Taking Control of Your Career Path

08/25/2020
Lisa Hufford
Lisa Hufford Founder & CEO of Simplicity Consulting—the Pacific Northwest's preferred on-demand marketing and business consultancy for the new world of work.
Taking Control of Your Career Path

When you think about your career, do you think within the context of your current position? If you were to take into account the kind of life that you want and the things that you most value, how would that redefine your definition of success?

These are the types of questions that today’s guest, Lisa Hufford - author, founder, and CEO - faced when she became a new mother. Driven by a desire for flexibility and freedom to do the work she wanted and to do it where she wanted, Lisa founded Simplicity Consulting in 2006. 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.

During her conversation with Paul, Lisa offers key insights from her first book, The Personal Brand Playbook, and advice on how we can all begin to re-envision our careers on our terms.

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Transcript of this episode

Lisa Hufford:

When I think about the new world of work, it really is enabling professionals to do the work they love how they want to do it. Whether that's working for a big company, a small company, working for themselves as a freelancer, working as part of a consulting company. There are more choices now than there ever have been for talented professionals to create the life that they want.

Introduction:

There's a revolution taking place right now. Talent and intelligence are equally distributed throughout the world, but opportunity is not. The talent economy, the idea that at the center of work is the talent, is the individual. Companies today face a global war for talent, and high-skilled talent is demanding flexibility around the way they work and the way they live. This podcast brings together thought leaders, staffing experts, and top freelancers to talk about the evolving nature of work and how companies can navigate these changes to remain competitive, drive innovation, and ensure success. Welcome to the Talent Economy Podcast.

Paul Estes:

I'm your host, Paul Estes. In 2006, Lisa Hufford founded Simplicity Consulting to help everyone thrive in a new world of work. Simplicity provides on-demand enterprise marketing services to leading brands, helping companies accelerate growth, add fresh perspective, and increase capacity. The organization has been on Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America for five consecutive years. This is an author, a speaker, and a founder helping people thrive in the talent economy.

Lisa Hufford:

Hi, I'm Lisa Hufford, CEO and founder of Simplicity Consulting.

Paul Estes:

Well, Lisa, thank you so much for joining me. I think one of the reasons I get really excited every time we have a conversation is how progressive you are when it comes to thinking about the next step or the future of the staffing industry. I want to ask you, when you founded Simplicity in 2006, what was the impetus for leaving big tech, you were at Microsoft, and starting a staffing firm?

Lisa Hufford:

So way back then, it feels like forever ago, I did not have the big vision of starting a stocking company or consulting company early on. It really evolved and it was my own journey of thinking flexibility and freedom to do the work I wanted to do and really be able to control my schedule. I just had my second son and I think like many working women, especially trying to figure out a way to balance and integrate both areas of my life.

I loved working and I also wanted to be with my kids. And so it was finding that place where I could have a little more control and also not travel as much was really my motivation to transition and leave my corporate career for consulting. And then, about a year and a half into it, and this is coming into the 2007, 2008 recessionary period people probably remember, I started being known as like the person who had successfully transitioned.

As I became known for that, a lot of people reached out and wanted to know how I did it, and they wanted the same path - which really surprised me at the beginning. So I thought I was just the weird one taking myself off a traditional career path. And as we know now, this really has become a very viable, alternative career path for many professionals who are looking to seek that freedom and flexibility in their own career.

Paul Estes:

It's like when you buy a new car, no nobody has this car. And so you're driving your new car, whatever it may be, and then you see everybody is driving that same car. When I became a freelancer, I looked around and I'm like, wow, not only were there a lot of people freelancing, consulting, independent workers, but there were amazingly talented people at senior parts of their career that had made this choice for flexibility and career advancement in a lot of ways.

I want to talk about a quote on your LinkedIn to help everyone thrive in the new world of work. As you look today, what is the new world of work?

Lisa Hufford:

Yeah, that's our mission. At Simplicity Consulting, that's been our mission from the beginning is, helping professionals and companies, really help them thrive as we are moving into the new world of work. Now we're in it. So the future of work is now. And especially with COVID, there's really been an acceleration around everything. Everyone is working remotely, and it's now become the new normal.

That term tends to be maybe as overused as unprecedented these days. But we really are still figuring out what the new landscape of working is going to be where we're in transition. We all know it's not going to be like it was before. But we're not sure yet what it's going to be yet, but we know one thing for sure is there's a lot of hybrid model, there's a lot more flexibility. We're all using technology in a whole new way and a much broader scale and a global way.

