The Free-Agent Workforce: Leading in 3D
I was talking to a group of leaders recently about a change initiative that was clearly falling apart before their eyes. One of the more senior managers in the group was lamenting about how much harder this change was from another similar change he presided over several years ago. The group felt like they were pulling all the right levers, but none of them worked anymore. Something big had happened inside their workforce.
This leadership team was facing a phenomenon I’m seeing more and more – managers trying to “steer the ship” to get results, only to realize they are flying a plane instead. And if you ask any Navy pilot, the big difference between sailing and flying is that a plane moves in three dimensions, where a ship only travels in two. Up and down isn’t an option on the water, but it’s everything in the air.
In the same way, there’s a new dimension to the workforce that fundamentally changes the levers you use to manage and lead - the free-agent perspective of knowledge workers. Increased access to information and a stronger sense of purpose and self-determination, coupled with a lack of trust in the traditional organization, all add up to a mindset in the workplace that “we’re all just here for a little while.”
Authors like Seth Godin and Daniel Pink have been writing about the Free Agent Nation phenomenon and its implications since the late 1990s, but the main focus has been on “going 1099,” not free agency inside the organization. In an excellent new Kindle book called The Blue Jean Manifesto, Julie Maloney does a great job of describing the new knowledge worker mindset and the strategies these workers are beginning use to manage their careers as a series of projects inside the big house. I was struck not just by the implications for workers, but the huge impact it has on how those workers are managed and led.Continued on the next page