by Shayne Thomas
03 Feb 2021
Applying ‘Gig Economy’ Principles to Employee Development and Growth
A few thoughts on why we’re testing out this new, innovative, and truly creative approach to employee learning and development
Companies are constantly on a quest to come up with new ways to develop and grow their employees. Sure, the tried-and-true methods—many of which we support wholeheartedly—are tried-and-true for a reason. Because they work. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to get creative and potentially test out a few new approaches.
That’s exactly what we’ve done recently at Cornerstone. We’re always looking for new ways to challenge ourselves and to disrupt the status quo. So we looked outside of the realm of HR for a little inspiration—and in doing, we noticed some prevailing socio-economic and socio-cultural norms that gave us a few ideas.
Today, our lives are heavily influenced by the likes of Uber, GrubHub, TaskRabbit, and other gig-based services. These businesses are propped up by the labor of non-salaried “gig workers” who are paid on either a project- or hourly-basis for the services they offer on behalf of larger companies that, more often than not, leverage user-friendly tech as the intermediary of that service-based experience. This is what’s known as the “gig economy.” As Investopedia defines it:
“In a gig economy, temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies tend to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees. A gig economy undermines the traditional economy of full-time workers who rarely change positions and, instead, focus on a lifetime career.”
By no means is this a way of suggesting that you do away with your full-time employees and lean more heavily into contractors workers moving forward. But this entire gig economy concept got us thinking about its potential application as an innovative and slightly unorthodox strategy and tactic for employee development and growth within companies themselves.
A “gig” mindset encourages businesses to think a bit differently
One of a business’s biggest responsibilities is to create an environment that allows employees to succeed, thrive, and grow into their careers. Oftentimes the weight of this responsibility rests on the shoulders of HR and, more directly, managers. As a starting point, many businesses will embrace learning—with the help of solutions, like Cornerstone Learning—so that managers can work with their employees to develop a learning-driven growth plan that can help them go from where they are today to eventually reaching their career goals.
Although we are a big proponent of learning and development as a way to propel employees along their desired career paths, sometimes hands-on experience is what’s really needed.
This is where the “gig” mindset comes into play. Employees want to gain new skills and work towards their stretch goals. Today’s younger employees are especially keen on taking proactive ownership of their career growth in ways that past generations simply didn’t. Obviously, this is a sign of the times—oh, bless them millennials!—where employees don’t want their professional future to be beholden to their superiors or necessarily “follow the rules” just because “that’s how it’s always been done.” And it’s changed the employee-manager relationship in a big way.
Not to mention, the best managers know that they’ll get the best results out of their teams when they put the time and energy into making their employees as successful and happy as they can be. Plus, they don’t want their employees getting bored on the job and, as a result, seeking out a new job opportunity due to sheer career stagnation.
Create employee growth opportunities around short-term internal “gigs”
There’s never a shortage of work that needs to get done. In fact, many organizational leaders have “pet projects” or other cross-functional initiatives that they’d like to see through but don’t always have the dedicated resources to make it happen. This is where the gig economy model can become an interesting solution for achieving both a leader’s and an employee’s goals.
Every company is a bit different, so the parameters you use to deploy a “gig” employee development and growth strategy may vary slightly from this example here. Either way, here’s a hypothetical way this can work within your business. Say, a leader posts or emails a “gig” announcement to the entire company looking for volunteers to help out on a short-term, yet high-impact company-wide initiative. The “gig” doesn’t come with extra pay or a new title. It’s simply a way to offer interested employees an opportunity to do something outside of the realm of their day-to-day work and get a chance to work with new people.
It’s a win-win across the board. In this case, the leader is happy because he or she can finally see through a key initiative, much less with the support of employees who are equally enthusiastic and motivated to bring it to life. And for employees, it’s an opportunity to expand their horizons by taking on new tasks, learning new skills, and working with different teams. It’s not a replacement for their day-to-day work, but it’s certainly a way, even if for only a month or two, to add a new level of richness and depth to their workplace experience.
A “gig” mindset for employee development has many benefits
There are a lot of ways to embrace a “gig” mindset within your company. The example above is just one way this can come to life. And when you do, you’ll unlock a flurry of new benefits that add new value and meaning to your company’s employee experience, including:
- Providing a unique and personalized way to “own” career development and growth;
- Expanding internal networks and building new employee and team relationships;
- Gaining new perspectives by allowing employees to step outside of their day-to-day;
- Creating more varied opportunities for internal mobility; and
- Sparking innovation by disrupting the status quo.
We’re still testing this out on our end, but the feedback has been great thus far. So if you’re looking for a fresh take on employee development and growth, why not give it a go? Just be sure to let us know how it went—we’d love to hear your stories! Until then, good luck with this new adventure and let the “gig” times roll! (Sorry, it was too good to resist!)