And one of the conversations we used to have around can you manage remote employees or not. Now, it's not even about that - it's how do we make it work? Because we have to make it work. And I think we're all learning. We can do this. We are doing it every day and we're all learning together. So when I think about the new world of work, it really is enabling professionals to do the work they love how they want to do it - whether that's working for a big company, a small company, working for themselves as a freelancer, working part of a consulting company. There are more choices now than there ever have been for talented professionals to create the life that they want.

And so the big question is: What kind of life do each of us want right now? What's most important to us? Some people really want advancement and recognition and want to climb on that traditional career ladder. Some people want to be able to work remote and have that. I have a consultant who lives in Montana and she does project work at Microsoft remotely. That's success to her. So there's no one definition of success anymore. It really is a buffet - to use your term, Paul - a buffet of options that we have in front of us, and really, what do we want? And that's a big question. I see professionals now that we have all these choices, and it can feel really empowering. It can also feel scary because a lot of people haven't grown up this way, they weren't been told the right path or told what to do. And so now there's the shift around what do each of us want. What motivates us right now? And knowing that through our careers, it's going to change and ebb and flow. And that's actually really empowering.

Paul Estes:

How has the perception of an independent consultant or freelancer changed since you first started Simplicity?

Lisa Hufford:

It's a really good question. I think what I've observed in the last 14 years since I started the company is there's been a traditional understanding around the term consultant. And most people think big firms, traditional consultants, strategy, really expensive, and do they even do any work? I've heard all of these things. And then, there are freelancers who really had traditionally been more creative, and some people think, "Oh, are they flaky?"

I just had someone tell me today… when she would hire people… when she'd see the term consultant on a resume, she'd think that meant unemployed. So I think there had been traditionally maybe a negative perception around this alternative way to think about working. If you didn't have a "real job" for a company for a long period of time, somehow, you weren't successful. But I'll tell you in the last 10 years in particular, and especially now, as about half the population is choosing to work this way.

People are realizing, and especially with the millennial trends, all the generational trends, pray it ended us too, that are really ... Millennials in particular are looking at work in a whole new way. They view it more in a project way, quite honestly. They don't think they're going to be there forever. And so all these traditional HR programs are really built around retention, long-term retention.

And while that might work for some people, there's a large percentage of the population that really isn't interested in being any one place for a very long period of time. They want to have experiences. They might meet different people, they want to learn and grow. And so what does that mean for companies and how they think about tapping talent? And so this does go to your question of when you think about how consulting has changed and it still is changing.

What we're seeing with the trends is they're undisputable around talent having more options. And what does that mean for employers? And now what it really means, I've really seen the shift of ... For example, right now, so many employers, they don't have headcount. They can't hire employees. What are their options? They still have to get work done, they've got gaps to fill. They have to hire externally, whether that's a freelancer or a contractor or consultant, whatever you're going to call it.

You need an expert to come in on a project basis and help the business move forward. So I've really seen this shift and still seeing it, in helping companies really think about tapping talent on demand in a much more agile, flexible, and quite frankly, cost-effective way than they ever have. But what we're up against is status quo. Right? We're up against a mindset of what we were just talking about which is… if you don't have a traditional job, a J-O-B, FTE, an employment job, there's a perception maybe you're not serious.

And what I am seeing now, though, is people that are choosing to work for themselves - number one, you have to be exceptional of what you do or you're not going to get work. So every day, really, you're being reviewed and you're being judged for the work you do. So it's in your best interests that you worked for yourself. You have to deliver every day and you are responsible for results every day. I mean, what manager doesn't want that?

You want the people working for you to deliver results every day. So I have seen a big shift and I'm really passionate, as I know you are too, Paul. And helping managers really realize how to tap this talent on demand and incorporate it with their existing teams to create blended teams, which really helps them move faster in a much more cost-effective way.

Paul Estes:

I want to get into the new book you're writing. But one of the things we were talking about prior to the show, and you've made this transition, I've made this transition, and I'm surrounded by more and more people who've made a transition out of big tech into independent work or being freelancers. There's a period of time that you have to go through ... You can call it detox or some change as you move into this new way of work.

Can you tell me a little about your experience of the people that reach out to you and the transition they go through in being a full-time employee moving into taking more control of their path?

Lisa Hufford:

Yeah. It's such an important point, and your book, Gig Mindset, right, it really talks about it's a mindset shift. And I went through this personally, as you mentioned, and I had coached and advised thousands of professionals. I see it all the time, still see it. I still get calls, even yesterday executives that are ... Whether they got laid off or they're choosing to make this choice. It really starts with a mindset shift from traditional employment.

