Teaching a class designed to help improve job acquisition and retention during a major recession has taught me an apparent oxymoron. Job security results from adopting a free agency state of mind (apologies to Billy Joel:).
The Ready to Work(“RTW”) program was designed to insure Alabama workers were “ready to work” when they started at the new high-tech Mercedes plant. Ten years and 50 locations later, the RTW is now a personal productivity program for the unemployed. Working with businesses while teaching, I noticed that, between Obama care and the flattening of the new internet competitive landscape, companies were not only not hiring FTE’s anymore. Companies were shedding long-term plans for short-term projects. As a result, these self motivated, definitely day one productive graduates were not finding those permanent positions of yesteryear.
This led to teaching job seekers to look for project work based on their best skills. Those with computer skills might do spreadsheet or database projects for companies. Those with mechanical or electrical might look for short-term project work as independent contractors. This got them work and, in a few cases, that led to full-time employment.
The hardest part of this transition to free agency, independent contractor status was mental. Most attendees, and many employees, still equate a job with security. They fail to see what free agents have always known, the only security is through performance. And not just performance but also your last performance. Work for a client for five years and then mess up a project this week and watch what happens. Relationships still matter but in this fast changing climate, performance is gaining importance.
So now I counsel employees to approach their job each day as a free agent. As a consultant, I know everyone I touch in my work is a potential evaluator of my work. As a teacher I know the student evaluations are the last word. Both cases keeps me striving to live the golden rule each day and make sure my work merits payment and a future recommendation.
Growing mental satisfaction represents the biggest payoff from this approach. When you give your best, as often as you can, your self-esteem gets a pay raise every time. And while the names on the checks change, the security that comes from satisfied customers is better than the worry of job layoffs.
So if you are between jobs, focus on your marketable skills and start pitching projects to as many companies as possible. Cobbling three or four projects together to make ends meet is the new normal for income generation. Skills, not titles or tenure, is the currency of choice in the era of connectivity.
And if you still have a job, why not spend the next quarter acting like a consultant hired to do your job. By acting like a free agent, you may never have to become one. And if I am wrong, you’ll be ready for the change. Now that’s a win/win!