Masterclass | A Bold New Breed: How Leaders Can Embrace a Gig Mindset Culture

Gig-mindsetters are any entity’s secret weapon in these volatile times. Who exactly are they, and how can leaders nurture them? Jane McConnell, Ravi Venkatesan, and Santosh Desai offer different lenses to understand and encourage this new breed

Founding Fuel

Gig-mindset people are a breed of employees who can challenge traditional thinking and ways of working. In volatile times, this aids the organization to be more resilient and successful eventually. Jane McConnell, a leading researcher, organisational analyst and strategic advisor, has been researching the Gig Mindset phenomenon through a global study.

So, in May 2021, Founding Fuel’s held a month-long learning programme that began with a  powerful essay by Jane, titled Meet the Unconventionals. Her essay explores what lies behind the Gig Mindset phenomenon—and how leaders must encourage gig-mindsetters inside their firms.

Those who had registered for the programme

  • participated in two Clubhouse conversions (with Jane on insights from her latest book The Gig Mindset Advantage, and with two “unconventionals” inside Decathlon)—the links to both are at the end of this article.

  • received report on Gig Mindset: India & the World. This is a customised study that Jane had conducted in partnership with Founding Fuel, and is based on the responses to a survey with the participants

  • participated in a masterclass on May 24 with Jane, Ravi Venkatesan (board member, author and founder of Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship) and Santosh Desai (columnist, author, and MD & CEO of Future Brands). The session was facilitated by Kavi Arasu (Director, Learning & Change, Founding Fuel)

What follows is 6 takeaways from the masterclass and links to the two clubhouse chats.  

Six Takeaways from the Masterclass  

(By Sveta Basraon)

Here’s a 5-minute read on my top six learnings: 

1. Reading the pitch: The world of work 

  • Everyone talks about the skills one will need. Rarely do we hear about the mindset shifts required for the times ahead 

  • Individual capabilities began to emerge from “organisations in the digital age”

  • Yet leadership has remained in the command-and-control mode. And that’s leading to collision between what people can do and what they were able to do in the organisation

2. Why should we study change? 

  • The story of the 21st century is all about how we adapt to the greatest degree of change in human history.

  • Technology is just one of the factors driving this change.

  • It is about understanding the magnitude of change we’re going through and what’s ahead of us. And the skillsets, mindsets and strategies to cope with it.

  • Historically business has had a problem acknowledging that it’s a part of society. The idea that business was somehow immune to the larger forces shaping the world is giving way now and you need to study change as an ecology. You have to study how various things are interacting with each other

    • Questions of identity
    • Meaning of work
    • Impact of technology
    • What is it like to be young today
    • Even how sense of time is changing
    • You need to cast your net wide, and yet make sense of it and not do it one variable at a time.

3. What is shifting?

The idea of people taking initiatives on their own inside organisations, without going through the management approval process

  • This sounds very much like leadership. This is the essence of what leadership is all about.

  • Invariably other people join hands.

  • You cannot have change without people leading it, supporting it.

  • Very few CEOs complain about opportunities or resources. The scarce resource is leaders within the organization who will drive change. 

  • Leadership is an even bigger issue if you look at society at large—and what is happening with Covid is a case in point. Millions of ordinary people have stepped up to find ways to deliver oxygen, etc.

  • It’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This has to become the mainstream.

  • From the perspective of the individual, this is also really important. The defining skill of the 21st century is around leadership. If you are going to flourish now, you need to develop your leadership mindset and skills—the gig mindset. 

  • Gig mindset is about people anywhere in the organisational hierarchy. They are not necessarily the people at the top with formal authority.

  • Space (to make change) is something you have to create; rarely will you be given space on a platter. You have to grab the space, and if you can’t then move on and find the space elsewhere.

  • The idea that the organisation is the source of energy and individuals are components or resources with specific small roles within it, is getting challenged.

  • The wealth created in the past 15 years is based on ideas. And ideas come from people.  

Silos need to be broken in organisations. They often become territories for middle level organisations.

  • The idea of fixed labels and drawing boundaries around it—even notions of career and what counts as success—are being challenged in very fundamental ways. 

  • Work is life and life is work. Work is not something outside of life.

  • The nature of the problems we encounter do not respect boundaries. For instance, getting garbage off the streets—it isn’t as simple as it sounds. It needs citizens, government and companies working together.

  • Change is happening orthogonally to the way we are organised. We have to become much more boundaryless. And younger people are better at this. 

The No. 1 skill organisations look for is knowledge and skills. They also look for an ability to offer alternative opinions and to challenge assumptions. How can organisations identify such people?

  • The performance evaluation systems tell you nothing. Often people with these capabilities and mindset are difficult to manage and not easy to get along with. 

