In a new study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) that explores the evolution of work, most business executives we interviewed--many of whom are the heads of human resources in their organizations--agreed that a radical shift in the employer/worker relationship is underway. The concept of employment is changing too, a trend being driven in part by a growing contingent of skilled workers who expect more control and flexibility in the work they do, to include when they work, where they work, and for whom they work.

Facets of this evolution are already in progress in some organizations, yet less prevalent in others. Nonetheless, the consensus among the senior executives with whom i4cp spoke is that the change is significant, gaining momentum, and here to stay.

The report, Beyond Uber: Driving the Evolution of Work, identifies a handful of trends shaping workforces and the ways and locations in which work is done: economic shifts, generational and lifestyle preferences, rapidly evolving technologies, talent shortages, and governmental regulations.

3M's innovations in talent and HR

Among the business leaders taking part in i4cp's qualitative study was 3M Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Marlene McGrath. Under her visionary direction, the HR function at 3M stands out as a leader in multiple areas that illustrate how HR is not only keeping pace with the evolution of work, but setting new standards in driving competitive advantage through optimal talent practices.

3M is ahead of the curve in several key areas: choosing when to draw on employees versus non-traditional talent sources (contingent, freelance, and other nonemployees), redefining talent management processes, and understanding implications of change for HR.

1. 3M bases talent strategy on business strategy

"We hear of companies that are taking on microwork as a non-traditional labor model 100%," says McGrath. "I don't see our company going to that extent, but I do believe the trend [toward greater use of non-traditional workers] is here to stay. For our organization to remain lean and competitive, we certainly have to look at different labor models that will enable us to best meet our evolving business needs. That's an imperative."

To meet those evolving business needs most effectively, 3M already is using different kinds of workers (both employees and non-employees) and has a history of doing so, owing to the diversity of businesses and business needs within the organization.

Marlene McGrath, 3M

McGrath says, "The more receptive and inviting we become to various labor situations, the more attractive we also become to the new workforce. 3M has long been at the forefront of pushing for changes that make sense--whether being cited in the Peters and Waterman international bestseller, In Search of Excellence (1982) or Built to Last by Collins and Porras (1994), the latter of which was based on a multi-year study to identify what makes enduring, visionary companies so successful--and see this as a natural continuation.

"Yet, when you consider most of our businesses are driven from strong technology platforms," McGrath explains, "it should not be a surprise that our core model is characterized by full-time sales and technical service representatives selling our technology advantages and benefits. For example, in our automotive business the customers are exclusively OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer), large car companies. Given the knowledge and expertise of 3M needed in this business, they will continue to rely heavily on employees."

"In contrast," says McGrath, "you can compare this to another one of our consumer businesses where it is most important to get product on retail shelves and to keep those shelves stocked. In several countries, like Brazil, we have sales agents (who are not 3M employees) who place product on shelves and deliver items for customers. These are typically small stores for our Consumer Health Care business, selling bandages and such. In another country the same role may make more sense to be a fulltime employee."

Another facet of talent use at 3M involves using technical specialists in some of their safety or health care businesses, where great depth of expertise is needed, and such talent doesn't necessarily mean 3M employees. "We often contract with nurses, physicians or others who may already be employed by or providing services to other organizations. So even in our core product areas we use multiple labor models now, and we'll continue to do so. We try to be very open to new and better ways of doing work, especially if we can also lower our costs and get the same high quality of work done," McGrath says.

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