William Bout, Unsplash

The Emergence of the Gig Mindset

Jane McConnell
Oct 21 · 3 min read

People Movements Bring Change. The Gig Mindset Is No Exception.

First, people brought social to the workplace.

This happened with social networks, which entered organizations timidly over a decade ago, were upsetting to many senior managers, but have now become widespread: approximately 60% of organizations have a single network worldwide, and another 25% have multiple networks.

Then people led and won the BYOD debate.

BYOD is another example. Bring Your Own Device was frowned on, even forbidden, in most companies. People did it anyway. Why? Because they had no choice. They needed mobile to do their jobs. Today well over half of organizations officially allow it for work purposes. And most of the others accept it. Companies with the most successful customer-facing workforce also have the highest rate of BYOD.

I wrote about this in 2016: Tracking the Trends in Bringing Our Own Devices to Work in the Harvard Business Review. Exceptions occur of course in highly regulated industries or on sites with highly classified data.

Now the gig mindset is the new battle ground.

The organizational immune system is fighting a losing game against the gig mindset.

The formula for the gig mindset emergence is clear:

High people capabilities + stagnating work cultures + rigid leadership = birth of the gig mindset.

The first big obstacle to building a gig mindset culture is old-school leadership, anchored in hierarchy and command-and-control methods. A second, equally serious barrier which is in fact related to the first, is work practices. Although it is increasingly common today for people to self-manage their work, this has limited impact beyond the individual. They are not able to have a broader, change-inducing role because they are rarely solicited to give input to business goals and strategic plans. Above all, they are not encouraged to question status quo and propose radically new ideas.

As of 2016, individual capabilities, enabled by digital work environments, existed 80% of organizations. This included, but was not limited to, internal social networks, commenting on other people’s content, participating in virtual communities and conducting work in virtual team spaces. By this time, people could find expertise through information generated by individuals themselves versus official HR lists. Commenting on content openly including on official messages and blog posts from management meant that feedback gained company-wide visibility. The internal social network became a platform for informal communication, creation of work groups, and enterprise Q&A, asking and answering questions across the organization. All these capabilities taken together are part of how institutional and hierarchical barriers began to fall.

The new people capabilities came together at a point when work cultures were (and still are) stagnating. The freedom to self-manage and self-direct work now exists in just over half of organizations. Fewer still encourage people to give input to business goals and to challenge business models and work practices. When it comes to empowering people to reinvent work, including shortcutting processes to advance more rapidly, the figure falls to one out of 4 organizations.

Said another way, even though people, in theory, could self-manage their work, when it came to truly influencing how the organization works and reinventing work practices, it was not and still is not part of work cultures in most cases.

The underlying factor that blocks change is leadership. Very few organizations believe their top leaders work in an “open and participatory” way. The figure has hovered under 20% for several years. Fortunately, there are exceptions. These leaders are still outliers.

“If I as a manager don’t encourage the gig mindset, I would lose both the motivation and, in the end, the best people.” (Manager, global transportation company, Sweden)

The manager is right. There are little signs, slowly emerging, that illustrate that the tension between center/top and edges/bottom is shifting in favor of the second.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the gig mindset and its emergence in organizations. Please share your ideas.

The Gig Mindset Inside Organizations

Jane McConnell

Written by

Researcher, advisor for organizations in the digital age for 18 yrs. Currently exploring the gig mindset inside organizations.

The Gig Mindset Inside Organizations

The gig mindset inside organizations will be the real competitive advantage in the very near future.

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