Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How the gig mindset can help organisations in a disruptive era

It is not the technologies that pose a threat to the employees and the organisation's ability to survive and sustain during uncertainties; it is the culture of the organisations and the mindset of the employees that need to transform to survive

Published: Aug 22, 2023 05:18:58 PM IST
Updated: Aug 23, 2023 04:26:47 PM IST

How the gig mindset can help organisations in a disruptive era Gig-mind setters work like starfish. Unlike other mammals and living creatures, starfish have a decentralised structure, such that if any of their body parts get cut off, they will not die; instead, they pull themselves up and just grow back. Similarly, during times of uncertainty and disruptive transformations, gig- mind setters wouldn’t regress; instead, they learn and unlearn, survive and even thrive. Image: Shutterstock

The digital era is sure to bring in red-hot technologies and disruptive innovations across industrial platforms, especially in knowledge-intensive firms. A shift in the status quo would be enormous. Redefined roles and responsibilities, a shift from human interactions to human-computer interactions, and productivity to inclusivity, are just a few tectonic changes that can be expected. The unapologetic pace of change will place several organisations in a state of uncertainty. But it is not the technologies that pose a threat to the employees and the organisation’s ability to survive and sustain during uncertainties; it is the culture of the organisations and the mindset of the employees that require further transformation. This is where a gig mindset can act as a sentinel agent to sail the boat smoothly during such disruptive transformations. A solid rock but one that never rocks the boat.

Before plunging into the concept of the gig-mindset, the term “gig” must be re-evaluated. This is because, unfortunately, it has been represented in more negative perspectives than positive ones, and this representation is also widely accepted by full-time employees—i.e. gig workers’ counterparts. To understand the mindset better, we interviewed a few full-time employees and asked them what immediately comes to mind when imagining a workspace where all the full-time employees worked like how gig-workers worked. With these short interviews, we were able to gather a few common themes, they were: ‘temporariness’, ‘job hopping’, ‘job attrition’, ‘unreliability’, ‘low in competence’, ‘self-centeredness’, and ‘disloyalty’.

While all these cannot be entirely dismissed, there are several benefits that come with having a gig-mind setter. Freedom to take risks and fail, being open to performing several tasks, developing skills rather than focussing on titles and positions, being open to sharing knowledge, having autonomy, and ownership, and focussing on self-growth: these are just some of the less-explored positive attributes that elaborate the gig-mindset.

Now imagine if they represent employees of a firm: they claim ownership and therefore accountability; will be open to working on simultaneous and multiple projects that demand different skills. Again, the concept of self must be treated without biased lenses. Though organisations are social units, employees are always individuals who seek individualistic nurturing and self-growth.  Though these desires sound grey, they are very much essential to building one’s worth within and around him/her. Having said that, resources used for self-growth can be easily converted into organisations’ assets if the organisations provide them with the right platform to stay excited and engaged, as they are not the ones who fall for the title but only for the multiple learning curves. 

Also read: How gig workers push back against their "digital boss"

According to psychologist Fred Luthan’s studies, successful managers needn’t necessarily be effective managers. He further contemplates that successful managers rely on networking to level up their careers, while effective managers indulge in short communication that suffices to improve the productivity of the entire team. Now, the gig-mindset can be a panacea to this paradox and a game changer, as individuals will be high in productivity by sufficiently gaining knowledge on different skills. Also, they are great networkers within and outside the organisations. So, individuals with a gig-mindset can be both successful and effective managers/resources within the organisations.

COVID is the closest testament to how uncertainties demand a completely novice organisational landscape including culture, structure, team orientation, and individual mindset. The uncertainty and crises are indispensable. The only possible way to embrace uncertainty is by developing a proactive culture. However, most companies fall back when they implement disruptive changes because of the rigidity of the employees, not in their performance but in their mindset. Since gig mind setters will be fluid and dynamic in nature, resistance to change can be drastically abridged, given that the organisation has already nurtured the mindset among its stakeholders. Even when they must let go of some of their financial and non-financial benefits, they will not be greatly impacted. This will also be helpful for the organisations to retain such talents during periods of uncertainty.

Shipping away from safe bet, off to dynamism:  If you ever wonder about the possibilities of taking multiple learning curves, then you have to stumble into the story of a man, who as a practicing lawyer, also started one of India’s first shipping firms, Swadeshi Steam Navigation company during one of the most uncertain periods under the British rule in India. With a strong vein of delirious risk-taking and the mindset to question the status quo, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai was definitely driven by the gig-mindset. Unlike most of the business ventures, his vision was not singular. It was to break the business monopoly, promote Swadeshi and, more importantly, promote skill development, such as ship building, among Indians, therefore making the vision more sustainable beyond the independence cry.  Of course, like a pro gig-mind setter, he aced networking: from French industrialists to Indian political comrades like Balgangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh, and poets Like Subramaniya Bharathiyar, he had strong informal and formal connections through which he was able to valiantly fight against the British from political, business and economic perspectives.

Also read: The power of networking in the new economy

The whole persona in the house: “Employee first, customer next.” These lines of the HCL CEO Vineet Nayar may sound like a loosely bound employee retention gimmick, but they have strong psychological implications for the employees. This seemingly simple approach elucidates stronger repercussions on how the firm allows decision-making authority and induces constant learning and vitality. As described by Vineet Nayar in his book, the firm initiated an “Employee first council” that worked much like a hub of college clubs, with each club focussing on a specific stream of business and non-business-related passions, for instance, technology, hygiene, music, and health. Since it is a virtual and boundary-spanning community, it became so popular that employees started to actively engage in these councils. And the consequence? The employees brought their true and whole persona to the office. The employee is not just a title anymore; he is a bundle of talent, and the firm could see the entire bundle. These councils began springing up with several business ideas, proposals, and of course, revenues began to pour in. This is exactly how a firm can create a gig mindset among employees. Employees work freely in unstructured communities, learn several skills and focus on self-growth, all of which lead to sustainable organisational and individuals’ health, especially during this era of uncertainty.

In sum, gig-mind setters work like starfish. Unlike other mammals and living creatures, the starfish have a decentralised structure, such that if any of their body parts get cut off, they will not die; instead, they pull themselves up and just grow back. Similarly, during times of uncertainty and disruptive transformations, gig- mind setters wouldn’t regress; instead, they will learn and unlearn, survive and even thrive. Without a gig mindset, high-flying firms may soon lose momentum and retreat with the kind of uncertainties we have never come across but can only anticipate.

Dr Nivedhitha KS, Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode. The Author of ‘Lost in your Façade’ and a researcher on workplace interactive technologies and Women psychology.
Dr Palvi Pasricha, Faculty Fellow, Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode and a keen researcher on Corporate social responsibility and Innovation and creativity.