As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Hema Crockett and Jamie Jacobs, Co-founders of Gig Talent .
With more than 35 years of combined experience, and known as authentic, transformational leaders, Gig Talent Co-Founders, Hema Crockett and Jamie Jacobs, have built strong reputations for creating and developing high impact human resources teams that drive business results within tech, biotech and global Fortune 50 companies. They have taken this experience directly to the Gig Economy where they help HR Consultants and Leadership Coaches do the work they love by matching them with organizations who think about talent differently.
Gig Talent is based in Carlsbad, California. Hema and Jamie published their first book in February 2021 entitled: Designing Exceptional Organizational Cultures: How to Develop Companies where Employees Thrive.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
We both spent around 20 years in the corporate world working our way up and leading teams. The journey was mostly separate (with the exception of 3 years towards the end), but we started reflecting on the commonalities. We were both really dedicated to our work and careers, noted for being great leaders, team/business builders, and people that were turned to when there was something to grow, fix or transform. Our entrepreneurial approaches were a key driver of that in the corporate environment and also part of what led us on the journey to become business owners. As we began to reflect on what we wanted in life, it was more than just a great title and role. As part of a great community of leaders, we began to look around and see that many of these talented, creative leaders that we have much respect for were actually pretty miserable. This tends to happen when you are living out of alignment. After much soul searching and finding our own braveness, we each decided to make the leap.
Since that time, which was around 2018, it has definitely been an evolution. First, we started High Performanceology, which is focused on specializing in the work that led us to the most success within companies — building great cultures, leaders and HR teams. As we continued to consider our “why” and what was important to us, we felt strongly that helping others work the way they want and find purpose in their work while achieving their desired life balance was our overarching goal; proliferating the idea that we all have choice in what we do for work and how we spend our time, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. In service of that goal, we launched Gig Talent. Gig Talent allows us to support other professionals who want to work on their own terms.
So, our work today really spans the full spectrum — helping companies create great cultures that people would want to work in and helping professionals work the way they want to work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Well, this is a great question and we could share many lessons learned, some more embarrassing than others.
One that comes to mind relates to the shift into business development. It’s uncomfortable for many and was for us in some ways. We can remember having a great meeting with a potential client and they asked for a proposal (it was a six-figure proposal, the largest one we had sent to date). We sent it over later that afternoon…and never heard back. Eventually, we heard through the grapevine, that we had inadvertently really scared the prospect away with the dollar value as well as the comprehensive nature of the proposal. The key lesson was to learn to break large projects down into their parts and meet clients where they are, not where we think they should be. While our suggestions were thorough and resulted in a comprehensive plan that would have really helped solve what they needed, they weren’t ready to see the full scope. The moral of the story is, had we started with an initial, smaller project, we may have been able to overcome their fears and build a long-lasting relationship.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
We are extremely grateful for many people who have been consistent supporters of us as we embarked on this journey. With that said, our husbands have been our biggest supporters. There were a lot of fears when we started out — leaving financially secure, high-level positions to pursue our passion. It was Hema’s husband, Michael, who really put things into perspective. He asked, “When have you ever failed at anything and what makes you think you will fail now, with something so important?” He was absolutely right. Whenever we feel those fears creeping back up, especially in 2020 with Covid, we remind ourselves of what he said, refocus our energies and keep moving forward.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The vision for starting Gig Talent was all about helping others overcome the perceived barriers to making the leap to work the way they wanted. We had many friends and colleagues who said, “I want to do what you are doing, but I’m not good at sales,” or “I hate talking about myself and marketing myself.” We could relate, especially as former HR executives. We weren’t in the habit of doing business development or marketing ourselves and our experience in order to make money. Our vision with Gig Talent was to help reduce this fear and take some of the burden off people who wanted to work differently. That’s why one of our competitive advantages is to do business development and marketing on behalf of our consultants.
Another part of our vision was to create a community. Deciding to become a consultant comes with some very real fears such as figuring out health care, retirement planning options, etc. One fear is that of isolationism or loneliness. Consulting and curating a life on your terms shouldn’t have to be lonely. Our collective is about bringing people together who can bounce ideas off one another, build additional offerings in their own businesses with the help of other consultants and generally to know they are not in this alone.
We believe life is too short to dislike your job and what you do and that everyone should work the way they want, leverage their strengths and passions all while creating a life aligned with their personal values and goals. That was and still is our purpose and vision.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Gig Talent is a modern talent collective bringing together highly skilled consultants with organizations that can greatly benefit from their experience. Currently, we focus on HR consultants and leadership coaches. We offer the first consultant certification on the market, mitigating risk for clients, by certifying that consultants have their own business entities, necessary insurance, etc. Our consultants are a mix of professionals who are spending 100% of their time working in the gig economy to those who still have in-house full-time positions but who are augmenting their income by taking on side projects. We invest in sales and marketing to help our certified consultants and coaches find work with companies who want to leverage elastic talent for projects, interim leadership needs, coaching, etc.
