Supply of Demand of Contract Workers during Economic Downturn
by Global Expert Systems
Strange but positive things can happen during an economic downturn. With rising unemployment from the traditional job sector, we tend to see a concomitant rise in the number of independent professionals, a.k.a. independent contractors or freelancers.
Government treasuries and tax departments are never fond of this because most freelancers tend to escape the income tax net and operate within what is known as the informal economy. However, that is not what GES is advocating here when we speak of independents, for a true freelancer will make sure that he or she is accounted for in the national system of employed persons.
At the same time, many argue that this is just a normal market correction and as companies shed workers to cut costs, the rise of the freelancer helps to adjust the true cost of labour and shift the burden of the social contract solely to the individual. This is not a bad thing. In fact, there is a very successful web portal that caters only to independent contractors both in terms of supply and demand in online word. GES recommends a visit to www.elance.com.
Where is the demand?
According to Elance’s Global Employment Report, for the first quarter of 2012, there is high demand for independents in creative, information technology and digital marketing. This comes as no surprise since at GES we are experiencing a similar demand across the Caribbean and even from our clients in South America, namely, Brazil.
Added to that, we recognise that small and medium sized enterprises are still demanding accounting services, event planning, telemarketing and project management.
Larger companies, on the other hand, still have a demand for labour but they are less willing to hire permanent staff and will contract on a project by project basis.
Interestingly enough, all three of the above mentioned high demand areas share the following:
1. A need for creativity
2. Innovative thinking
3. Critical thinking
4. Good writing skills (especially for content management, technical writing and manuals)
5. The ability to prepare good proposals to send out to prospective clients
The popular magazines and most literature on the subject will all invariably refer to some version of the six pillars or tenets of Talent Management. According to the Talent Management mag, these pillars are as follows:
1. Recruitment and retention;
2. Assessment and evaluation;
3. Compensation and benefits;
4. Performance management;
5. Learning and development;
6. Succession planning.
If the above are the pillars, we will contend that for talent to be most effective is must rest on the foundation of a clear corporate vision and strategy, buy-in from senior management, together with systems, policies and procedures that are objective, transparent and fair. GES also supports the use of technology and modern software applications, for there’s no getting around this in today’s world.
So, today we will focus a little on the second pillar — assessment and evaluation. And we further state that if talent management is ultimately about hiring and retaining the right persons, then there must be some form of ongoing assessment and evaluation of the employee’s performance. The reasoning behind this is quite simple.
Performance evaluation has a number of functions:
* Reinforce the core values of the organisation;
* Align job function to the employee skill set;
* Highlight areas for self-improvement and professional development;
* Inform the needs for training and development within the organisation;
* Highlight the gaps and requirements for talent within the organisation;
* Inform strategies for compensation, pay and promotion aligned to performance.
Now, of the six pillars we mentioned above, one can clearly see why performance evaluation would be one of the most contentious, if not the most controversial within the organisation. This is so because of issues of perceived fairness or lack thereof, bias, inconsistency, objective systems and procedures and a whole myriad of other problems commonly associated with this practice. So we ask the question, is some kind of evaluation better than no evaluation at all?
Well, the GES consulting position is clear and standard on this question. Performance evaluation is a must and an effort-reward system should always be linked to it, if not it simply defeats the purpose. Additionally, GES recommends procedures and systems that are agreed upon by all and that are clearly accepted to be fair and objective.
Of course, some kind of benchmarking is required and it is wise to shop around and to do the necessary research when thinking about implementing performance evaluation.
The 360 Degree Assessment Model — Freelancers hire freelancers
In this growing world of independent professionals there are also some interesting practices taking place. We have observe that:
1. A lot of cross-contracting takes places within the network of freelancers. For example, a good graphics artist may hire a good grant proposal writer and so on;
2. Very often, freelancers will barter their goods and services as a means to save money and ease their cash flow;
3. They tend to form alliances more easily;
4. These alliances very often evolve organically into working clusters and loose ad hoc organizations built around projects.
Our final piece of advice is to pay attention to these trends and try to develop the new skills that the market is currently demanding. We can never say it enough; do not become comfortable and complacent in your current job because the days of lifelong careers are pretty much over. Even the public sector that was once considered secure is now shifting toward employing workers on contract.
Trinidad has already made significant inroads in this direction and it’s only a matter of time before Barbados and Jamaica follow suit as we are forced to downsize the region’s public sectors.
The benefits of 360 degree assessments:
* The elimination of one-sided or top down assessment;
* It’s easier to detect inconsistencies;
* The employee is a lot more comfortable with this model because she or he is assessed from all angles;
* They inspire a sense and fairness and justice;
* They tend to be more transparent since it may be more difficult for assessors to collude and conspire.
* They tend to be user-friendly and driven by software.
In addition to this, there is currently a lot of debate on whether or not a 360 assessment should be anonymous. Our position is that for strict employee performance evaluation, anonymity, where and when it’s possible, is highly recommended.
However, the 360 model is also now very commonplace as a competency assessment tool. Here GES would recommend a little bit more openness and suggest that employees play an active role in selecting those who will assess them, though we give the final sign-off to management.
Like most forms of evaluation or critique, it is extremely important to temper the feedback process since most of us are not good at handling negative opinion. For this reason, performance evaluations should be conducted by persons who have been trained to engage and dialogue with employees when it comes to critique, however good or bad.
Finally here are some more recommendations to give legitimacy to performance evaluation within your organisation:
* Always link evaluation to some tangible or visible output:
* Salary increase
* Training and development.
Make sure that all stakeholders are involved in and buy into the performance evaluation your organisation chooses to implement. This is especially so if your staff is unionised. Do make sure that your union representatives have agreed to your policies and procedures.
Do not overlook the need for counselling since, oft times, a performance evaluation may reveal personality traits and behaviours that are truly unknown to the employee being assessed. And this can have dire consequences for both the employee and the organisation if not handled well.
All in all, talent management will not be effective without performance evaluation as this is one of the mainstays and a true and tested pillar of this practice.
* Next week we start a four-part series in “Retention and the role of employee training”. We will examine in this article, who is ultimately responsible for training — the employee or the employer?
For access to the entire series of GES articles in pdf. feel free to download them from http://www.scribd.com/GlobalExpertSystems.