Remember the old days?
Our fathers and grandfathers worked for the same company for 20, 30 or even 40 years. Generations of sons and daughters toiling under the protective arms of the “COMPANY.”
Today it’s more likely that we will outlive any organization that we work for.
It has snuck up on us. We turned our head and all of a sudden Corporate America is dying.
It is the result of a powerful force that has emerged in our society. Not a company or a new technology or even a new industry. It is the evolution of workers themselves. For the first time in history, there are more workers operating as “free agents” than there are people working for Corporate America. Fortune 500 companies no longer form the bedrock of our workforce.
How Has This Happened?This evolution has been rapid and decisive. It has occurred for a number of reasons. First, the social contract of job security has long been broken. Jobs are no longer sacrosanct at Fortune 500 companies. One day these firms are in expansion mode and the next they’re “laying off” 35,000 workers. Second, e-commerce and automation technologies have leveled the playing field so that smaller companies with less people could provide the same benefits as larger multi-national firms. This resulted in corporate re-structuring and downsizing. And finally the loyalty/security pact of the previous five decades has been broken. This was evidenced in the mid nineties when IBM broke it’s “full employment policy” by reducing it’s payroll by a whopping 120,000 employees. In this century, being loyal to a company does not guarantee job security.
What Does The Future Hold?Today the largest private employer in America is not Ford, General Motors, or even Microsoft. It’s Milwaukee’s Manpower Inc., a temporary help agency with over 1,100 office throughout the United States employing over a million workers. Temporary staffing has grown from a $1 billion industry to more than $80 billion while employing over ten million temps nationwide. It is estimated that there are over 33 million solo, self-employed workers. And there is an emergence of a new category called micro businesses. These are small businesses employing just 2 or 3 people to drive particular initiatives on either a full or part time basis. In fact, more than half of today’s companies have fewer than 5 employees! Don’t look to our government to reconcile this societal evolution. They’re a full century behind. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics still divides all workers into two categories: farm and “non-farm.” Figure that out.
What Free Agents LoveThe work ethic of free agent entrepreneurs is considerably different than corporate employees. These entrepreneurs crave, freedom, control, security, and loyalty. If you think about it, these are the very job benefits lacking in Corporate America. Today free agents come in a variety of forms, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, consultants, advisors, 1099ers, hired guns, nomads, etc. But their focus is on producing a measurable result for an organization rather than performing a specific role within it. Free agents tend to provide a higher return on investment for organizations because of their accountability to themselves rather than to a hierarchy.
FreedomFreedom is the ability to exercise one’s own will. Within the corporate cocoon freedom takes on the meaning that the company as a whole projects. Some companies smother their employees in affection others try to purchase individual freedom with stock options and incentives. Free agents can choose to follow their own work ethic. This extends not only to what they believe, what they do and where they do it but also WHEN they do it. Free agents have succeeded in melding work time with home time. Gone is the Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm ritual. Today they balance a full time home life with a full time work life.
ControlLife in Corporate America is about lining up behind the company culture and philosophy. Free agents can control their own destiny. Consequently they develop skills in areas which they desire to excel. They build relationships with those that match their business culture and paradigm. They focus on selling insight, talent, expertise, ideas, creativity and solutions rather than just performing tasks. They realize that what matters in the course of a day is what is accomplished not how many hours are worked.
SecurityThe last decade has been one of prosperity. Members of Corporate America had job security but that prospect is diminishing. While a high standard of living has reached deep into middle class many members of Corporate America do not feel that their lives have improved. This dichotomy has altered our expectations of comfort and prosperity. People are looking forward to more than just a comfortable retirement after four or five decades of “work.” People are realizing that it’s not good enough to work to make money and survive. They desire to work to make meaning for themselves and their families.
LoyaltyWith free agents loyalty does not run up and down an organizational chart. It runs from side-to-side in allegiance to clients, colleagues, teams, projects, vendors and industries. In this sense free agents are far more loyal than company men and women. Companies can also afford to be more loyal to free agents because they lack the overhead that employees bring. Both benefit from the free agent structure because whereas vertical loyalty within an organization depended on one connection (boss and employee) this new horizontal loyalty depends on many connections.
How It Impacts YOU!In the end I believe that we will see the free agent philosophy infiltrate every industry, profession and area of expertise. Those that are most prepared for this transition will benefit the greatest. Think about your own business. How could you use the “free agent mentality” to bring efficiencies to your business? If you’re an employer, how could you increase productivity and reduce overhead by employing free agents? If you’re an employee, how could you deliver greater production to your employer and increase your earning capacity by utilizing the above free agent infrastructure?