Ultimately, we help solve a few issues. We help mitigate some of the fears, as previously mentioned, that consultants have when going out on their own related to growing their business. From a client perspective, we help connect organizations with highly qualified and vetted talent who possess the specific expertise needed to meet the client’s needs. Our certification process also solves some of the compliance concerns companies may have related to engaging with the gig economy, especially in California, by ensuring that our consultants have legal entities, proper insurance, background and reference checks. We take it one step further by ensuring our consultants complete ethics training for consultants with the goal to elevate consulting as a profession. Our hope is to facilitate meaningful impactful work done by people who are not only talented but also passionate about the working they are doing.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Management consulting is not a new industry. There have been both technological innovations and public policy changes that have been disruptive. From a technology perspective, there are many platforms where companies can post engagements and consultants can present themselves as viable options for hire. While these platforms are evolving and consultants can find work through them, we feel that part of our competitive advantage is the personal touch. Our own expertise provides value to our clients in helping them diagnose their needs and get clear on the kind of talent that will be the best fit for them. For large enterprise clients who likely already have a clear idea of their needs, we need to ensure that our customer interface is as streamlined and user friendly as the platforms we are competing with. Looking at how we advance our digital maturity and leverage AI and machine learning in our internal and customer facing operations is very critical as we go forward.
From a public policy perspective, the adoption of AB5 in California, where we are headquartered, was a trigger for us to launch Gig Talent. No longer could we be in compliance and leverage consultants and coaches as 1099 resources. This is true for all management consulting firms; they will have to either hire their consultants and coaches as employees or risk being out of compliance.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
As a result of the public policy disruptions, we created the Gig Talent model, mitigating AB5, but also setting the standard for consultants everywhere in the process. In terms of the technological disruptions, we have been investing in our internal platform to better enable a seamless interface and customer experience as mentioned above. For us, it’s about finding a balance between technology and the personal touch.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
We were driving to downtown San Diego to meet with a client when we started talking about how to grow our first business, High Performanceology, and when was the right time to invest in business development resources (other than ourselves). During the course of this drive we started to ask ourselves how others grow their business. We talked about the fear we mentioned previously regarding putting yourself out there in order to gain business. We talked about how great it would be if there was a company out there that assisted consultants with business development. This conversation led us to the various risk factors related with the AB5 legislation. As we started to think about how to solve for all of these issues for ourselves, we realized that we could also help others solve for them too. We realized that we could be the company that consultants go to for business development and to foster a sense of community. Over the course of the next few weeks and months we worked on the idea of Gig Talent. We wrote down any idea that came to mind, had a brainstorming session with a few close friends and supporters and did a whiteboard exercise to capture all ideas. A few days later, taking into account all of the thoughts and ideas, our small but mighty team locked ourselves in a conference room and mapped out Gig Talent. What started as an “aha moment” in terms of we should help others solve for this same problem, ended with a series of “aha moments” to get us to where we are today.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Things are going great! There is a little explaining to do since the business model is a bit new, but once companies understand that they can sign a Master Services Agreement with Gig Talent and have access to a wide variety of highly skilled, certified talent which simplifies their vendor management processes and supports compliance efforts, they understand the value of having us as a key partner. From a consultant and coach perspective, the value seems to be easily understood and we are committed to growing the collective. Our Gig Talent community is amazing and every time we place a consultant or coach with a client, we know we are on the right path.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
So, this story is less about the business and a bit more about us as people. As we mentioned, we are former HR executives and are the principal consultants within High Performanceology. All this to say we are used to doing the work ourselves and being the main contact for our clients. When we started Gig Talent, we needed to let go and pivot as individuals within our business. Rather than being the consultants and doing the work, we need to be focused on Gig Talent and getting our consultants and coaches work. This was a significant and interesting mental pivot for us. It brought back to the surface our business backgrounds and we realized that we needed to go through the discomfort of that mental pivot in order to get to where we are today, focused on growing Gig Talent and making it an agency of choice for organizations and consultants alike.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Clearly define the current situation, communicate openly, even if you don’t have all of the answers, use your values to help guide your decision-making and make your employees top priority. It can be easy for leaders to allow their emotions to overtake their leadership capabilities. It’s important for leaders to remain calm and not panic in order to clearly define reality. Once the reality is defined, communicating becomes key and helps employees see their leaders are making any sort of disruption a priority. Employees don’t expect leaders to have all of the answers; they do expect openness and honesty. Leading with values during uncertain times shows employees that leaders are empathetic and everyone is “in it together.”
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
These days, the future seems more uncertain than ever for many. As a leader, it is important to recognize your own emotions first and acknowledge how you are feeling. If you don’t take the time to do this and try to pretend that you are okay, your team will pick-up on what is happening and morale will be hurting even more. After leaders acknowledge their own feelings, they can focus on their teams. It sounds so simple, but leaders should be active listeners. This is where a leader’s emotional intelligence, or EQ, comes into play. Employees are going through a wide range of emotions and they sometimes just need someone to talk to and a kind word; they aren’t looking for solutions. These conversations can happen in a group setting or one-on-one, whichever the employee is more comfortable with.