  • One of the questions Ravi has learnt to ask is, looking at where an individual has shown initiative, or how they’ve dealt with a difficult circumstance even outside a work context, or how they have dealt with failure.

  • The size of one’s network may be one parameter. But there’s a tendency these days towards mindless networking and self-promotion.

  • Is focus on minimising costs rather than improving operations or growth perhaps stifling ideas? 

    • The real distinction is whether you value the minds of people, or do you want people to do as they are told.
    • The reality of any business today is to continuously work on its cost structures. It doesn’t necessarily equate with crushing the human spirit.

4. What’s causing all this change?

  • Some of our fundamental concepts have changed. Just the idea of a mobile phone or a smartphone—and its compendium of capabilities—changes every individual’s relationship with the world. 

  • The idea of a fixed sense of identity is giving way to a more fluid identity. That I am A + B + C.

    • As a result, the idea of ownership is giving way to usership.
    • Ideas of career are similarly changing, driven by the individual rather than by social norms.     
  • The nature of work is changing. First of all, there are fewer jobs, and there is no such thing as job security as companies become more transactional. So, by compulsion more and more of us are going to have to learn to become freelancers. And develop a portfolio of projects. Careers will be more like an S curve rather than a ladder. So very soon, we are all going to be forced to develop this gig mindset

  • The other giant trend is longevity. The three-stage life of 20 years of learning, 40 years of earning and then retiring is gone. You’ll have to be a lifelong learner.

Are leaders feeling a loss of control and therefore they are resisting change? 

  • A title doesn’t make you a leader. In too many organisations people got there by wanting things to be more predictable. This shift is enormously discomforting to them.

  • They will become history as they couldn’t adapt. Or their organisations are going to become history because they didn’t let go of these people soon enough. 

  • They are not exposed enough to the edges of the organisations. A lot of leaders are guilty of wilful blindness.

  • The mental model of a centrally controlled organisation that moves in predictable ways, is obsolete.

5. So how should we prepare? What should we do?

  • Change is going to happen step by step, nudge by nudge, rather than in big dramatic ways.

  • You need to find ways to attract gig mindsetters.

  • What can you do for yourself, to develop your gig mindset?

    • You have to make sure you are interested in new challenges, keep learning and put yourself outside your comfort zone. And strengthen your gig mindset muscle.
    • Take on challenges that are different. Move to a different function, a different country. Or even a different industry.
    • Take on projects in the community. Where you have to lead by influence. You learn real leadership, working with people who are different from you, you learn problem solving. 
    • What makes you unique? It isn’t just about education and skills. It is important to bring all of yourself. What is valuable is what makes you different.
    • Imagine that if your job or organisation doesn’t exist tomorrow, what am I, what do I do, what can I do?
    • Think of the ways you describe yourself in the work context—and think beyond just skill sets.  
  • How do you nurture gig mindsetters?

    • Ask them to find a way to help 10 people around you. By doing this they develop a sense of agency, confidence and develop new skills.
    • You have to rethink what behaviours are going to be counted as successful.

How much does reflection on one’s experiences merit attention in these fast-paced times?

  • It is vital to sensemaking. Unless we are able to theorize the present as it happens, with the full knowledge that it is partial and may even get reversed, we will always be reacting and catching up with what is happening in the world. 

  • When you go from project to project, you need to pause and reflect on the learnings.

6. Top three things we should be doing now 

Ravi:

  1. Constantly refresh yourself by taking on new, bigger challenges to broaden yourself.
  2. Recalibrate what success means. Have an internally sound definition of success.
  3. Develop a strong spiritual life, given how everything around us is collapsing right now.

Santosh:

  1. Avoid giving fixed labels to ideas. That will limit imagination. Fluidity is important. 
  2. Be open to influences of all kinds. Inspiration comes from all spheres of life. So the more diverse our interests, the richer our ideas.
  3. Ability to empathise with a diverse set of people. It’s a foundational skill if you have to work with diverse people.  

Jane:

  1. Stoicism—it’s not just being stoic. There’s a whole relationship between you and others.   

Clubhouse Chat 1: How leaders encourage innovators, catalysts & outlaws

In this conversation with Kavi, Jane unpacks insights from her latest book The Gig Mindset Advantage, and the actions and behaviours she has seen on the ground. She talks about what is different now and why. And how leaders can discover and leverage this bold new breed of employees

You can read the session notes here.

Clubhouse Chat 2: Meet the Unconventional inside Decathlon

We meet two “unconventionals” inside Decathlon, and see the Gig Mindset phenomenon from their eyes.

The conversation with Sophie Criquelion (catalyst for diversity and inclusion at Decathlon Belgium) and Ravi Sinha (HR manager, Decathlon India) was facilitated by Jane and Kavi.

You can read the session notes here.

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