I'm showing up every day and doing ... Navigating the whatever political environment you're in, ensuring the work needs to get done for political advancement. Versus when you're a consultant you're really hired for ... With a very clear statement of work, a very clear deliverable outcome, and you know exactly what you're going to do to come in and add value and make the team better. But there's definitely a mindset shift between coming in and doing great work, but you're not part of the team anymore.

So there's pros and cons, nothing's perfect. Doesn't mean that everything's great as a consultant versus an employee, it's just different. And what I've observed with most employees and I went through this myself, when you first make that transition, you still act as an employee, meaning you go above and beyond. You're working more than your statement of work outlines, and you're wanting recognition for that.

Then, what I've also seen, those people become exhausted, they become resentful. And so we still have a lot of conversations about boundary setting. And back to the reason you're hired is to just do the work, not necessarily go above and beyond outside, like you would as an employee or where you have to. That's one of the benefits of being a consultant. You can set your boundaries, and if your scope of work changes, you have that conversation with your manager.

But it's really on you to manage the work. When you're an employee, that's really hard to do. It's really hard to stay within your boundaries, with your manager because you have so many responsibilities that you have to do and you have to play that part as an employee. So there really is that fine line between doing great work and caring. Of course, you care about your client and you care about the work, but you're not beholden to being an employee anymore.

And again, while that's empowering, it feels very different for people who have grown up in a traditional corporate world and are just so used to that really ... Checking email all the time, working 60 hours a week as a normalcy, and really they're choosing this path 11 times to get that freedom and flexibility back. But it's a whole different way of working around results and delivering communication within a much more structured boundary setting process that they have to create in order to really achieve what they want for their new lifestyle.

Paul Estes:

The word that you use ... you said that resonated with me is the politics. When I now do work, it's really focused on the work. I know what I need to produce or accomplish. I set my time up and I have a lot of focus time, which I didn't have before. But none of my time is spent politically trying to climb the proverbial ladder or waiting for my review at the end of the year where somebody judges me, it's a judge to your point every day.

I know exactly what the work is, and that can change. I'm a consultant. I work to accomplish the goals that have been set out, and those change - and that's fine. But it's a very different mindset to your point. And I think a lot of people leave the corporate bubble and try to bring the same type of thinking and don't realize how drastic that change of mindset needs to be.

More and more of the talent that organizations actually want is choosing to work in a different way. And talent does have a choice. There's a lot of companies, like you said, that are more reliant on independent workers than they were last year, and that trend will continue. And so, top talent will continue to have a choice. Do you find a lot of HR managers or even managers inside organizations starting to understand that the trend is going that way?

Lisa Hufford:

I deal with a lot of hiring managers that are responsible for deliverables. And so I don't work so much with the HR departments and the ... At least the organizations that I work with are mostly big tech companies. So I'm dealing with the managers who really are the marketing leaders and business operations who have to get a lot of work done. And quite honestly, they need a top talent on demand, the right, good talent. They don't need any talent, they need exactly whatever that expertise is, whether it's someone that's run a marketing campaign or done executive communications previously, or managed a project. Whatever it is, they need that skill and they need it now and they don't have headcount. So they are absolutely open to team the talent and being much more open, I think.

And again, I think COVID has accelerated this because many companies don't have headcount. They don't have budget to actually hire full-time employees, but they have marketing dollars to go bring in the right resources on a project basis. While we say the managers is… if they're not familiar or comfortable or used to this kind of way to hire and really maximize bringing in outside experts, this is the perfect time just to experiment. What is that project that you've been wanting to do? But this is a whole new environment where we need to try new things.

What's that thing you've been wanting to try? How can you just create an outcome, a short-term deliverable, even if it's for three months? And what kind of expertise would you ... would be your ideal, your dream to bring it? You can probably find that right now and just try it. I mean, it's a very low risk, very low cost to bring in an expert for three months to just go kick the tires at your idea. And what if it turns into something huge?

And if it doesn't, then you know. Right? Helping managers think about how they can be agile, how they can continue to add value is so important right now, and they need the right people on demand. As we were just talking about, managers today are pulled in a million directions. They've got a lot of goals, they've got a lot of responsibility, typically now less resources, and they need to be able to really tap the right expertise at the right time so that they can advance their business. Right? So that they can make sure they get the good reviews and are adding the value to the organization. But they have to sit in meetings all day. They have to go ... Right

Paul Estes:

Yeah. That's one of the things I've written about. I wrote an article - it's in the book - is how much time I spent in meetings where I felt - and I'll own this one - where I felt that I wasn't providing value to the organization and I wasn't learning. And so that I'd be sitting there, and this was like ... this wasn't a small amount of time. I would say the higher you go in an organization, this was 50, 60% of my time that I was sitting in meetings, not actually doing work.