Another way to boost morale and help motivate the team is to not talk “work” all of the time. Set time aside each day or during each team meeting to get to know one another on a personal level. With everyone spending so much time at home, we’re getting a sneak peak into the homes and lives of our coworkers. Rather than pretending things are normal, leaders should embrace the change by asking for video tours of new workspaces or new coworkers, such as pets and kids. This can help ease some of the tension and uncertainty and help everyone realize that we are in this together.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
For us, the number one principle is to always follow your values. While leaders and organizations should be guided by their values during the good times, it is even more important during a crisis/turbulent times. When organizations use their values as an anchor and decision-making tool, they can overcome nearly any challenge.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
One common mistake is that businesses overreact when faced with a disruptive technology. This tends to happen when the disruption is seen as a threat. When this happens, organizations spend too many resources (time and money) at trying to overcome the threat. Another mistake is that businesses think the disruption is an opportunity and don’t invest enough time and money to capitalize on it. A third mistake is that businesses do nothing; they are in the “wait and see” camp. When this happens, they can often miss the opportunity altogether and a competitor could capitalize on it. In order to avoid these mistakes, leaders need to reframe the disruption and identify a team who can dive deeper into the disruption to see if it is a viable threat or opportunity and to identify next steps. By removing the emotion from the reaction, organizations can logically assess each disruption and act accordingly.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- First and foremost, they need to live in reality and not bury their head in the sand like an ostrich. We’ve seen this a few times with CEOs and negative Glassdoor reviews. A few years ago, we were asked by a client to take a deep dive into their culture. We looked at a few areas (leadership, strategy, HR, employee feedback, etc.). One area we routinely review is Glassdoor. While this information is self-reported and tends to be from employees who may not be 100% happy, we tend to look for themes. For this particular client we saw a clear theme — a member of the executive team was condescending, rude and not a team player. We asked the CEO about this and whether he has addressed any of the behavioral issues and/or his take on responding to Glassdoor reviews. Rather than admitting there was an issue that needed to be addressed, he simply dismissed Glassdoor, stating it was not a viable employee feedback tool and said, “Only angry or disgruntled employees post on there.” Over the course of the next few weeks as we continued to do our assessment of the culture, the themes we saw on Glassdoor became visible to us within the organization. However, the CEO, much like the ostrich, chose not to see the truth and kept his head buried. We ended the engagement shortly thereafter as the CEO was not open to acknowledging there were issues.
- Second, they need to listen to their clients and customers, this includes their employees too. Leaders need to be open to really listening and asking thoughtful and meaningful questions. Customers and employees will tell you exactly what they need, you just need to be receptive and not enter each situation as if you know the answers already.
- Third, continue innovating, leveraging the skills that already exist within your organization. A couple of our clients will hold semi-annual hackathons where employees come together to continue innovating on their products and services. From these, generally 2–4 ideas are taken further with the hopes of implementing them within the organization. By holding these innovative sessions, organizations are creating an inclusive culture where everyone’s ideas are considered. They are also continuing to evolve their business versus getting stale.
- Fourth, leaders should be decisive. A portion of this relates to the first item we mentioned above — when there are people issues on the team, they should be addressed immediately. The other part relates to both the short and long-term view of the organizational strategy. Leaders can often have blinders on as it relates to the direction of the company. They either may not want to acknowledge there is an issue or they may be indecisive as to the direction to take. The longer it takes a leader to make a decision, especially if it’s related to the direction of the company, the more employees will begin to lose trust in the leadership team and they will start looking elsewhere for jobs.
- Finally, leaders should communicate the updated vision and direction of the organization. This sounds simple yet is one of the areas we often see leaders struggle with. It’s important to ensure all employees understand the pivot, the reason behind the change and the new direction so they are better able to communicate the future to clients and customers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many amazing quotes that we often reference in our life and work. Two come to mind for us right now. The first is by Paulo Coelho, “Don’t say maybe if you want to say no.” As entrepreneurs, especially early on in our journey, we said yes to every engagement and opportunity, even the ones where we didn’t feel 100% aligned. As time went on, we realized that saying no to one thing allowed us the space and room to say yes to something else, something more aligned with our work and our talents.
Another quote that is important for us is by Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It is so easy to compare ourselves, our experience, our business with others in our same field. The truth is the act of comparing takes away from our purpose and mission and puts the focus on someone else. We use this quote to remind us that we aren’t trying to replicate or duplicate anyone else’s work, but we are forging our own path in areas where are skillsets and talents are best utilized to help others.
How can our readers further follow your work?
We are excited to be releasing two books this year, Designing Exceptional Organizational Cultures and The Everyday Leader, so we definitely recommend picking up copies when they are out (February and August 2021 respectively). In addition, our website is www.gogigtalent.com and has a lot of information about what we do along with numerous videos and articles that are helpful to any leader. Finally, we’re on social media. You can connect with us on LinkedIn (@hemacrockett, @jlatianojacobs, @gig-talent).