Guest: Jody Greenstone-Miller, CEO and Founder of Business Talent Group
Air Date: April 2, 2019
Hi everyone. My name is Chad Nitschke, co-founder and CEO of Bunker, and also host of this podcast, Ready. Set. Work. Ready. Set. Work. is a podcast series focused on the future of work, specifically highlighting all different perspectives from the gig economy to on demand platforms and more. Join us each episode to hear from thought leaders paving the way toward the future of work.
Hey everyone, we’re back with Jody Miller, CEO and founder of Business Talent Group. For anyone who didn’t catch part one, Business Talent Group is a marketplace for high-end independent talent, and Jody is a seasoned expert on the on demand economy herself. So one of the things that we’ve talked about on this podcast quite a bit are just the different terms and names for independent workers. And like BTG, you know, obviously you have a lot of high level consultants, but then you also have platforms that are focused on lower-skilled workers. And so when you think about the terms, you know, gig worker, freelancer or consultant, independent talent, do those mean the same thing to you? And do you, I guess, picture different people when you hear those terms or are they more synonymous?
So I joke that, you know, BTG is about 10 years old and we’ve been called 10 different things. So you know, there’s all the things: on demand talent, independent talent, freelance talent, gig economy, you know, go down the list – agile, you know, and it’s so interesting Chad because when this whole industry was quite young, I mean I think it was like 2008 or 2009, Harvard Business School brought everybody in the world together who they could identify as being, you know, part of this world, and we had a conference for two days. It was really interesting. And at the end of the conference, the last session was a full session with all of us in a room with a Harvard Business School professor kind of having a final summation. And at the end of it all, the biggest challenge people thought this whole industry had is what to call ourselves.
And so what Harvard called it at the time was ‘alternative professional services.’ I mean, and you know, Axiom legal was there, Aquent was there, you know, there’s people from all over the world and, you know, alternative professional services was a horrible name. Nobody liked that at all. And you know, part of the problem is if I look at BTG, we’re a little bit of a lot of things right? We have attributes of, you know, ultimately I think we are a marketplace and a platform, but you know, you’ve got a little bit of consulting firm, a little bit of a recruiting firm, a little bit of staffing firm a little bit of an expert network, a little bit of an Elance kind of platform. It’s a new category, and I think that’s what makes it challenging. You know, when you have a new category as I’ve learned, that’s not necessarily a good thing because you find that you want to be relatable to something that exists in the world already, and then that’s why you end up with all these different names. So I actually think it is still an issue. And you know, I think that to me, the notion of being ‘on-demand,’ independent talent captures, I think what it really is for us and is probably as close as we’re going to get. So that’s kind of, I think that’s our default right now.
Yeah. And I can definitely relate. I mean it’s interesting. Bunker is, in a sense, creating a different category by embedding insurance into the contracting process. And so I can fundamentally relate with everything that you just said about when you are kind of creating a new category. You’re not just replacing kind of something that exists today. There are just inherent challenges in that, and some of that is I think resolved through effort but ultimately some of that is just resolved through time. So yeah, I can definitely relate.
Well, kind of going off that, and this is one of my favorite questions just to ask all of our guests to kind of wrap things up is if you, you know, so you have really interesting perspectives across a lot of different industries and you were an early adopter in this space. So if you fast forward the clock, let’s say five or 10 years from now, what do you think that Future of Work looks like and what do you think that new normal is going to be – and that’s kind of a big question, but I was curious to get your perspective on it.
I think the companies that can make it easy for their executives to access and understand the increasing number of ways in which they can get, not just work done but get information. You know, the democratization of information and talent, if you will, is what we’re really talking about. You know, in an old world, everything was internal and it was your permanent people and you know, even consulting firms in the old days they would – one of their real values was they would pick up a phone and call industry people and pull together reports that were sort of benchmark reports. Now they call an expert network and the expert network, you know, finds the people and tees up those calls. So the whole world has become – it’s much easier to get information, it’s much easier to find people. So what I think the biggest challenge is, is truly education and you know, taking the out of accessing all this stuff.
I guess I think the role of the organization is to collect these new options, deliver them to their organizations in a way that is easy and helps people understand, and then let managers figure it out. Because I actually don’t think procurement or HR are in a position to actually say to a manager, ‘you should use this consulting firm for this and that individual for that.’ I think that no central organization can do that. But saying to a manager, you know, you don’t have to make everything a permanent hire. Here’s, you know, companies that do it for tech and design and, you know, consulting and helping them understand that. And so that, to me, is the evolved organization that has a much more fluid relationship with the way in which they access resources. And ultimately, you know, how they think about deploying talent.