Lisa Hufford:

That's right. And that's very common. I see that across all the companies we work with. And this is the reason why, especially the higher up you go, you need to make sure your core key initiatives are being driven by someone because there's just not enough hours in the day. And when you're inside of a corporation, you're more managing relationships and performance and issues across organizations, which takes a ton of time and effort. You're not necessarily doing the work. Right? So this is where I think for people who love to do the work, and this is me, I grew up in sales and I love adding value and making big things happen. I love to do the work. The higher I got in organization, I felt like I got away from that. And I didn't realize it at the time, but I loved getting back to just rolling up my sleeves and doing the work. Nothing makes me more excited. But that's me, that's not everybody, right?

But I've seen that thread across everyone that transitions to consulting is, they love to do the work. They don't want to just manage a bunch of people. They want to really hone their expertise. They want to feel like they're learning, just like what you said, and they want to add value. And that's the perfect marriage, if you will, between the managers out there having to navigate all and bring along people influence inside these large organization. But they can tell these really experienced awesome performers to help them get the work done. Right? So it's a win-win on both sides.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. I remember once I was sitting down with a very senior executive, and he, for a period of time, I'd say about 10 years, had really owned one product. Right? He'd built this, he was very well-known in this product community. And he had hands-on raised this product and provided insight to the team and there's a culture. And he got promoted where he had these massive portfolios. If you looked at billions of dollars of product work under management, big team, we had a one-on-one when he was taking over his new responsibility.

I was expecting him to be super excited because look at the scope had just risen. And you could tell that he was ... He knew that he was now stepping into a world where he was too far away from the work. There was actually a product person who wanted to make great product, wanted to be hands-on with the customers and stuff. And he knew that he was now in a world where he wasn't a product person anymore. He was an executive who now managed a large portfolio of resources and relationships and things like that.

And there's an important moment for me because I felt that I needed to make a decision of, is it the work that I love? Like doing the work. Or is the path that I want to manage those relationships and performance reviews and budgets and those sorts of things? So I think that's very insightful.

I want to talk about your current book real quick because I think it's important for the people that are in large corporations, those that may be considering at some point changing their path, and also freelancers. Your first book was Personal Brand Playbook, five simple steps to transforming your unique skills and passion into a clear and compelling personal brand. Explain to me why you chose to write that as your first book. What were you seeing?

Lisa Hufford:

The Personal Brand Playbook really organically came about because early on, as I mentioned, I was getting referrals - these really exceptionally talented corporate professionals who were looking at career options and were looking to transition out of their corporate job to consulting, and they had these amazing resumes. So they would come to me and give me the resume and say, "Hey, I've done this work, Lisa, just tell me what to do to be a consultant."

The first thing that I always say was, "Well, of everything you've done, what do you love? What lights you up? What do you want to do more of?" Literally, I would see blank stares every time I asked that question, and they would say, "No one's ever asked me that. I just have been told what to do, and I've done a good job. So now what?" And I said, "Well, that's it, that's the difference between being an employee and being a consultant is, now you get to choose. And in order to really do the work you love and stand out and get work, you have to go on that journey for yourself of what is it you most love, what lights you up, where do you want to add your value and spend your time. Because you can't fake that. If you really focus in on what you want to do well and what you're known for, and you create a personal brand around that, you will attract the clients who need what you have."

I started saying this over and over again, and I realized I needed to help people with a few seemingly obvious questions. And that was really the genesis of the five steps, it’s five questions that I've walked people through. And I've done this workshop for all kinds of organizations because it really ... it's really for all of us, and people tell me all the time they come back to these seemingly simple questions because our careers and our lives change. Right?

We change and what we want in life changes, and The Personal Brand Playbook is really an opportunity to reflect on where you are right now, what are your strengths, what do you really love to do, what do you want to do. And then, how do you continue to invest in yourself to really make sure that you're the best at what that can be. And so some people I've observed stay with what they love for many years, and some people decide they want to shift and do something new.

And how did they create that new path for themselves? That is the spirit. And to this day, I still teach this workshop. It's a chapter in my new book now, and it hasn't changed. What's so interesting is the questions and the content have not changed one bit in 10 years. So, probably more relevant than ever.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. I think it's an important concept. Even if you're in a large company or in a mid-sized company, and defining where you want to go ... I've done a ton of mentoring as you have. And I was always amazed at how many people would come in and I'd say, "Look, how can I help you? Where do you want to go?" and they struggled with answering that question.

