Opinion 3: When Everyone’s a Consultant

The most comprehensive tax reform in 40 years increases the pass-through tax deductions by 20%.

Firms like PwC, Deloitte, and KPMG are prominent recruiters at all Ivy League schools including Harvard, where 18% of the 2017 graduating class went on to be consultants after commencement.

The number of individuals starting new businesses has been steadily increasing since the sharp decline in 2008. And companies like Liberty Mutual, where just this week it was announced 620 will be re-purposed or removed, are bringing in automation to increase their bottom line.

All of this activity is creating a perfect storm for an interesting outcome: the economy is swinging towards a high rate of self-employment.

Even with fear of instability an the fact that 80% of new businesses fail within the first five years, everyone want to be their own boss. Not only that, but automation is making traditional employee status almost as unstable as running your own one-person company. Automation has transferred the commodity of the worker from what can be done to what is known. Because of this and the influence of the Internet, those within the workforce are able to go into business for themselves, with tremendously fewer barriers to entry than even just a few decades ago.

There are a ton of benefits to being a contractor, consultant, or entrepreneur.

You are beholden to no one and no job. If you don’t like the specs of an offer, don’t sign on. If the project manager seems shady, say sayonara. Self-employment also gives you the option to reassess those conditions after each project. You set your own rate, and even though you have to handle your own taxes if the new rate passes it may be well worth it. There’s full autonomy; take as many or as few jobs as you want.

That also means, though, that you may not know where your next project will land.

You’re responsible for everything, including marketing yourself, managing any employees you have, ensuring all processes follow all laws and regulations, managing profit and loss, deciding how to reinvest, setting office hours and a whole slew of other things. It’s all on you. So there’s that.

Businesses see some benefit in hiring third-parties over true employees, too.

There’s a smaller investment in obtaining a consultant that a full-time employee, and there’s no HR costs like health insurance or 401K match. Contract workers are paid hourly, not salaried, which means you as an employer only pay for what you get and nothing more. Contracts for a single project give the stakeholders an opportunity to test drive the hire. If the powers like the work, other projects can be awarded or even a job offer extended. If not, both parties can walk away clean, with no termination negotiations. However, hiring a consultant or third-party means there can be no non-compete agreement, and often pay rates for those resources are somewhat or much higher than internal employees.

While it may be a slow process, the economy is leaning toward a preference for contract work, for individual contributors responsible for themselves coming together to create, plan, manage, build, and inform.

This will be key as we as a society take steps towards the omnipresent sharing economy and net-marginal cost.

Opinion 2: Being Agile in a Stuck Team

Hear the term Agile Development and you may have a very specific image pop into your head. A room full of (mostly) 30-something men in jeans staring at their monitors as their fingers fly across the keyboards and Red Bull litters the floor. Maybe I’m too swayed by mainstream television and limited personal experience, but that’s what I picture.

The raw idea of Agile is simple and not wholly original: fail fast. A goal is set, and then sprints are timed out to keep everyone on track. Daily or weekly meetings allow all stakeholders, both IT and LOB, to assess what is working and what isn’t. The last bit is what truly makes it an Agile process though; based on the assessment the team actually pivots to ensure they are on track to complete the project and do their best work. This could mean throwing out an entire week’s worth of work or lengthening timelines to ensure things are done well and best fit the consumers’ needs. The workplace becomes high energy, charged with the desire to do things right the first time while still being able to experiment with ideas a week at a time.

Agile Development has proliferated the world of the coder. The process fits software well because beta versions of an application can be continuously rolled out to end users and feedback can be elicited. Working Agile in less technical environments, however, is less common. Especially in an age when knowledge and process are high commodities, this technique can be easily applied to a number of LOB work environments.

In my (admittedly short) experience I have seen what I would call pseudo-Agile attempts outside of software development. Intentions going into a project are optimistic and the small group is energetic. Inevitably what ends up happening, though, is human traits get in the way of achieving the goal. An ego thinks a task beneath him, or an eager participant overstates their skills or other tasks are given priority for no reason other than personal preference. Some very human problem bubbles to the surface and soon all that enthusiasm has evaporated leaving the team to stew in frustration.

Sound familiar?

In my opinion this comes down to one key variable: Action, or lack thereof. To fail fast one must be able to fail at all, and to fail one must first act. Make a decision. It seems where software is concerned decisions are more prevalent and accessed more easily. Decisions in more human businesses (HR, consulting, management, finance, etc.) seem so much harder to come by. This could be for a number of reasons. Those responsible for making decisions may have been taught failing is bad, and therefore they’re trying to reach perfection on the first go. The decision maker may be overworked and overstressed. Hierarchy may create a silo in the decision-making process.

There are a lot of reason for not making timely, Agile decisions. There is only way to fix it though, and that is for you to start acting. Don’t schedule another meeting to talk about what the group can maybe do next week, and definitely don’t complain and complain and complain. All businesses can become Agile, and grow tremendously in the process. You just have to act.

I hope you enjoyed my first opinion piece.  While I am away from my precious microphone this will be my primary source of contact.  Comment at will, subscribe on Google Play, follow on Twitter @AmandaDarc_ and connect on LinkedIn.