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Lead the Boundary-less Talent Ecosystem Beyond Employment

Alternative work arrangements can enable boundary-less careers, lifetime learning, greater transparency about work, and worker empowerment. In some industries, the best workers (software coders, biochemistry puzzle solvers, media producers, or product designers) are often available only as free agents, on platforms like Topcoder or Tongal. These platforms are expanding people’s options with an increasing array of work migrating to on-demand arrangements fueled by ever more sophisticated algorithms that match available and qualified workers with the work that suits them, when they want it. They can also exploit workers. How can leaders best optimize this new ecosystem? Here are three principles.

Find Solutions That Span Disciplines and Functions

Work leadership requires spanning disciplines that often operate in silos. For example, HR focuses on the internal, “permanent” workforce, while procurement focuses on the external, “contingent “workforce—each have different and competing goals. That leaves most organizations lacking a clear total workforce perspective and no integrated channel strategy to engage workers at the right time, cost, and contractual arrangement. TAPFIN, ManpowerGroup’s Managed Service Provider (MSP) found that 80% of companies lack a reliable picture of their total workforce. IBM’s HR leaders recruited a top IBM supply-chain expert, Harold Blake, to lead the effort to create a talent supply-chain system. Kelly Services engaged professors of supply-chain management to study how supply-chain principles suggest new competencies for managing contingent talent. This requires future roles like those identified by the CHREATE Consortium, including “Organizational Engineer,” and “Global Talent Scout, Convener, and Coach”.

Use Your Systems as the “Carrier Wave” to Teach New Talent Principles

“Big data” and “predictive analytics” offer mind-boggling promises to discover correlations and relationships through a dizzying array of human-capital analytics services and products. Analytics and measures are certainly vital, but so is powerful Logic (telling the right story) and process (engaging the pivotal decision makers). Finance is a powerful decision science not through perfect measures, but through logical formulas, like net present value and return on equity that are embedded in the finance system, and so leaders learn the logic as they use the system to make financial decisions. This potential to teach leaders how to think more clearly about talent and work through talent, workforce, and HR systems is immense, but largely untapped. Typical systems focus solely on employees and HR costs, which teaches leaders to focus on traditional employment and cost reduction. This may be changing. The Total Talent Supplier Landscape report describes organizations in industries ranging from biopharmaceuticals to financial services that are developing systems that span many work options. IBM “leads the work” with systems such as “Open Talent Marketplace” (an internal talent platform) and “The IBMer Assignment Agency” (a department that manages a variety of programs for creatively matching talent to assignments).

Expanding the Focus from “Good Jobs” to “Good Work”

Implementing these principles requires that company leaders, unions, policy makers, regulators, investors, scholars, and professional societies collaborate to shift the focus to “good work” not solely “good jobs.” This doesn’t diminish the value and importance of regular full-time employment; it places it in a context that acknowledges other work options and holds all work options to a higher standard.

Read more 2017 talent predictions by other thought leaders.