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Managing the New Independent Workforce

In the age of the “human capital” economy, we are experiencing incredible shifts in the way people work.

Mark Lanfear

In the age of the “human capital” economy, we are experiencing incredible shifts in the way people work. Contingent labor, virtual workplaces, free agency, and the cloud are just some of the fundamental shifts currently taking place. As a result, management is faced with all sorts of new challenges: how to be more efficient, how to be sure that the work is actually getting done, how to watch compliance issues? If you aren’t already a micromanager, these challenges may drive you to become one in these pressure-filled times.

Micromanagement is most often defined as an extremely involved leadership team or highly developed and defined process. And we all need these things at times for purpose and focus. Yet despite best intentions, micromanagement in the form of frequent check-ins, discussions, reports, and conversations can interrupt our work and drive the efficiency quotient down in our labs and on our production lines.

The days of the insular workplace may be approaching their end, especially in the science industry. As the need to address the global marketplace has arrived, most companies have found they must free themselves from the constraints of bricks and mortar—as well as old-fashioned micromanagement.

Enter the professional flexible workforce— that large community of highly skilled “free agents” across the globe who can, and want, to work outside the boundaries of traditional employment engagements and locations. Various reports predict that half the U.S. workforce, or about 70 million people, will be independent workers by 2020 and that the demand for seasoned skilled workers will grow as companies start to see the value of engaging people outside traditional workplace constraints and traditional workforce models. In fact, it is not uncommon for many Fortune 500 companies today to draw 20 percent or more of their professional workforce from a flexible talent pool.

Trying to tightly manage a group of loosely woven but highly functional professionals like this would be an exercise in futility for even the greatest of micromanagers. Therefore, the time of micromanagement may have passed, not only because of the rise in expert consultants throughout our industry but also because of the need for all of us to prepare for the next generation of talent that highly directs its own type of engagement.

New strategies for management must be accepted. Generation Y workers, for example, when managed properly as free agents, can elevate the quality of a company’s product because of the high level of education and skills that they bring to the table.

But strong-handed management from a decade ago must realize that some of the foundations of that management style will only reinforce a generational divide and cause a degree of lower production that that very micromanagement was meant to address! Uniformity is a formula for failure with millennials in the workforce.

Managers and the organizations they work for and oversee have a host of new challenges with this workforce. The tactics that will ultimately prove successful will be based on understanding differences much more than understanding similarities. A new management technique, especially in the form of moving away from the over-scrutinizing manager, will no longer be optional in order to engage with the hardwired and fundamentally different and younger generations that will come to define and influence the world of work. Members of Gen Y expect and need dialogue and input. They will expect interaction regardless of rank or role. And straightlined organizational structures just won’t work for them.

The world of work has changed, and the social hierarchical system (once called management) has changed too. Whether it be the highly educated returning consultant or the next generation of slick social media- driven college grads, any leader who wants to harness the full potential of the workforce is putting down the weekly reports, cutting out the need for daily updates, letting go of the minutia, and having meaningful dialogues with expert talent to accomplish business goals.

As the prayer goes, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Managers, pencils down! Time to leave micromanaging behind and enter the new workplace where meaningful goals, directions, and dialogues are the spreadsheets of the day.