And I also think that it’s a very hard transition because it’s scary and people don’t understand it. So I think companies like BTG that try to do this from the bottom up – you know, we have always tried to be flexible and let people decide how much they want to work and where they want to work from – I think it’s a much easier. It’s much easier to do it from the bottom up. So I think it’s actually 20 years Chad, I hate to say that. And in 20 years from now, you know, I think the new flavor of the month is total talent management, right? You know, how do we look at our internal talent? How do we look at our external talent? How do we look at our alumni? You know, that’s a big idea. And at some point maybe that will be the way, but I almost think it’s not even enough ’cause it’s not just talent, it’s information. You know, say you used to use talent to get information, now maybe you can just get that information. So I think that the risk is that people try to boil the ocean at the top, and that takes so long, and it’s so hard, that as I’ve spent more and more time with these organizations, I’ve come to believe that it’s more about not boiling the ocean, but enabling managers to have the power and the knowledge to think about how they get their work done differently. So that to me would be a kind of achievable next step, and in five to 10 years I think, you know, whether it’s BTG or whether it’s, you know, other platforms, we should be a ubiquitous resource that is understood and easily accessed in all of these companies. And if you think about recruiting – I’ll just end with this – you know, Russell Reynolds I think started the recruiting industry, I don’t know, 40, 50 years ago, like that didn’t exist. Now, it’s just normal. And you know, BTG just announced an exclusive collaboration with Heidrick & Struggles who was one of the top recruiters in the world. You know, they went through this journey to the point where, as I said, hiring a recruiter for senior roles is just the norm. That’s what people do.
Yup. Yeah, I totally agree. It fundamentally just comes down to change, and even regardless of what the change is, I just feel like change is always hard. But I kind of love asking these questions just because I always think about it from just a historical context. So like, if you could rewrite the past and instead of, like, somebody who created like the W-2 employee, which ultimately kind of grew into, you know, what is kind of the workforce today of, you know, you stay at a company for a long time, you’re permanently there, you know, etc. But instead of that, if it would have been this independent workforce that had started, right, if that seed way back in the day was that, and then all of a sudden today, if it was reversed, right, if we were moving to this W-2 model, I feel like that change would be hard too, even though people embrace that today. And so yeah it is just really interesting, I always think about those sorts of things.
Although, you know, there was a huge – I mean actually, historically, most people were independent and it was the advent of the corporation itself that created this new model. So in some ways we’d be going back to the future. We’ve become more independent, and you know this is all tied up with very esoteric concepts like the theory of the firm, you know, which is all about ‘what does a corporation have to do inside its four walls.’ And that changes as the cost of what you do externally goes down. And so at a really macro level, that’s really what’s happening. That things that used to have to be – and it’s been happening for quite a while, I mean if you look at the major corporations in the world and you really peel the onion, a lot of them, 50% of what they do is outsourced. And in some ways, what companies like BTG are doing is pushing that even higher up the food chain, right, to the knowledge worker. And then, you know, the US has all kinds of weird things because of the historical accident that our healthcare system in particular became an obligation of a company as opposed to the government. And that’s a-whole-nother podcast, but you know all these things are kind of – and that was due to, you know, the wage and price caps that came on – like, you know, the reasons that we’ve ended up where we are aren’t always, you know, the way you’d think. And nonetheless, we have to deal with that. And, you know, we didn’t even touch on the challenges from the tax and regulatory system, you know, to this model, which you know better than anybody.
But I think the arc of history will favor, ultimately, an increased, I believe, ability for people to move more rapidly between jobs. We’re seeing it even in the permanent world with the average job tenure going down. We’re seeing it with what Rick Wartzman calls the ‘decline of loyalty.’ We don’t have companies like GE used to be, you know, where people are expected to stay 30 years. So all these forces, in effect, are going to really dramatically change, anyway, the way people think about their job and their work. So what I really think will happen, Chad, is demographic changes will accelerate some of this. That as baby boomers retire and as there are real shortages of knowledge workers, as millennials like to work differently, you will see that come together and companies will have no choice but to think about how to do things differently.
Yup. Yeah, no, that’s great. And yeah, needless to say, I think we’re both definitely excited to see what happens. And you know, obviously be a small part – selfishly speaking I guess – of kind of influencing that change. So that’s great. Well, Jody, thank you so much for joining us. This was great. I really enjoyed just chatting with you and learning more about Business Talent Group.
Well it’s great you do this, so thank you and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Yeah, definitely. And of course, thanks to our listeners, we hope you can join us again on our next episode of Ready. Set. Work. If you have ideas, thoughts for guests or suggestions for future podcast topics, please reach out. Tweet us at @BunkerHQ using the hashtag #ReadySetWork, or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alright, back to work.