Nothing is quite as disempowering as losing your job, or watching your friends lose their jobs in their droves. But don't let the past few years of the recession fool you: the structural change in the economy and the long-term trend shaping our working lives remains one of shifting power from institutions to individuals. The modern economy is about information, ideas, creativity and innovation. What companies need is real talent, and talent is still in short supply. It is employers, now, who need to work hard to attract talent, and the talented are calling the shots.
Just as consumers have been empowered by the information at their fingertips, sending the marketing world scrambling to redefine itself and offer true value, so too are employees empowered by services such as greatagreatboss.com to pick and choose where they want to spend their time and talent. We call this shift the People Revolution. Amandla is, at last, awethu.
How do we know this is happening? Full-time employment is no longer the only model. Especially in the services industry, or knowledge economy, talent and skills are mobile and freelancing is becoming increasingly common and desired, both as a lifestyle choice for those who demand more flexibility and for those for whom it was a necessity after the job losses of the recession. All a consultant or a designer needs is a laptop, some experience and innovative, brilliant thinking. Information itself is a commodity, and only a click away, and it is easy and inexpensive to network and build a personal brand - and thereby a client base - through digital channels.
Further breaking down the old belief in clocking in and clocking out is the growth of crowdsourcing, the ultimate flexibility and the ultimate meritocracy. What this means is that problems are essentially outsourced to the collective genius of the creative classes. Whoever solves the problem best is compensated for his or her ideas. An excellent local example of a crowdsourcing platform is Quirk's Ideabounty.com
And true people power is, of course, self-initiated. Where freelancing and crowdsourcing both respond to client needs, there is the well-documented explosion of user-generated content afoot. Everyone can now be their own boss; blogging and selling the adspace or making videos that capture the attention of sponsors. The democratised internet means that a bored student in Sandton can even have her own factory and empire - sending designs to China for prototyping and production and shipping direct to customers in France.
The future really is a flexible place, where work arrangements fluctuate and morph; people with the relevant skills come together for certain projects and then disband, moving in and out of formal employment and part-time multiple jobs as they outsource ideas and look for new projects that challenge and inspire them.
All of these shifts not only enable the talented to have the flexibility, stimulation and lifestyle they desire, but they also dramatically increase efficiencies and productivity. Wasted time is truly the individual's problem now, as no one has to pay for it. But then politicians have been telling us for decades that the flipside to freedom is responsibility.
But while unleashing the creative potential that was trapped in outdated organisational structures is exciting and necessary, it is also impractical for traditional employment to disappear altogether. Companies need some sort of commitment from employees in order to develop and grow. And those that can effectively channel the energy and creativity of the new generation will enjoy massive success.
So how are companies responding? Building employer brands is becoming as important as building consumer brands. Those companies that thrive on innovation, that require motivated, inspired, productive and creative workforces are implementing talent attraction and retention strategies that allow for flexibility, constant training and upskilling, and tap into the values of the Millennial Generation. Millennials look for employers whose values resonate with their own values of corporate responsibility and giving back, ethical business and making a meaningful difference. A recent UCT poll, for example, found that 90% of graduates prefer to work for a company that shared their social outlook rather than one that paid more1.
As with many things, Google provides a fantastic example of how to do it right. Google allows its employees 20% of their time to do whatever they want, allowing them the flexibility to pursue their own interests within their work environment rather than elsewhere. They also match the values of their employees by rewarding those who use carbon-free travel to work (such as walking or cycling) with credits that they donate to a charity of the employee's choice.
The very same empowered, confident Millennial Generation that are independent enough to throw out the old ways of doing things in favour of faster and more innovative solutions are also more likely than previous generations to be loyal to employers whose culture resonate with their values, as they believe more can be achieved collectively than individually. All the creative, intelligent and technologically savvy talent can then be channelled into proprietary innovation that creates great companies and market leaders.
As the need for innovation accelerates, so too does the People Revolution. Expect your company to start doing things your way.
1UCT-Unilever Institute report