Capitalizing on the new world of work requires new mindsets and capabilities.

Capitalizing on the new world of work requires new mindsets and capabilities.

Jun 19, 2017: Weekly Curated Thought-Sharing on Digital Disruption, Applied Neuroscience and Other Interesting Related Matters.

By Rob Biederman, Catalant

Curated by Helena M. Herrero Lamuedra

Digital disruption is forcing companies to think about talent in radically new ways. Even the longest-lived brands are finding that new technologies and changing consumer preferences have compelled them to access talent in ways that were unrecognizable a decade ago.

Companies will not succeed in today’s rapidly changing business environment if they rely solely on full time employees. Companies must now focus less on the fixed supply of in-house people and more on the capabilities they need to get work done. Those that are able to easily access and manage skilled, independent workers will be able to unleash fresh energy and thinking inside their organizations.

Flexible talent-access platforms are enabling this new world of work, making it easier than ever before to bring in the right skills for the right project at the right time. These platforms can connect highly skilled people with the companies that need work done.

But making the most of flexible talent-access platforms is not as simple as adding a solution into an existing organization. Organizations must be built with this new world of work in mind. Old ways of thinking and working designed to support an internal-only workforce need to change. Winning in the future will require a rigorous approach to accessing and managing independent workers.

It’s a fact: Most great people, ideas and capabilities lie outside the walls of any individual organization.

Companies will simply not succeed in today’s rapidly changing business environment if they rely only on the relatively small number of people who happen to wear that company’s employee badge. Organizations need to develop an “outside-in” lens on talent.

Many organizations still look at talent the old-fashioned way: a job description, a search, an internal hire for a full-time position. Increasingly, however, smart executives are viewing talent as a much more flexible and connected resource. For a particular deliverable, need, or project, their default way of thinking focuses less on the fixed supply of in-house people who can handle the work and more on the capabilities they need to get the work done and how they can best access those capabilities.

Companies that adapt to this new mindset will be able to take advantage of capabilities wherever they are located. They will access new markets more readily than in the past. They will enjoy newfound agility in seizing strategic opportunities. They will quickly tap into new ideas and unleash fresh energy and thinking inside their organizations. In short, they will win. Those companies The Organizational Mindset of the Future that don’t capitalize on changes in the workforce will miss out on new opportunities, take too long to seize existing opportunities, and ultimately fail to innovate. Winning in the future will require a deliberate and systematic approach.

Independent work is no longer confined to certain professions like writing, accounting, and graphic design. Now a range of highly qualified and specialized workers are finding it attractive to work whenever and wherever they want. These elite workers are experiencing many of the same privileges that freelancers have long enjoyed: increased flexibility, more dynamic work lives, higher take-home pay. And in turn, many large companies are seeing the advantages of accessing this on-demand talent pool whenever and wherever they want.

Researchers have looked at the size of the independent workforce in different ways. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that 40% of the workforce has contingent jobs—defined as those workers without traditionally secure jobs, such as freelancers, temps, and contract workers. Today, one-third of the U.S. workforce does some freelance work, according to a survey commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Upwork. An Intuit study estimated that by 2020, 40% of American workers, or 60 million people, will work independently.

Economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger found that American workers in alternative work arrangements, including temp workers, increased by 9.4 million from 2005 to 2015, or a 67% jump. Significantly, that’s the entire net growth in employment over that period.

Independent workers represent 22% of the workforce of the 200 largest companies, according to a survey by the Aberdeen Group. Half of executives plan to increase their use of freelancers over the next three to five years, An Intuit study estimated that, by 2020, 40 percent of American workers will work independently.

Nearly a third of HR professionals surveyed by PwC plan to hire a diverse mix of people on an affordable, ad hoc basis based on the concept of working multiple part-time jobs in a “portfolio career.”