And I related to it because I struggled for so long. It wasn't until five years ago, my wife and I were on vacation and we asked each other like, "How do we want to live the next five or 10 years and what does that look like?" And we'd never stopped to think about that question. And within that, as we unpacked, it became the question about our brands.

What did we want to be known for? Once you understand that, then you understand what road you need to go down. You understand the skills and the experiences and the network you need to be successful. I'm glad it made the cut into your new book because I think it's a really important point.

Lisa Hufford:

The book I'm working on right now, my third book, is coming out next summer, summer of 2021. And it's a compilation of my now 14 years of experience advising and guiding thousands of professionals and helping them. We place consultants on projects. We're not a coaching company, although we do a lot of coaching in what we do, we actually give people jobs, and they’re employees with Simplicity Consulting.

So it's everything, it's the playbook, it's the guide, it's how to work professionals on how to help people get project work, learn what they love, create the life they want, and really earn what they're worth. So I'm excited to get out to the world. This is the book I've been ... I really have wanted to get out for the last 10 years, and I'm finally doing it. And I guess it's probably maybe the best time ever in the middle of a pandemic to help people realize they have more choices than they ever have. And hopefully, help people really harness and take advantage of all their different career options so that they can really get out there and do the work that they love and add value and really deliver their contributions to the world.

Paul Estes:

I relate to the energy and time it takes to do a book. So I look forward to reading it next summer. And like you said, there's not a better time to get this out into the world and really help people understand that as things change and as uncertainty becomes more of the norm, that there are options, that they don't have to be stuck, that there are different ways to look at finding your own path.

This is my favorite part of the show. It's called the rapid-fire section. I'm going to ask you a couple of questions, and all I ask is that you say the first thing that comes to mind. You ready?

Lisa Hufford:

Yes.

Paul Estes:

What is one thing about you that's not on your LinkedIn profile?

Lisa Hufford:

That I'm a dog lover.

Paul Estes:

If you could trade lives with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?

Lisa Hufford:

I would say, Oprah Winfrey.

Paul Estes:

And why is that?

Lisa Hufford:

My perception of Oprah is she lives a big, full life, and it would be fun to experience all the facets of her life.

Paul Estes:

There's an article I read about Oprah where she took a bet on herself, and Harpo could've taken a bunch of investors, but she decided to place the major investment herself in Harpo, which is one of the reasons that she was so successful. And it's the thing that stays in the back of my mind because one of the things when you become an independent worker is you have to bet on yourself. You're self-reliant on you.

If you were stranded on a tropical island, what two things would you want with you?

Lisa Hufford:

Well, I would say my family and my dog.

Paul Estes:

There you go. What book or movie has inspired you the most over the past year.

Lisa Hufford:

The book I keep coming back to is Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I just love it. The whole book is about what's essential. It sounds so simple. How can you write a whole book about what's the one thing that's the most essential? But I find it as the most relevant in our lives. We're pulled in a lot of directions to just keep coming back to that question of what's really essential.

Paul Estes:

And the last one, what is one word that you would use to describe the next decade of work?

Lisa Hufford:

Opportunity.

Paul Estes:

Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I always enjoy connecting this. You're on the forefront of thinking about what's next and how to help people navigate the change, and it's become only more acute during the pandemic. If somebody wants to reach out to you or learn more about Simplicity Consulting, what's the best way to reach out?

Lisa Hufford:

Follow me on LinkedIn, which I do a lot of posting on that. You can just find me at Lisa Hufford and you can connect with me there. And yeah, if you're interested in looking at project work, then check out simplicityci.com.

Paul Estes:

Thank you so much, and we'll put all that information in the show notes.

Lisa Hufford:

Thanks, Paul.

Paul Estes:

I'm your host Paul Estes, thank you for listening to the Talent Economy Podcast. Learn more about the future of work and the transformation of the staffing industry from those leading the conversation at Staffing.com, where you can hear from experts, sign up for our weekly newsletter, and get access to the best industry research on the future of staffing.

If you've enjoyed the conversation, we'd appreciate you rating us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or just tell a friend about the show. Be sure to tune in next week for another episode of the Talent Economy.

Lisa Hufford
Lisa Hufford Founder & CEO of Simplicity Consulting—the Pacific Northwest's preferred on-demand marketing and business consultancy for the new world of work.