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Finding Diversity Advantage in Nontraditional Workers

Increased use of contract labor and flexible work arrangements has created a continuously evolving employment landscape that provides many organizations with access to vastly more diverse talent pools. And while a lot has been written about the impact of nontraditional labor on workforce planning, talent management, and the legal/regulatory risks posed by employment classifications, diverse nontraditional workers are also creating a plethora of new cultural challenges, chief among these is the need for organizations to leverage the unique perspectives of diverse workers through more inclusive leadership and talent practices. So how are top HR and diversity professionals making their organizations more inclusive and engaging for both nontraditional and traditional workers in order to fuel greater innovation and agility?

A new study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), Beyond Uber: Driving The Evolution of Work, takes a closer look at the shift in the meaning of and approach to work through interviews with 80 chief HR officers from leading companies, including Starbucks, 3M, McDonald's, Cigna, and Cargill. Most leaders agree that an influx of diverse nontraditional workers can affect organizational cultures in multiple ways, both positive and negative, but one trend was clear—95% of those interviewed reported that they are already using nontraditional skilled workers and anticipate using more in the coming years.

Marlene McGrath, 3M Corporation While not necessarily a new trend, increased reliance on skilled contract labor and the ability to recruit diverse digital workers from global talent pools—including everything from virtual teams to joint employment ventures—has the potential to change the way innovative and creative ideas are sourced. The challenge is in capitalizing on that diversity of thought, which requires inclusive talent management practices and leaders who are trained to recognize and promote idea sharing from diverse employees—including multi-cultural, generational, and differently abled talent that may have valuable but limited creative input opportunities without these more flexible, inclusive employment models.

“We’ve learned to collaborate across borders to get to an optimal solution for a customer regardless of where people live in the world,” says Marlene McGrath, 3M Corporation's SVP of HR. “It doesn’t matter if a specialist in nanotechnology, for instance, is located in our head office in St. Paul, or in Chennai [India]. We want the flexibility to allow the work to move seamlessly across borders without being tied to location. Then you don't have to rely on where talent is. All you have to do is rely on the ability to tap that talent in order to get the project or the work achieved."

But how engaged are contract or virtual employees when it comes to sharing innovative ideas or even acting in ways that uphold an organization's culture and brand integrity? How do employers create more affinity or connection with only a limited-time contract or virtual presence with which to connect? Those concerns are why many of the employers i4cp interviewed are becoming more conscious of assessing fit to their organization's culture with virtual workers and contractors.

Scott Pitasky, Starbucks According to Scott Pitasky, Executive Vice President & Chief Partner Resources Officer at Starbucks, “There is a fluid connection between brand and culture. You think about brands as an external thing and culture as internal. But what happens is that those become more one thing than two. There is much more integration between them. Whether it's a direct employee or other kinds of workers within an ecosystem, it says something to all of them about who you are. This is the fusion of brand and culture.”

Employers are also changing the way these employees are onboarded and included in the workforce, ensuring they have a clear understanding of the organization's values and line of site to how their work contributes to enterprise success. Some are updating their HRIS systems with vendor management capabilities that allow them to holistically manage both traditional and nontraditional talent—on-site and remote—to the extent of including contract and contingent labor in corporate learning, expertise sharing, performance reviews, and even succession plans. They have also made investments in multimedia learning communities to bridge the gap between on-site, full-time employees and contingent or remote workers.

Another study set for release later this year by i4cp even found that 7% of high-performance organizations—those reporting growth in revenue, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction over a five year period—are including contractors with leadership responsibilities in development training focused on effectively leveraging other diverse stakeholders.

This level of inclusion promotes greater productivity, allowing employers to more easily track skills, abilities, and gaps in critical workforce capabilities, as well as creating hubs for formal and informal information sharing. Streamlining nontraditional worker management across functions and silos—instead of having contractors brought in ad-hoc by unit leads—also creates consistency in the management approach and employee experience.

Top companies are preparing leaders to deal with the challenges of managing diverse nontraditional workers and teams by focusing on skills based in collaboration and an inclusive, global mindset. By focusing on traits that transcend organizational boundaries, these leaders are better able to source ideas and work effectively with diverse stakeholders both internal and external that, be they traditional or nontraditional, comprise a fast growing segment of the world's workers.

Eric F. Davis is i4cp's creative director & senior editor.