn’t getting bought.
Mergers fail. A lot. In fact, studies indicate that somewhere between 50% and 85% of mergers come up short. I suppose that part of it has to do with the reason for the merger in the first place. If a company is buying another to eliminate a competitor the mission is accomplished no matter what happens to the acquired company. Part of it may be the enthusiasm for the merger blinding those involved to the potential pitfalls or wacky financing. But I think it’s primarily for another reason.
Simply put, culture. Think for a second about new immigrants to this country. They may not speak the language. They are unaware of our customs. They might not even know our laws. All of those things create resentment – look at the news and you can find many examples of it. It’s not that they’re bad people – their culture is different.
It’s no different when corporate cultures meet. There are almost always differences in management styles. How employees feel about the companies vary as much as do their benefits. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that one company is not buying another – you’re acquiring people! Those people may have been trained to have a different focus and how they measure success might not align exactly with your expectations. As with the immigrant example, helping them to learn the culture and to speak the language is an imperative.
I’ll be watching this merger with interest. I’m wondering if and how the cultural changes will manifest themselves to the flying public. If the managers are smart , the next year will be spent making sure everyone is on the same page and understands the cross-cultural changes. If they aren’t, like the vast majority of mergers, this one will fail.