co-written with Kelley Steven-Waiss
Given the changing nature of work and business models, there is an urgent need for companies to become more efficient and effective in their use of human capital. The old models for work, where we slot people into prescribed roles and expect them to execute against their job description, is partially to blame for the high rates of turnover in organizations today. Employees want continuous learning and growth opportunities, yet we place them in jobs and expect them to work with the same people to execute the same tasks day after day, week after week.
In today’s competitive landscape, companies need to develop fresh approaches to managing talent by more dynamically assigning talent to projects and responding to changing business models that democratize work relationships. Work relationships are democratized when they put into balance the needs and control of individuals and companies. The rise of machine automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) has fundamentally transformed not only the nature of work, but the speed at which it’s necessary to learn and deploy new skills that are often in higher demand than supply. This remains true no matter how an organization plans to source talent; whether it be with full-time employees or “talent on demand.” We must challenge what we thought was novel in talent management as recently as two to three years ago. Now it’s a race to acquire skills. And just when everything seems under control, another emerging skill domain becomes both critical and scarce. Without a crystal ball, today’s CEOs and CHROs are managing their most valuable competitive resource – blind.
Given resource constraints, companies cannot afford to be wasteful or leave any asset untapped. Furthermore, losing strong employees who leave for development opportunities is wasteful. We have developed a new talent operating model that is based on 6 Core Principles to help companies better leverage and develop their existing talent. These 6 principles will enable your company to create a gig economy for talent on the inside.
Principle No. 1: You Get What You Give
Most members of the Generation X and baby boomer cohorts have grown up with a management style that focuses on owning and controlling employees on their teams or in their functions. For them, talent sharing across departments or functions is an uncomfortable concept. However, encouraging greater sharing of talent across organizational boundaries (talent mobility) can create abundance rather than scarcity of resources in an organization. The idea is simple; managers give away some of the hours employees work to other departments, and in return they can get help from employees from different departments. Over time, this swapping of talent should be equal whether “give” or “get”. The talent that managers are able to access this way might have a critical skill set not available from their current team members. This enables managers to temporarily borrow talent, saving the time and expense of hiring an external contractor or consultant or opening a position requisition to hire a new employee for a skill that is not regularly needed. “You get what you give” is one of the most challenging mindset shifts necessary to embrace the new talent operating model, but the one that pays the biggest dividends.
Principle No. 2: Know What You Have
It’s a common problem for companies not to be aware of the skills their employees bring to their organizations. At best, they know all their employees’ job titles. And companies don’t take advantage of existing technology to monitor skill gaps and encourage employees to acquire new skills that are important to the company. Human capital management systems have traditionally been matched to an old infrastructure that emphasizes jobs and doesn’t easily illustrate an inventory of skills. An ability to clearly identify the full range of skills within an organization allows talent acquisition and deployment to be optimized by focusing on filling strategic gaps for work that must be performed today while planning effectively for skills that will be needed in the future.
The talent supply chain is an application of traditional inventory supply-chain management to talent. Supply-chain management is the optimization of product inventory and supplies so that those items can arrive on time and to the right destination. Similarly, a talent supply chain is based on skills inventories and knowing how much to have “in stock” to ensure that supply matches demand. Organizations that deploy those right skills at the right time will be well positioned when emerging skill domains (such as artificial intelligence) reach higher demand than supply. Failure to manage supply of skills efficiently could lead to loss of market share and profits, and ultimately, if a company doesn’t have the skills that are crucial to pursue their strategic goals, failure to thrive.
Principle No. 3: Create a Learning Organization
Given that the half-life of skills is now only five years, employees must constantly update their learning. Millennials have a reputation for wanting continual career advancement. However, when we dig deeper to understand what that means, it is really a desire for nonstop learning and career growth. Being able to further their learning is an important incentive for employees in today’s relentlessly evolving business environment because, without continuous learning, skills easily become irrelevant. However, organizations have a difficult time keeping up with employee demands for personalized, dynamic, ongoing learning and development opportunities, which require exposure to different experiences that build new skills. Gaining access to micro-learning opportunities through short-term projects facilitates skill acquisition and career growth more quickly than yesterday’s approaches. Bite-size on-the-job learning and online learning have become the new normal for rapid skill development.
Principle No. 4: Democratize the Work
Millennials bring to the workforce a new set of values and expectations along with an inclination to be more entrepreneurial in nature and more in control of how, when and where they work. This drives a need for a more consumer-like experience, not unlike the ways employees experience their personal lives. They get to choose, for example, which airline to fly and when they want to go to fit their individual needs. When employees are allowed more freedom and choice in how they contribute in the workplace, they can select work that suits them. This flexibility helps employees get unstuck from narrowly defined roles and the boredom that comes with doing the same set of tasks day after day. They can use the full breadth of skills they can contribute to their organizations. Using technology and artificial intelligence, companies can automatically match employees to potential opportunities, which opens up possibilities beyond the old boys’ network, which only gives access to new projects to those who are politically connected within the company.
Principle No. 5: Create an Agile Organization
A move away from a traditional hierarchy toward more project-based teams can increase a company’s responsiveness to changing business dynamics. Historically, organizations have been built to be efficient and effective, which was appropriate in a time of predictability. Organizational hierarchy was a natural outgrowth of this desire to be efficient. But the resulting business models created strong silos that discourage cross-boundary collaboration (e.g., sharing information across marketing and engineering). In today’s era of unpredictability and constant business model disruption, organizations must be designed for speed, agility and adaptability to respond to evolving business priorities and customer demands. Part of designing for adaptability is a shift away from hierarchical structures toward models where work is accomplished in teams. Using self-managed work teams and providing appropriate support structures, the management and the workforce become more fluid and responsive to business needs while remaining focused on the goals the teams are designed to achieve.
Principle No. 6: Bust the Functional Silos
Breaking down organizational silos allows for cross-functional collaboration within the company to foster innovation. The resulting cross-pollination of ideas ensures that the product or service is representative of customers in a diverse marketplace. Individuals from different disciplines look at business challenges in different ways. When teams that represent a variety of disciplines focus on the same problem, diverse ideas can be generated and then combined to achieve novel solutions. One of the greatest benefits of cross-functional collaboration is that employees are exposed to a different part of the business and thus gain greater insight into how the company operates.
Now is the time to disrupt the existing 20th-century operating models and create a new talent operating model that helps companies optimize their internal resources. With the advances made in artificial intelligence and machine learning, there are new and effective tools to deploy talent within organizations and create an internal gig-economy. But the technology only enables the process.
We believe the new talent operating model is the most critical component of creating an internal gig-economy. It is about changing the way a company operates to best use and reskill the talent it currently has. To employ talent in a different and more dynamic way, modifications are needed in all areas of the talent operating model: culture, leadership, ways of working, HR programs and processes, team development processes and so on.
We believe the future of work will look very different than it does today. Organizations must adapt to become more agile as they shift and change based on new technologies, new skills, and new business competitors. You can follow this path to create companies that are more productive and more innovative, while offering employee experiences that drive high levels of engagement and organizational performance.