You can create more opportunity with a career mission, especially when you don’t get distracted by traditional career or job search concerns like whether you have a “consulting” or “employment” relationship. Here I’ll share how you can create far more opportunity by changing your assumptions about work, tapping the Social Channel and aligning yourself with the emerging Knowledge Economy. To illustrate the point, I’ll use myself as an example because I’m a veteran of many types of “work arrangements.”
It’s the good news-bad news story of the almost-decade: legacy “work” and “jobs” have permanently gone by the wayside as the primary means for people to be productive in “modern” economies (bad news). However, people can create a higher quality of life by adopting a more flexible approach to work, and organizations are crying out for flexibility (good news).
Understanding Root Causes of “Unemployment”
In the 18th/19th/20th century Industrial Economy, employers were huge and inflexible, so they needed workers to “come to where the work was” and to not move around. Organizations grew largely through economies of scale and had high capital costs. The over-riding rule in that economy was, “Don’t stop the line!” (the large machine) People had to do repetitive and often brainless jobs, but, because they helped the large machine earn unprecedented profits, they were rewarded with consistent pay. Cultures grew to appreciate this as “stability.” It was a big part of the Industrial Economy social contract.
I entered business in the 1980s, just as the first wave of “reengineering” was underway. I was a career management consultant and served executives and workers in all industries, from investment bankers, floor traders, professors, attorneys, hospital executives and nuclear engineers to graduate students, CRT operators and hospitality workers. I had front row seats to the first crack of the Industrial Economy social contract. People were shattered because lifetime employment was the norm. Since that time, I’ve had my own businesses and worked for global consultancies and high-growth firms. My primary networks are executive knowledge workers, CEOs, CMOs and CIOs of firms sized from 1 to 1,000,000. As we have all progressed in our careers, we have constantly run into the “work packaging problem.” Understanding it is a start for creating more opportunity.
Work As Packaging
Tenures at knowledge worker “jobs” are trending shorter every quarter, and job searches are lengthening because fewer “permanent” jobs exist, and more people compete for them. On the flip side, there is more opportunity for alternate arrangements like consulting or interim roles because most people are accustomed to employment and don’t know how to tap the extra opportunity.
Many knowledge workers “consult on the side” during long job searches while others pursue consulting, as I have. Still others work in “temp” or “interim” arrangements. When people are “in transition,” though, most struggle with a perceived trade-off between “job search” and “consulting business development,” and that struggle produces a lot of mental resistance and reduces opportunity.
By rethinking the situation, I have discovered that the “work vs. consulting” trade-off is largely artificial and unnecessary. In my case, I lead firms’ strategic social business initiatives in high-risk/high-reward situations. Does it matter to me whether I join the firm as an “employee” or advise management as a consultant? It matters surprisingly little because those things are mostly “conditions of working,” packaging. Far more important to me is, what is the firm’s business strategy? How does it want to serve people? How can digital social technologies change how it adds value in meaningful ways? What is management’s and the organization’s readiness for changing the rules of their organizations and their market(s)?
Aggressive social business initiatives change the rules. That’s the kind of work I do. So the packaging of work is far down the priority list for me.
Work As Mission
Knowledge workers can increase their appeal as employees, interim executives and consultants by approaching their work as mission. Whether you are an engineer, a spreadsheet jockey, a video geek, or an M&A guru, you can find meaning in your work and look for situations aligned with your kind of mission. By doing this, you will make yourself far easier to hire, in any package. Here’s how it works:
- Search your soul for what you want to do on this Earth. Really. Obviously, “work” is only part of what you do, but it’s too big a part of one’s life to spend (just) “working,” especially when one has a choice. Use this as the compass for your career navigation.
- Commit yourself to caring most about this, and maneuver your work situations towards it. Blog about it, post questions in LinkedIn Answers, answer questions, and comment on blog posts and mainstream media stories (see link below for how-to guides for all this). Bookmark all these interactions using Pinboard, Delicious or your browser.
- These interactions will draw other people to you. Also reach out to other people who care on LinkedIn; build your network around your mission.
- Here’s how it works for me:
- My passion is helping risk averse people and firms to understand and use disruption ahead of the market. I’ve been doing it my whole career, but I only saw the pattern about seven years ago. I led my networking meetings, elevator speeches and blog posts with it, and now my network (and much of their networks) all know. And all my work is focused on it now.
- Social business changes the economics of relationship, so it will be the most disruptive “technology” ever. But there’s another aspect of “social business” that’s profound for me, and it grounds my current mission.
- Social technologies enable organizations to become more human because they make social interactions essentially free for the first time in human experience. Most organizations today are more machine than human because that was the Industrial Economy mantra. Business organizations, to be vital, must think about profit (it’s even one third of the triple bottom line). The good news is, social technologies make it efficient for organizations to relate, but the bad news is most have absolutely no understanding of what this means or how to do it. I lead them in transforming themselves while being more profitable. That’s my mission.
- When you care about your mission or a cause, the way you support it is no longer “work” because it has a higher meaning for you. When you talk about it, people feel it, and you resonate with other people who care that or something related. This can’t be faked, and it’s one of the strongest bonds you can make.
- Along with this, it is easier for you to talk about your mission. This is especially important online because online conversations are forever. When you show your care and intelligence about a topic, other people find it and are affected by it. It’s like an annuity that keeps earning interest.
- Any organization can buy “certifications” or “years of experience.” They can’t buy someone who really cares. Sure, your skills need to be more or less in the zone, but care is often far more powerful.
By approaching work as mission and putting yourself out there, you will attract people and firms who care.
How to Make it Happen
Although career development has not been my focus for 20 years, I maintain Executive Careers as a way to give back to my network. It’s loaded with how-to guides for using social technologies (and some offline tactics) to do all the things mentioned here and more.
- This may sound flip, but I’m serious: stop “working.” Start caring. I am not saying that any of us can wave a magic wand; however, if you give it serious thought and start putting yourself out there, change can happen surprisingly fast. You + caring = you get more work (and more satisfaction and often more pay).
- You can use work packaging to your advantage (here’s how I do this). Once you have a mission, you don’t want to waste time “drawing a paycheck”; you care more about making change happen. So you don’t want to overcommit to an organization until you know they are serious. So engaging in an interim or consulting role can be ideal to kick the tires. Moreover, more firms are “trying” prospects on short consulting gigs before making offers.
- The biggest challenge of consulting, whether you’re a member of a global firm or an independent like me is assuring yourself a flow of work. Here is where social networks change the rules. When you understand your mission, align your network with it and put yourself out there, it drastically reduces the time and effort necessary to find new work. This is not an overnight proposition, but the clearer your signal, the faster it goes.
- The biggest challenge of employment is, whether you or your employer decides on separation, it’s been an exclusive relationship, so it can require a long job search. In consulting, you often have multiple clients, so you only need to refill part of the pipeline.
- Joining a firm often represents a greater commitment on both sides, which can be an exciting proposition when it’s aligned with your mission. Rather than advising, you can lead the effort, which means dealing with the cultural challenges of transformation (if it’s an established firm).
- Having a mission will focus you on the outcomes you want to produce, which will make you far more attractive because you’ll be more aligned with the firm.
- By thinking through various “work packaging” arrangements, you dramatically increase your flexibility during negotiations. When you are mission- and outcome-focused, this makes it far easier to get work.
What are your experiences with “work packaging”?