A growing number of independent workers are highly qualified, often highly experienced professionals like business consultants, marketing executives, financial experts, and lawyers. Many are people in or nearing retirement, as well as people who want to enjoy more control over their lives and take advantage of new and interesting opportunities. Twenty-nine percent of employees in China, Germany, India, the U.K., and the U.S. surveyed by PwC want the chance to take control of what they do, and when they do it.

Independent professionals are increasingly being engaged to do strategic, high-value-add work requiring deep expertise. Realistically, the key experts that many companies need to remain competitive are unwilling or unable to work in many standard corporate settings.

They change jobs frequently, every three years on average. They have different goals, such as greater flexibility and less rigid workplaces. At the same time, and for the first time, five generations are working together.

As the workforce ages, companies will need to get organized and creative about how they continue to tap into this highly experienced population.

Companies are accessing the supply of independent workers because of challenges they face in finding the talent they require. They are also responding to rapid changes in the workforce. Forty percent of U.S. companies can’t fill the positions they need, estimates the McKinsey Global Institute. Analytical, engineering, and management roles are the hardest to fill. By 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled, according to a study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Consulting. The Boston Consulting Group found that labor shortages will be common across 25 major economies from 2020 through 2030. As a result, $10 trillion in GDP will be lost because companies cannot fill the jobs available or create enough jobs for their workers.

Using independent workers can feel complicated and onerous. Managers aren’t sure they can find the quality they need from external workers. They believe—often correctly—that talented independent workers are difficult to locate. They don’t know how to best assemble the right mix of internal and external resources. They worry that independent workers will be difficult to manage, and that their investment in getting them up to speed will be lost. When they do try to use external resources, managers struggle to define a good scope of work, reach contracts with people, and get them paid.

In the workplace of the future, however, there will be little difference between “us”—that is, “our” employees—and “them”—people who do not work in-house for the company. The “war for talent” will be transformed. Acquiring and developing the best in-house talent will not be the only goal—accessing and making great use of talent, wherever it exists, will also be vital.

Organizations that focus on systematically moving to this new world of work will see its benefits more quickly than those that move in this direction piecemeal or in response to competitive pressures. As with any such change effort, it is best to approach the initiative with a well-defined, leader-driven, intentional plan – a purposeful “future of work” initiative.

Measured against the tremendous variety of unique talent that exists around the world, every business, no matter how successful, has limited and narrow capabilities. There are simply not enough skilled employees inside a company (or for workers interested in permanent positions) to accomplish everything that an organization wants to do—even if it creates a fun-filled working environment and offers great salaries, benefits, and perks. Indeed, even the most forward-thinking “future of work” initiatives will prove ineffective at alleviating the root causes of employee discontent: a lack of flexibility and personal meaning.

In addition, with talent shortages in many fields and many parts of the world, even the biggest firms can’t acquire enough workers through the usual hiring channels, or even through “acquihiring,” or buying emerging companies for their people rather than their products or services.

Finally, demographic changes are altering how people view their lives and careers. Those individuals who can offer the most to a company often want to work when they want, where they want, and with whom they want—and they also want to work on varied and interesting projects. They are motivated more by what they are working on and less by the organization they work for.

Smart companies will become more agile at accessing labor pools outside their four walls. But doing so requires a shift in both mindset and operations. Ultimately, the new world of work requires executives to completely revise their relationship with talent.

For those companies that navigate this transformation, the payoff will be substantial—not just in terms of new growth opportunities, but also in terms of new efficiencies. Those that successfully navigate this change will be able to think more broadly about the business.

They will be exposed to best practices from people who have thought about tough problems in different contexts. They will be surrounded by fresh external ideas that energize internal people and push their thinking. They will be free to move into new areas of the world that they otherwise couldn’t have considered if they had been focused on trying to find the perfect worker located near their offices. As a result, they will enjoy more flexibility and a greater number of strategic options.

With the right approach and leadership, the world of on-demand talent promises to bring these aspirations much closer to reality.

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