From Gigs to Purpose: The Purpose Economy & Portfolio Roles

Mindsets shape our perception. – A large sign that needs to be placed in all workplaces

The changing nature of work is growing greater attention in the business press and in the strategy teams of large and small organisations.  New ways of working and new platforms of work are gaining traction and much handwringing is going on about the potential “post-job” future of work.

Many organisations see the changing nature of work as an opportunity to use transactional platforms to lower employment costs and deliver a greater flexibility of resources. They see platforms that offer a highly competitive pool of temporary and flexible labour as solely an efficiency play. Much of the investment and energy behind these platforms have been driven by the idea that they can take advantage of a struggling and transforming post-crisis global economy, digital technology and new work patterns of work to deliver real cost savings to organisations. That focus on the transactional efficiency benefits of Gig Economy reflects the prevailing mindset on the purpose of work and organisations. These organisations often can’t see that there is another way.

I was recently asked why I wanted to work in the Gig Economy. My answer was that I don’t. I work in the Purpose Economy. A traditional organisation might see an opportunity for efficiency and flexibility through a pool of transactional gig workers. I am looking for flexibility, purpose, relationships, collaboration and learning through a diverse portfolio of rewarding work.

I don’t join large scale platforms that atomise participants, commoditise work, create competitive dynamics and are designed for value capture to the platform (for more read Harold Jarche’s excellent description) . The transactional efficiency mindset of business is strong and deeply embedded. For many people, this has become the only way of business. It is all that they can see. However, there are other more purposeful, more valuable and more human ways of working. Breaking this mindset and setting out in a different pattern can be richly rewarding.

What impressed me as an adviser to Sidekicker was the team’s focus on relationships with both their workforce and their clients. They are looking for skills, talents and a better way of working with benefits to both workers and clients in areas of the market like event management staff where that is a rare mindset. The mindset of doing repeatable high quality business in a relationship for mutual gain is a valuable proposition in a world of atomised marketplaces.

I recently blogged about becoming an adviser to Peer Academy. This platform focuses on helping participants to collaborate, work and learn as peers. The learning and collaboration focus of this platform makes it a far more valuable and purposeful solution for organisations and participants.

I am a participant in Change Agents Worldwide because first and foremost it is a network about relationships, collaboration and learning. Change Agents Worldwide seeks to create value through scaling the efforts of individual Change Agents, but it recognises that it must first deliver value to the individual, cannot compete with them and must allow them to shape their participation and their work. A true network needs remarkably few rules to help individuals pursue their purpose, learn from others and to deepen relationships.

Ultimately, my work is driven by my purpose of making work more human. I write, speak, consult and coach towards this end. The portfolio nature of my work enables me a diversity of projects that contribute to this goal. My future success depends on what work I do, what relationships I build and what I learn. I have an entrepreneurial drive to improve my proposition to better fulfil my purpose. I get to build relationships that shape what I work on, what I learn and with whom I work.

A purposeful portfolio also helps diversify my risk and ensures a more consistent flow of rewards. I’ve been subject to far greater income risk and far more atomisation as an employee than I have ever experienced as an independent worker. Critically the nature and amount of those rewards remain in my control and are agreed through relationship conversations, not market place bidding, bell-curve performance processes or restructures. Not all the rewards are cash, I shape the value that I share in my work.

Before your organisation considers a new model of work for its efficiency gains, consider whether there is a wider benefit in exploring the potential of deeper relationships, richer purpose and more responsive work. Leveraging these opportunities will require you to consider many new areas of organisational work in 2017, but particularly:

  • What do you offer the purposeful worker? Is your organisational purpose clear enough to shape your work?
  • Is your employee & worker experience good enough to attract, to retain and to leverage the contributions of those working in the purpose economy? Are you treating temporary labour as an equal member of your teams or as second class citizens?
  • How does your organisation onboard, collaborate and learn at scale, especially with those who may not care for your processes or be seeking a career in your organisation?
  • Are your team structures and work processes agile enough to incorporate and benefit from the inputs of your new workforce?
  • Can your management capabilities, models, policies and systems handle the networked organisation and a purposeful workforce?


PS: An example of the limiting power of mindsets is that we now need to clarify the meaning of ‘gig economy’.  Language that came out of the creative professions to reflect their flexibility in pursuit of purpose becomes redefined in a corporate mindset to transactional efficiency.

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