Heads Up, HR: Are You Ready for the New Talent Economy?

by Patti Fletcher in Partners   |    Last Edited: 27th May 2019

HR has a long-standing role of representing the ‘corporation’ on anything to do with employees on the payroll. Slowly, as leaders increasingly rely on non-traditional labor – such as contractors and interns – HR has started to shift its focus toward the entire workforce, including their alumni. As the trends resulting from the fourth industrial revolution converge with the highly diverse global talent economy, HR’s role will expand and transform to include Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Intelligence, informed by machine learning, to both replace and enable the work of humans. Largely driven by lines of business and functions, HR expanse has gone beyond trying to engage, within the rules of compliance, its human on the payroll to do the things that the corporation wants them to do, in the way they want work to be led and completed.

While much remains in control of the HR department and the entity it serves, such as who gets to work and who does not, changes to economic and talent power and influence will continue to force talent leaders to reimagine the role of talent strategy and operationalization. It’s no secret that by next year, millennials will be over 60% of the workforce. Adding on to the changing demographics: women will continue to be at least half of the workforce in most economies, racial diversity around the globe will continue to flourish, and 35% of the workforce will soon be over the age of 50.  To make matters even more interesting, 67% of millennials and 54% of working women are expected to be part of the gig economy by next year.

What does all of this mean for HR?

While some may think there is a labor shortage, the truth is that we have plenty of people in the workforce. The challenge is that HR and business leaders will need to shift their thinking when it comes to available talent. As highlighted from Deloitte and 2017, leaders on the bleeding edge are testing new organizational designs including network of teams. The network of team approach replaces organizational hierarchies with an infrastructure that enables groups of people, made up of employees and contractors, form into high performing teams with specific goals and objectives.

The concept of network of teams is not entirely new, but it has been reserved for the most innovative of organizations. For example, the United States DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) model where each staff member wears a badge with an expiration on it to ensure a sense of urgency to complete assigned work and for the organization to maintain a steady flow of fresh ideas and talent. Rather than rely on traditional labor, contract and employee alumni alike are obvious choices as ramp up will be short and time-to-value a lot faster. In the years to come, the ability to enable these teams to quickly self-organize and begin to execute may just make or break a company’s agility and ability to execute on fast-turn around strategies.

Organizational structures will continue to be needed for key decision-making and people leadership positions. However, the majority of execution-level work in the innovation intensive fourth industrial revolution are more conducive to the network of teams approach. In fact, the existence of multi-nationals may be dependent on HR’s ability to shift its charter to be the human voice of the whole talent economy with much of the best and brightest being self-described members of the gig workforce.[  As more and more members of the workforce chose to work as contractors instead of employees, these free agents will decide who succeeds and who goes extinct is neglected by HR in culture, policy, and practice.

Let’s face it, contractors come and go. They are not bound by the same policies and procedures as the permanent members of the workforce. Interns stop by for a short period of time, often doing work that delivers little beyond a few small projects and a handful of new connections at best. And, employees who leave companies are rarely engaged once the exit interview takes place.

How can HR prepare for this shift in power between the people with talent and those who want to procure it? Here are six key steps HR can take today to attract the best and brightest from a the new talent economy:

  1. Lay the foundation for the right experience. Most HR departments focus exclusively on employee experience or engagement. That is a limited view and is not enough. Dissect your company’s brand promise and how it translates to people who do the work.
  2. Upskill people and project leaders. Consider how work leaders can be upskilled to assemble and support teams of individuals who look different from project to project.
  3. Move beyond one size fits all. Whether planning for permanent employees or those who will contribute based on project start-and-end dates. Whether finding them from pools of alumni or employee referrals, it’s critical to create motivation-based personas that represent the most common traits held by the people in your workforce. These personas should fuel how temporary and permanent talent are attracted, hired, treated under the company’s employ, and post work.
  4. Redefine the demographics of the company’s workforce. Sure, HR needs to include procured talent, such as contractors. After all, these workers are just as much brand ambassadors as their permanent peers. However, just focusing on people working for the company today is not enough. The company’s workforce includes applicants as well as alumni. These two demographics have as much of an influence on business continuity as people employed or contracted in the organization today.
  5. Get clear on new risks and governance requirements. More and more employees have side gigs. Add in the gig workforce of contractors, alumni employees and new employees – and HR will face an increasing number of new challenges. Governing a workforce that has multiple employment allegiances must be thought through and executed carefully. Both the company and the workers need clear policy, practices, and procedures on topics such as confidentiality, conflicting work commitments, social media, and health & safety to name a few.
  6. Shift the money-only mindset to one that considers impact and money. Corporate restructuring seldom keeps the best and brightest. Unfortunately typical considerations rest solely on who is the cheapest to keep. Instead, consider what must be valued, believed, and practiced so that fair wages are paid for the type of work that is expected and needed.

Dr. Patti Fletcher Biography

Included in the coveted list “18 Women to Watch in 2018” by Brown, Brothers, Harriman, Dr. Patti Fletcher, is an internationally sought-after speaker, seasoned tech executive, award-winning marketing and business influencer, media source, board member, angel and investor. She is the author of best-selling Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold.