Manage Results, Not People with Lisa Hufford

06/24/2020 21 min read
Manage Results, Not People with Lisa Hufford

The future of work is now. The pandemic debunked many myths about the lack of productivity in remote work and required leaders to reimagine how and where their teams could work. As the economy begins its recovery and organizations begin to rehire, it’s critical that leaders start reimagining the structure of their teams.

Lisa Hufford, author and founder & CEO of Simplicity Consulting, joins me today for a conversation about the organizational benefits of working with on-demand talent. Simplicity Consulting is the preferred on-demand business consultancy for the new world of work, home to top marketing, communication, and program and project management experts in the Seattle area.

A five-time honoree on the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America and recognized as one of Washington’s largest women-owned companies by Puget Sound Business Journal, Simplicity Consulting is female-founded and -run, with an all-women leadership team.

Transcript:

Paul Estes:

Welcome to Talent Economy Live. I'm Paul Estes, editor-in-chief of Staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast. This has been an extraordinary moment for remote work. Entire populations have been forced to work from home, proving that remote infrastructure is viable at a mass scale. We believe that remote and on-demand talent strategies will be the main competitive differentiator for the future. We are live every Wednesday with key insights and direct experiences from top freelance talent, executives, and remote work experts. This show is aimed to keep you informed and up to speed on the ever-evolving workforce as we navigate these challenging times together. Again this week, welcome back to our show Laurel Farrer, founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting and Forbes remote work careers contributor. Hey Laurel, how are you?

Laurel Farrer:

I'm better than you, apparently. How are things going?

Paul Estes:

We're doing well. Hey, I wanted to talk this week about an article that we shared and we posted on Staffing.com talking about the significant changes that are going to happen post the COVID lockdown. There was an article written by one of the executives that contribute to the site. What was your take on the article?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah, I really loved that it was just specifying and really articulating a lot of these theories that we have. Like, we feel like things are going in this direction, and it was nice to just have it in a very clear list that remote work is absolutely part of our future, this is how, and we need to be able to embrace the aspects of remote work that make virtual collaboration different than physical collaborations. So we need to be more flexible, more adaptable, more asynchronous, more empathetic, all of these things that are different in the future of work, regardless of location.

Paul Estes:

Well, one of the things that he talks about in the article is that international business travel will plummet. The idea that you're going to get on a plane to fly halfway around the world for a 15-minute meeting. What are you hearing from your clients?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah, this is something that we see quite often in the remote work world, is this dichotomy. That here in distributed companies, we understand how to have a very effective virtual meeting. However, we also understand that we are living... I don't want to say in the future, but we are living in this realm in which the traditional business world has not caught up with. So we are willing to travel to our clients' offices in order to have a meeting, but in the back of our mind, we're always thinking this is a massive waste of time and resources. So the more that people understand the viability of having a virtual meeting instead of a physical meeting, the more that we'll all be able to work more efficiently, there definitely will still be a place and time for in-person collaboration, but it will just be reserved for the most important interactions.

Paul Estes:

Well, I for one have to say I've enjoyed not jumping on planes and running through airports as much as we used to and I've done in my past career. Let's go to the Laurel's list for this week.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah, definitely. Well, zooming in on what we just talked about. Agility is one of these key points of the Future of Work, that we need to be flexible. And we saw this so, so poignantly in the lockdowns that were happening post COVID as contingency plans that we need to be flexible in order to survive, not just be competitive in the future of work, but literally survive as a business. And what we didn't expect, though, as remote work thought leaders, and just as futurists in general, we expected there to be more of a... Expected. We expected there to be more of a pattern of companies of a certain size or a certain industry are going to be able to survive, business continuity, be able to survive the economic recession. There's going to be these factors that make us stronger and because of how we're positioned in our market.

However, that's not what we saw at all. The size of your company didn't matter. Your industry only played a small part. But what really made or... Well, make or break, made or broke? How do you say that in past tense? Anyway, whatever that X factor was, was agility. Your ability to be flexible as a company, regardless of the size of your workforce, regardless of your annual revenue, regardless of your industry, your ability to be flexible is really the contributing factor to your business continuity. This was especially poignant in the healthcare industry. We saw this across the board. The companies that were very small or very large, if they were willing to embrace and leverage telemedicine as a way to keep their doors open and to continue to provide services during lockdown, they were able to survive, and in many cases, even thrive. Their business increased, and the efficiency of their administrative operations also increased.

However, the companies that said, "Nope, there's only one way to do business, and it's in person," they had to shut their doors, and many of those businesses will not reopen. So this agility is an absolutely critical, critical component of the future of work. So that's my list for this week is three ways that we can all increase the agility of our organizations. The first is to build a culture of innovation. This means we need to integrate agility right into our day-to-day processes. We need to be able to understand how to work through troubleshooting processes as a team. We need to understand how to brainstorm together, whether that be in person, in an office, or in a virtual context. We need to understand just how to solve problems and work together as a team to find a solution.

The second one is that we need to leverage on-demand talent. Now, our guest today, Lisa, will have plenty to share on this, but this is exactly what got me into remote working in the first place 14 years ago, when I was scaling up as the COO of a business, this is where I went as a great way to scale at exactly the rate that I needed to scale. So this talent is coming on demand. It's where we need it. It's when we need it. It's at the rates that we need it. And we don't have to go into immense expense to open up an entirely new department in order to stand up a new product. Then, last but not least, enable worker autonomy. This is the key to remote work, and this is the key to agility, is if we empower and delegate authority and delegate decision-making permissions to all of our workforce, then all of a sudden, the workflows are not stopped. They're not going to be blocked by waiting for permission from somebody or waiting for approval from somebody, but everybody has the power and authority to make decisions on behalf of themselves, then all of a sudden, processes move so much faster and we're able to keep up with the future of work. So that's my list for today. Paul, what thoughts do you have on that?

Paul Estes:

Yeah, there were two things that you said that I thought were very interesting. They remind me of a story around innovation and autonomy. There was a friend of mine who has been working in healthcare for about five or six years in the management team. And she's always been advocating for this particular area of nursing saying, "Hey, those folks don't need to come in. They can work in a tele way," and she's been pushing it and pushing it for years. And she'd worked on the program on the side and done all the hard work: the requirements, the information flow, the computers they would need. And they kept saying no. And then two or three months ago, they picked that innovation off the ground and now are implementing it across the state. So that idea of driving an innovation agenda or having people that are thinking about the future and jumping on trends so that when they're needed, you've got something off the shelf really resonated with me.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. I think that you highlighted a great point there, is the very first step to innovation is just having an open mind. We can't just say no. When somebody comes to an idea, we can't say, "Nope, that's not going to work," based on history or instinct or anything like that. We can't just flatline them and say no. We have to give a proof and evidence of our decision, or we have to be willing to give it a shot. Let's give it a try. What's the harm in just giving it a trial for a week or two? Or let's get some statistics around this, some data that shows that it's a good idea or bad idea. So yeah, just open up your mind a little bit and where it takes you.

Paul Estes:

No, that's great. And by the way, it's a perfect segue. Thank you, Laurel, again. I look forward to talking next week. It's a perfect segue into this week's guest, Lisa Hufford. The future of work is now. The pandemic debunked many myths about the lack of productivity and remote work and has required leaders to reimagine how and where their teams could work. As the economy begins to recover and organizations begin to rehire, it is critical that leaders start to reimagine the structure of their teams. Lisa Hufford is an author, founder, and CEO of Simplicity Consulting. She joins me today to have a conversation about the organizational benefits in working with on-demand talent. Simplicity Consulting is a preferred on-demand business consultancy for a new world of work, home to top marketing communications and program managers, experts in the Seattle area. Lisa, welcome to the show.

Lisa Hufford:

Thanks, Paul. I'm excited to be here.

Paul Estes:

Well, I'm excited to talk to you. I've been a fan of your book that you wrote - and we'll talk about that in a little bit - four years ago. But first, you founded Simplicity Consulting 14 years ago, in 2006. When you hung up that shingle, what was the trend you were seeing that inspired you to start the company?

Lisa Hufford:

Yeah. When I think back to that time, it seems like so long ago now, I was really searching for my own freedom and flexibility. I had just had my second son. I had a very successful corporate career and I loved it, but I was looking for a shift. I was redefining what success meant to me personally, and I didn't see a big change out there in the marketplace yet. I'd love to say I saw trends, but I didn't. I didn't know anybody working as a consultant with my background. And it took me a while to shift my mindset, to see that there were opportunities for people like me to really leverage my skills and what I call now your personal brand, and really create the life I want and have control over my schedule and do work that I love to do for people who I really like and I care about and really deliver value in a different way.

Paul Estes:

It's interesting. I can only imagine 14 years ago when you started and you were starting to approach organizations, there was a different mindset because I think now what you're talking about, being an independent consultant and you have tons of amazing consultants, is becoming more normal [than] when you first started. How receptive were organizations to deal with senior-level consultants? What was their main concern?

Lisa Hufford:

I think the early days, and there's still some of this even today, it's a mindset about thinking about goals as projects, and that's something that I think now we're really seeing managers wrap their head around with so many amazing available talent and access to different talent in different ways. They're really thinking about building teams in a whole new way than they ever had before. The traditional way is get a headcount, go spend months recruiting, onboard someone, and hope it works out and you're managing the person even though the role might change. So I think back then, it was really... What I saw early on was there was a lot of people like me that have a very similar story, and then those people came into this whole growing market, now we know the gig economy, the future of work, working on projects. Because I think of my story, I attracted a lot of working moms that had a very similar experience, and they were very skilled but they wanted to own their schedule.

So they drove through their network and their relationships with more credibility, the opportunity for clients and managers to see talent in a different way to say, "Oh, I can bring in someone on a contract, even though that person might have been a full-time employee before, and they can actually just take up this piece of work for me or this important program or project, and I don't have to worry about it because I know they're capable, and I can go do bigger things and worry about other things in my business." So from my perspective, I've just seen an evolution to how this has worked from both sides. You have to have both sides of the equation.

You have to have the managers willing to think this way, bring in talent really on demand, and you have to have really skilled, capable, competent people that know their brand, that know what they're offering, and that can really dive in, jump in, I always say kind of like the SEAL team, deliver results, make the team better and leave. So what's happening now is, I call it the perfect storm. These two huge communities are now big enough where we're seeing each other in a way that I think is really advancing and accelerating the future of work, which we all know is happening right now. It's not the future anymore.

Paul Estes:

It's not the future. It's just not evenly distributed, I like to say. One of the things that you talked about when you were sharing about the talent pool and the people that inspired you along the way, were people that wanted control of their schedule. And I think there's a lot of people that want control of their schedule, but there are people also who need control of their schedule. And if companies aren't open to engaging with them in the way that they need to be engaged with, which may not be on location, may be remote, may have different hours, it excludes a lot of amazing talent from engaging with companies that need that diversity.

Lisa Hufford:

Yes, absolutely. There are so many things I think about when it comes to talent. Every manager will say, "I want access to the best talent." And what we know today is almost 50% of the talent pool now is not available for traditional employment. They are really looking to work on a project basis. So what I say to our clients is, "Hey, if you want to access the best talent, why wouldn't you want to look at the whole talent population for what you need versus a limited subset?" So it really opens up access. And as we all know, diversity and inclusion are so important. They're critical to every company's success to stay relevant and move forward, and the way you open up diversity and inclusion is really thinking much broader, thinking [inaudible 00:15:00] boundaries.

I know you just wrote an article about going beyond our local community. Now with COVID, really, this has accelerated all these trends. We're not talking about where people are located anymore. We're talking about who they are. Are they the right skill? Can they add value? And I think this is critical for the success of corporations to be able to access the right talent at the right time, no matter where that talent is. And where we're very fortunate that we have the technology and we have the tools to do it now. Really, it's a mindset shift. It's really us just continuing to talk about and debunk the status quo of the way we used to work, and we all know that we're not going back to the way it used to be. We're still in transition. We're not sure yet what the world's going to look like yet, but we're defining it and we can create it, and there's so much opportunity for all of us, as we think about and moving into this next phase of work.

Paul Estes:

I want to move on to the book that you wrote four years ago because it was at the same time that I had hired my first freelancer, and I was just beginning my journey, working in corporate America, of understanding what it meant to engage with on-demand talent, no matter where the talent happened to live. The book is called Navigating the Talent Shift, and it's still extremely relevant today. One of the things that you talked about, which is interesting, it was an older stat that said 40% of the workforce won't want to be your employee. Now that stat is 60% of the workforce, that just like you mentioned, is not going to want to be your employee. That's a significant number of people that do not want to participate in a traditional 9-to-5 captive employment situation, only being a full-time employee. Tell me a little bit about the parts of the book that resonate today.

Lisa Hufford:

Yeah, there are so many things that resonate today. I wanted to write the book because I saw that quote back in 2013. They said by 2020, which now we're here, 40% percent of US workers won't want to be your employee. And that quote stopped me in my tracks because I thought... I see this from my point of view, running a company where we place on-demand talent, but I didn't realize it was part of a much bigger trend, and really now we know as part of the future of work, and really this movement that's been happening. So when I think about, "Well how can…," I put on my consulting hat and thought, "How can I help companies, especially large corporations who need to stay relevant?" And they have a hard time because they're big. They've got a lot of bureaucracy. And I work with a lot of large enterprise corporations. I come from that world. So I thought a lot about how can I help managers, make it easy for them to be able to really think in a new way and what you were just talking about with Laurel earlier, how can you just experiment without feeling risky.

It doesn't have to be hard, doesn't have to be complicated, it just can be starting somewhere. And that was really my motivation in writing Navigating the Talent Shift four years ago. I knew it was early, and I wanted to write it before we're hitting the point I anticipated this would come. I didn't know when, but I can see that this is the way that we're all going to work when we think about the future, but we're still in a massive transition. So the book really lays out a talent strategy that we use at Simplicity Consulting, and it's our secret sauce that I wanted to empower managers with, which is a methodology called SPEED, which is how do you think about... There are steps at every way of how you build an on-demand team - that really teaches you as a manager - how do you build an on-demand team is the first step.

And I'll just say the most important step is “S” which is success. What does success look like for you right now? And in this world we live in, in COVID, we all know it's hard to imagine a year from now, but everyone's looking at maybe the next month, maybe the quarter. We're also short term focused. So it's really shifted everyone's business strategy to think about success. What does success mean right now? What do I need to get done right now? I just talked to a CEO the other day. He said, "We've got great product marketing, but we don't really have digital expertise. And I don't have time to hire for it. I've been trying for two years. I've hired four different agencies. No one's delivered." And I said, "It's a perfect example. Bring in a marketing strategist, a digital strategist for three months. Build your strategy before you hire anyone else." Just start there. It's easy. It's accessible. Very low risk. And it's probably going to give you the roadmap of then how you can build and define success.

Paul Estes:

I think one of the things that I've started to see more and more in the market over the past two or three years is fractional executives. I mean, these are people that come from Fortune 100 companies that have an amazing set of experiences, aren't looking for another CMO job but do still want to do project-based work. Tell me a little bit about your talent pool and their background, because one of the things that I find people wanting to understand more of is, why would somebody work on a project basis? What is this pool? Is it people that couldn't get jobs? Or super talented people, and I think Top Talent has an amazing set of the top 3% of freelancers, and Simplicity has amazing talent as well. Give me some examples from your talent pool.

Lisa Hufford:

I love that you ask this question because I'm right now writing my third book, which is going to come out next summer, and I'm going to start teasing. It's for professionals, it's for anyone that really wants to work in a project-based way with on contracts and the whole premise [inaudible 00:20:38] everything you need to make it happen, and that's really... So I was literally just writing a lot about, and I'm showcasing a lot of our consultants and their amazing success, but exactly what you're saying is, there is still this idea of why... And I'm [inaudible 00:20:52] said this to me, like, "Why would you choose consulting? Isn't that a step back or a step sideways or something?" And when it really comes up down to it, it's a very personal choice. It's not like when things better or worse, there are pros and cons to everything.

And so what I like to say to talent is, "Look, it's important for all of us to have options. We all need choices in this world as far as how we want to work, and contract work is a viable option. For some people, they do it short term. For some people, they step into it not really knowing, and they're there for 12 years and they love it and they've created a lifestyle." And these are people, by the way, who are always getting job offers. All of our consultants are getting job offers. For many of them, they really value flexibility. That's probably the one word we hear all the time is they love the flexibility to do the work they love, choose who they want to work for, make an impact. In order to be a successful consultant, you have to deliver results, otherwise, you're never going to get another project. So if you think about really tapping great talent and who these people are, these are proven experts. They would not be successful as a consultant if they're not delivering results over and over and over again. So they're obsessed about coming in, making whatever difference it is for that manager, and then moving on and doing it again and again.

That's part of also what motivates them. They love variety. They love diversity. They bring in a fresh perspective. They're a second set of hands. A lot of times, a manager says, "I need a second set of hands. Someone I can trust that's just going to go do the work we need to do in that capacity." So yeah, the talent pool is broad. I've seen, definitely from our perspective of marketing communications, project managers, that's our sweet spot, enterprise marketing services, and our pool is broad and diverse from tactical to strategic, and that's part of what makes it fun for clients, to be able to really customize teams for them based on what they need. So they're just getting exactly what they need embedded in their business for exactly whatever time they need it. That's the whole on-demand value proposition.

And I think the community you mentioned is so critical. We take off all the burden. I mean, the title we're talking about today is manage results, not people. And every manager at the end of the day, let's be honest, I think part of their job is managing the people and they've also got to deliver results. Every manager has big goals they need to contribute to organizations. So we can come in and say, "You don't have to manage the person. Just manage the work. Manage the outcome. You want this outcome, that's your statement of work? We're going to get you exactly the person who's done it before. They're going to do it for you. You don't have to manage them and their career path and all the other HR issues. You just get the results." Why we can deliver on that, and I think Top Talent's probably the same, is because we spend a lot of time curating communities of talent and making sure that number one, they are credible, they have done what they said, and they really can drop in and add that value.

So we're providing that support of the talent. They're our employees. We're making sure with the client success manager they're delivering the results. So we take all that burden off the manager. So that's a huge value-add when we think about... From managers being able to really focus on what are their priorities, I think most managers would say, "I just want to do great work and do big things. And I want my people to just be able to run with the initiatives." And that's really, I think, one of the best benefits of thinking about bringing an on-demand talent.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. One of the things you said that is really interesting, it was a big change for me, it's something that I experienced and we talk about it often on the podcast and here on the show is that when you make this move to on-demand, you have to start really specifically outlining your expectations. What success looks like. You have to write that down. You have to do the deep thinking before you start bringing people on. I loved your example of, "Hey, before you build out a digital media team, why don't you bring on somebody to help you who's done digital media strategy and start mapping that out before you just start hiring a bunch of people and figure it out that way?"

So I think the idea of writing things down, I don't know how many SOWs you've received that are like, "I don't know, just give me a call." Some random words in there, and then somebody comes and they ask a client success manager to figure it out. That's very different than when you engage with on-demand talent because you have to do that upfront thinking if you want it to be successful. What's been your experience as people have started to understand that concept and wanted to get the top talent from your network?

Lisa Hufford:

That's why consulting is in our name, because at the end of the day, we are experts at what we do, and that's a big part of our value proposition - what we love to do is help clients to find what they need. I'm smiling because what you said is often what we hear, and this hasn't changed for the 14 years I've run my business. I usually get a call of, "I need a rockstar." It's always the rockstar. And we're like, "Great, we have rockstars. Let's talk about what kind of rockstar you need." What does that mean to you, beyond-

Paul Estes:

[crosstalk 00:25:59] playing guitar.

Lisa Hufford:

Just give me a rockstar. I need somebody right now. So we're really passionate. I mean, one of our superpowers is matchmaking. So we want to make sure we give you the right rockstar, not only skills but cultural, cultural fit. What kind of organization are you? Is it someone more analytical, is it someone more social, is it a relationship, do they have to smooth things over among groups? Or is it just someone in the background getting stuff done? As we all know, there are different kinds of people that have different strengths, and that's a big part of the personal brand work we do is understanding with our talent, what is it that you love to do? What do you want to do? Be that person. Just be that, because the world does need that. There is a client that does need what you do amazingly well. And then we do same thing on the client side when they're trying to assess what do they really need.

So it's that matchmaking, taking the time beyond the hard skills, which are so important, but also those soft skills because we all know those are the differentiators. I'll never forget when I first started my business and I asked clients, "What do you look for in a great consultant?" They basically said three things, and I still say this today, it's what I call the ABCs of what clients want. They want attitude, a great attitude. They want you to be able to build trust, do what you say, and communicate. Can you communicate verbally and in writing? These are all soft skills. Really, if you think about, you can learn these things beyond, of course, the expertise. So when we think about consulting today, it really is, at the end of the day, it's a human experience. We are humans. It's about relationships. It's about adding value. And really, when I think about the talent and the client manager and the talent relationship, it's so important to be able to communicate and continue to add value.

Paul Estes:

It was interesting as you were talking about those three things, I think they were things that my father told me when I was about to enter the job market, and they haven't changed. It's been a while that I've been working. That's really great advice, Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me. We'll put your information in the notes and everything, and I encourage everyone to really go out and buy the Talent Shift. It is a book that is still relevant today, and I look forward to getting your new book next summer.

Lisa Hufford:

Great. Thanks, Paul.

Paul Estes:

Thank you so much for watching the show. Next week, we have Bryan Peña, chief of market strategy at MBO Partners. Thank you so much and stay safe.