Short but interesting article on how business is responding to the rise of sovereign professionals by using this new, highly skilled and flexible workforce to power more agile and innovative business models.
This idea has been bubbling around for a few years. Back in 2012, Andrew Burke‘s research showed how freelancers contributed to both agility and innovation within firms (The Role of Freelancers in the 21st Century British Economy). Burke is now Dean of Trinity Business School and Chairman of the Centre for Research on Self-Employment.
Of course, the Irish management writer Charles Handy foresaw all this in his 1990s books The Empty Raincoat (1995) and The Age of Unreason (2002). The ideas, however, finally seem to be gaining critical mass and traction with larger businesses.
In the last couple of years, Accenture have identified the move as one of the key trends in their annual Technology Vision:
Firms like MeasureMatch (a client of mine) are appearing to answer the need for reliable, responsive marketplaces to match buyers with the sovereign professional suppliers.
It’s an exciting time to be a sovereign professional.
History Today has a piece by David Long on the employment status of the average priest in Medieval times.
As various professions like Law were emerging, the Church was well established as a career of choice, easily overlapping power in the secular and spiritual worlds. A young priest from a well-heeled family could afford a good education and a professional role as a prince (or at least senior manager) of the church.
The average priest-in-the-street, however, had more of a portfolio career, picking up priesting gigs in the neighbourhood and mixing those with other consulting and “enforcing” jobs.
Long parallels this “hollowing out” of the front-line parish profession with today’s “ever more casual and commercialised” professions.
I think it’s simply another reminder that our perception of work as a solid, predictable, 9 to 5, 18 to 65, activity is a relatively modern (and fleeting) construct of the Industrial Revolution. Work wasn’t like that before, and it won’t be like that after.
Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash
Seth Godin makes an interesting observation on the meaning of “competence”:
It doesn’t take a genius to see that competence is no longer about our ability to press certain buttons in a certain sequence. Far more often, competence involves the humanity required to connect with other people, in real time.
The wider point is that the more that AI and tabloid-terrorising robots accomplish, the more important will be the “human” skills that technology can’t offer. As Seth says,
It requires emotional labor, not merely compliance.
And, of course, that is where the sovereign professional – whatever his or her particular field – will add value and earn the rewards.
Photo by Simon Wijers on Unsplash
The Sunday Times reports that the Chancellor is considering another attack on sovereign professionals. The concern seems to be, as before, “disguised employment” and the Sunday Times’ coverage is couched in terms of “levelling the playing field” and “significant tax advantages”.
The reality of course is different.
When running properly, individuals operating through personal services companies are each individual businesses carrying all the risks of business and not enjoying the corporate comfort blanket benefits of traditional employment. If the cost to the client company is higher than employing a traditional employee (and often the fully loaded costs are not as far apart as crude comparisons of “day rates” suggest), then the client business benefits from flexibility and agility that no commitment, on-demand services provide.
A tax raid risks damaging the supply of this important flexibility while also increasing the cost to client firms. This has already been seen in the public sector where restrictions similar to those imagined here have already been implemented. It’s a short-sighted and ill-considered move.
Does “disguised employment” actually exist? I’m sure it does. A number of recent court cases suggest that there has been a trend for some employers to seek the cost benefits of using freelance contractors whilst retaining all of the control traditionally associated with “permanent” employment. Those cases should rightly be pursued, but not by painting the self-employed as either downtrodden, abused workers or system-abusing fat cats.
Being a sovereign professional is a choice. It has real benefits – not least in flexibility – but it comes with risks, costs and responsibilities. A suitable test of employment would investigate the extent to which those risks are real, rather than simply punishing providers of needed skills through a flexible model.
Photo by Lily Lvnatikk on Unsplash
Execupundit Michael Wade reminds us of a quote from Sophocles:
Kindness begets kindness.
…which maybe sounds a little platitudinous, until you realise it is at the heart of Robert Cialdini’s first Principle of Influence: Reciprocity.
Too often, we think of reciprocity as something transactional but, in reality, it needs to be a longer term, less expectant behaviour. “Kindness” is not far off.
I was reminded of this listening to Jason Sibley (@JasonCreation) of The Creation Agency at Marketo’s Marketing Nation event, last week.
Here’s a useful reminder of all six principles from Cialdini’s site:
Photo by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash
We love big thinking. We love making decisions. Too, often, we are less fond of down-and-dirty execution.
A salutary reminder from Nicholas Bate, here.
Photo by Mikito Tateisi on Unsplash
Callie Oettinger on StevenPressfield.com talks about the highs and lows of the independent creative. Also, the need to fight:
Be prepared to fight today. Be prepared to fight tomorrow. Be prepared to fight every day that follows.
And if you cross paths with a rabid wolf, don’t let it steal your soul.
Hold on tight and fight.
Fight for your ideas.
Fight for your work.
Fight for your mind.
Fight for your body.
Fight for everything you hold dear.
Photo by Ryan Cryar on Unsplash