Archive for ‘The “New Normal”’

April 16, 2012

Crowdsourcing, outsourcing, offshoring, oh my!

I read a blog post about freelance talent overseas being used as a replacement for full-time in-house employment and something didn’t sit right. (

The author used the term “crowdsourcing” to refer to this type of employment agreement and I think that the term does not always apply. The human resources functions of most organizations are not sophisticated enough to use crowdsourcing to work on project teams effectively outside of software development. Many of the newest outsourced virtual freelance employment is in the accounting, legal, and marketing occupations and those are less frequently a distributed group of people working on the same task and more frequently one person sitting in a dark room with a computer emailing documents back and forth.

This made me think, however, of the potential of a more mobile workforce with virtual teams that may or may not be freelance talent. A draft paper on another colleague’s blog ( highlights a lot of information on this topic and I’m not even close to being equipped to get into that kind of detail here. The basic link, though, is that we need not be necessarily moving towards chaos here if we are good at planning ahead as HR/OD people.

The virtual team is a rich environment where possibilities for collaboration may even be greater than project teams in-house. Greater diversity of thought can be accomplished, if you put the team together with that in mind. You can even assess the learning styles and collaboration styles of all the potential members and compose a team that has a better chance at productivity than when you’re stuck with the usual gang. Just as in “real life” the virtual positions should not just be filled with those who have technical expertise but who also are able to work well with others, give appropriate feedback, ask the right questions and innovate because they love what they do.

Some of these jobs may be overseas. I hear a lot of panic about the future of work in the US and I don’t think it’s all justified. Accounting has seen a lot of offshore outsourcing in the industry, and it is picking up with the legal profession. These professions have been hit very hard in the recession and a lot of change is happening that does equal fewer opportunities in the US for the long-term. Manufacturing, textiles, technology, and more are already spread all over the developing planet. None of this is new to us but when it starts happening to the white collar jobs it becomes a crisis? I hate to be cliche but we’re Americans. Working hard and beating the odds should still be in in our blood.

The challenge is to realize that the world is a global marketplace for talent, and that does not need to be scary. Your skills and experience are your commodity.  I had a job once that was offshored and I was crushed because I thought I had job security. This was ten years ago. I found a way to translate my skills into a new profession that was related to my old job. This is no time for complacency – you need to be active in your development on your job, off your job, between jobs, and despite jobs. Do what you love and you will be able to find the spark to keep going until the next change happens and you’ll be able to figure it out again. Everything is moving faster and requires agility, tenaciousness, and resilience. It can be as empowering as it is defeating. It’s not easy. We need education to partner with HR/OD to help plan the workforce of the future together instead of giving everyone the 50 year-old questionnaire in high school.

March 26, 2012

MY development, MY career. What, I’m selfish?

They say one of the reasons why a New Normal for jobs needs to be established is the generational shift in our workplace. Often the conflict is characterized as the struggle between the different working styles of the Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials but I think there is also an interaction with the different workplaces that can be characterized as such as well. The cultures, independent of the time they were founded but informed by them, can be influencers on the individuals who work at these organizations as much as the employees’ impact on the cultures. And that complexity is easily lost in translation.

A recent article in Forbes laments the shift (“Millennial Generation’s Non-Negotiables: Money, Fame And Image” to the ‘me’ generation workforce. I don’t argue that there has not been a shift, but I am not so sure about the assumption that people’s attitudes towards work has a cyclical nature.

I see some links between what is perceived as individualism and work that leadership development and talent management professionals have been doing to get people to own their development and own their careers. We tell leaders to help people help themselves, and that management has turned the corner from paternalism to a more cooperative and innovative values-based situational framework. This sets the stage for people to find what they want to do for a living based on what they are good at, and for companies to recruit workers who expect to be developed and nurtured.

And then we call them “millenial” and “selfish.”  I’m not saying that some of the broader critiques of the Kardashian generation aren’t justified – but the interplay between the observed phenomena and what structures, policies, and procedures are considered to be the cutting-edge of human resources and organizational development also needs to be considered.

An extreme example of this is the CultureRx organization’s ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) initiative that’s getting quite a bit of attention lately (  Their position is that as long as an employee is getting her job done well, then the organization should not control her time, resulting in greater ownership of the task and the goals of the company. I’m not skeptical but I know this may only work in some environments. But if this is where even a portion of our organizations are going, why should we fault the up-and-coming workforce for expecting it as such?

March 20, 2012

The “New Normal” for jobs – a start

I disagree with the author of this Daily Beast article, “Job Market’s Tough ‘New Normal’: Some Careers Aren’t Coming Back,”( in characterizing what the future of jobs is going to look like, although I agree with the premise.

First of all, he characterized jobs being split between men and women in a stone age kind of way: men lift heavy things and women work in offices. And I think it’s an oversimplification to say we’re moving towards a service industry by and large. I think the service industry is bloated right now as a transitional phase as we need to go back into innovation and technology as our populace transitions in education and training to meet those needs.

But it is true that many of the careers that have worked for the past fifty years are not going to be particularly good for long-term growth. And there does need to be a new normal.

One of the more interesting articles I’ve read in the past couple of days talks about the 40-hour work week, another pet interest of mine. In “Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity,” ( the author describes the different number of hours of safe and productive work that apply to different professions. The knowledge worker, turns out, is better on 6 hours of work rather than 8 hours. There’s a lot of historical background in this article and a good summary of some of our current challenges.

I would posit that a real new normal for most jobs would look something like this: 12 hour workdays, two 6-hour shifts with two different people (job sharing approach), real full-time salaries for both, European standard 4 weeks of vacation to start, and one month paternity/maternity leave standard.

In my company, as in most, we are global and have meetings that run into all hours to accommodate our team members’ schedules. A 12-hour work day would make it possible to pretty much make global partnerships run more smoothly. With two people working as a team to share a job, they could be more productive as they ferment ideas between one another and play off of each other’s strengths and development needs. More productivity would mean that companies could afford to pay each individual a real salary. There are studies that I’ve read that discuss the value of teamwork versus individual contributors – I am going to look those up and post about them in the next blog entry. Four weeks of vacation is pretty self-explanatory. There is a very good reason that it is the law in Europe. Finally, the paternity/maternity leave is just a pet peeve of mine that I want to throw in. I was only given three days paternity leave and had to take another five of my vacation for my son’s birth and I could have really used a month. As it was, he was not a sleeper and I felt like a zombie for six months anyway, but having the first month with him would have helped a great deal since my wife had a long and painful recovery from the birth.

I’d love to get some feedback on this plan – it’s obviously very rough but it just seems so right to me…

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