Welcome to a World of Free Agents!

Here’s an excerpt from my book STAND OUT! – Branding Strategies for Business Professionals.

 There is a broad shift in power from the organization to the individual. More and more people in traditional jobs – the permanent, year-around, full-time, outside-the-home employment arrangement that is the basis of nearly all American labor and social assumptions – are dissatisfied and want to be in charge of their own lives.

 In general, people have had a strong underlying need for meaningful, purposeful work. Abraham Maslow, the famous American psychologist, recognized that deep human drive when he wrote in his journal forty years ago: “All human beings prefer meaningful work to meaningless work. If work is meaningless, then life comes close to being meaningless.” In a society in which workers have a level of comfort, work takes on a larger purpose – one that many organizations seem incapable of accommodating. Paychecks and stock options still matter, but work is not just about making money. It’s also about making meaning.

People strive for the freedom to follow their own path and purpose. They are searching for autonomy, challenging assignments, setting their own priorities, gaining new skills or knowledge, and defining success on their own terms. That’s the work ethic of the new economy. If corporations are not capable creating that environment, people increasingly exercise their freedom to do that on their own. In organizations, people move up the ranks until they stop having fun. Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, calls this The Peter-Out Principle, a variation on the famous Peter Principle, which says that people rise through the ranks of an organization until they reach their level of incompetence. The best strategy for managing employees isn’t to bribe them, but to treat them like free agents. Lead your employees as if they are volunteers.

Daniel Pink estimates that there are 33 million free agents in America. That is one in four American workers. I declared my own independence by quitting my traditional job in 2001 to become a free agent.

A prime example of a free agent model is Hollywood’s movie industry, where a bunch of talented actors, directors, writers, technicians and cameramen come together for a finite project with shared interest and a clear business purpose. Everyone brings brainpower, creativity, skill and commitment to the project. When the movie is completed, they disperse – each project member having added a new skill, forged new connections, deepened existing relationships, enhanced their reputation within the industry and earned a credit they can add to their resume. Each free agent moves on to their next deal, from project to project, gig to gig, and so it goes.

Advance Your Career

Here are some words of wisdom from Beverly Kaye who is widely known as a leading authority on talent retention, career development and mentoring. In addition to her best-selling books, she has written more than 40 articles for trade publications. She is a popular resource for national media, including The New York Times, Time, Fortune, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, USA Today, and a variety of professional magazines. Clearly, Beverly Kaye has earned her seat at the table of leading business experts. Here are her words of wisdom for advancing on your career path.

Chart your career course –Your career is your creation. So when was the last time you really gave serious thought and time to planning it?

If it’s to be, it’s up to me – Some people are tempted to hold others accountable for their work satisfaction. Most find over time that those others can’t or won’t deliver what’s wanted and needed.

 Ultimately, you choose your career, your boss, your team and your organization. You decide how long to stay and you have the power and influence to improve your work. Accept that responsibility, complete with its challenges, and you’ll get more of what you want from your work and your workplace.

Give it to get it –First and foremost, make sure you’re a solid performer (meeting your goals consistently). Solid performers almost always get more respect. 

Ask and you may receive – If you don’t ask, you’re less likely to get what you want. It seems so simple. Yet some people hold back. They expect their bosses to read their minds. Don’t expect others to take the first step. Don’t make them guess, because most often, they’ll guess wrong. Be clear. Be prepared. Be collaborative, and then ask for what you want.

Job Judo – Go with the energy – In the martial art of judo, you use the momentum of the other person to increase your own energy and effectiveness. You build on the energy coming your way. Similarly, in job judo, the key is to build on the energy that comes from doing what you love. Think about what energizes you. Then find a place to invest that energy.

Up is not the only way – Most folks seem to think they need to move out of their current position to develop. This has never been less true. You can enrich your current work by expanding the job, refining your expertise, or finding depth in areas you really enjoy.

Link and build the connection – This means teamwork, collaboration, interaction, sharing, information, coordination and networking. All these activities are vital in this high-speed, high-tech, ever-changing world of work.

Opportunities? They’re still knocking – To uncover opportunities in your organization, tell someone you are looking for them! Oh – and make sure that when the opportunity knocks, you not only hear it but are prepared to open the door.

An excerpt from STAND OUT! Personal Branding Strategies for Business Professionals by Simon Vetter.