The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings a wealth of opportunity. The forces of change are washing over markets and organizations at an unprecedented pace: cyber-physical systems, platforms and ecosystems, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence, just to name a few. In every sector, business operators have their hands full with the opportunities and challenges these changes bring. They can no longer simply be heads-down, driving strategy and execution for their function. Rather, now, they must also be heads-up horizon-watchers, recalibrating for new digital era dynamics -- especially shifts in the talent market.
With the onset of technology-enabled business models, the role of talent is more important than ever. The right talent, at the right time, and for the right duration, is critical to success in the digital era. Organizations that rely exclusively on fixed or semi-fixed resource models encounter greater friction with business adjustment cycles, which are now happening at a faster pace and with increasing frequency.
Without a truly effective and progressive talent strategy, no amount of technological advancements will make a difference in the success of an organization.
As staffing continues to mature, the relationships between the supply side (staffing companies sourcing talent and working with organizations to understand what they need) and the demand side (companies with vacant positions, from manufacturing line workers to IT talent on the cutting edge of software development) are progressing rapidly as well. The potential for miscommunication and misalignment, therefore, is strong.
What, then, can the supply side do to make it easier for clients to source and engage talent? From my experience, I believe the supply side can serve not only as the provider of talent but a guide to the talent economy. To do this, they can offer value in the following ways:
1. Direct focus on a scalable talent strategy.
Work today is often accomplished by using several siloed systems, rather than one comprehensive system. The Harvard Business Review’s 2019 The Future of Work Report states, “Digital confusion in the workplace reigns because of multiple platforms and systems.”
New talent models, including freelance marketplace solutions, risk the same fate. Too often, enterprise organizations concentrate more on their tech stack than on their talent strategy. While intended to increase workforce agility, a focus on the rapid deployment of disruptive solutions -- including new contingent workforce management systems (like Beeline and ADP’s WorkMarket) -- can have the opposite effect. When benefits are communicated as project- or department-level outcomes, these systems are frequently viewed as point solutions rather than as scalable enhancements to the enterprise talent stack.
To help organizations focus on the right technologies and how they fit into a larger talent strategy, the supply side needs to elevate the demand side’s understanding of the talent economy. The staffing industry can help clients by providing information about the comprehensive and evolving landscape of blended talent models. They can offer guidance regarding expert ecosystem models that align internal and external talent pools with fixed, semi-fixed, and flexible talent configurations. These options will provide greater adaptability and more precise allocation of competency and capacity for organizations to scale up or down as needed.
2. Demonstrate value across the whole organization.
I recently observed a situation where a marketing team received several bids for design work from a freelance marketplace vendor. The bids were within budget, and having worked with freelancers from this vendor in the past, the marketing team knew the work would be high quality.
Through the company’s restructuring efforts, however, a new procurement group was assigned to support the marketing team. This procurement group rejected the freelancer bids because they carried shorter vendor payment terms. Instead, they redirected the marketing team to a list of traditional marketing agencies – none of which the marketing team could afford. In this case, the support from procurement became a hindrance.
Here’s where the supply side can help: Operational leaders often take the lead when deploying new solutions like freelance marketplace models. They are also in a better position to navigate the resources and requirements of the internal support functions. Vendors can demonstrate their value to these operational leaders, primarily their ability to alleviate the substantial administrative burden. Vendors do this by quickly phasing in a client support model where the supply side directly engages the contacts within the cross-functional matrix.
This proactive and inclusive approach can minimize the operational burden on any single client group, build more robust relationships throughout the client organization, and help minimize the negative impact of organizational pivots through more transparent and proactive communications.
Looking back to our marketing example, if the vendor had established a proactive approach to managing the matrix, they may have been able to demonstrate value to both the operational leader and the procurement team and help place the right talent for the right budget more quickly.
3. Do the work of a champion.
Redesigning resource models, workflows, and culture is a heavy lift for most organizations. There are great examples of visionaries and early adopters of these marketplace models taking the lead to implement this change within their organizations. For example, Balaji Bondili, Head of Deloitte Pixel, configures expert ecosystems to solve for the needs of his own organization and the needs of their global client base. Steve Rader, Deputy Director for the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation at NASA, another example, has deployed expert ecosystems across a range of public sector missions and operations.
What happens, however, when early adopters aren’t available? What can the supply side do to shift the freelance marketplace conversation from “novelty” to “normal operations”?
While no single approach will universally improve the demand-side readiness, the supply side can do the following to support internal teams:
- Align the teams. Vendors can help remove significant friction by solving for the needs of the extended stakeholder matrix, as outlined in the marketing example above. For advanced resource models to scale and sustain within an enterprise, procurement, legal, labor and employment, finance, and IT teams need to be engaged by the supply side vendors early in the process. In all cases, the supply side can reduce significant operational friction for their clients simply by communicating at the total talent level and by implementing a proactive and cross-functional process.
- Establish processes. If the client organization is already working with freelance marketplace vendors, the discovery process should be largely established. The vendor simply needs to connect with matrix contacts, comply with established protocol, and build and sustain the matrix relationships. If the client organization isn’t yet working with freelance marketplace options, education and change management will be required to evolve perceptions and behavior. Vendors can alleviate some of the administrative burden for their client contact and help them navigate internal protocol by anticipating the needs of the cross-functional stakeholder matrix.
- Create playbooks. To that end, it can be helpful for vendors to have a comprehensive playbook for each functional group including educational materials, due diligence frameworks, and operational guidelines. The playbooks for each functional group are necessarily interdependent and carry similar content but can be even more helpful if tailored to the unique concerns of each respective functional group. For example, the playbook for procurement would underscore that a freelance marketplace can provide both simplification and diversification (a single marketplace vendor reaches a community of many experts). The playbook for labor and employment might detail the benefits of having a vendor knowledgeable in global classification requirements and a protocol in place to adhere to regulatory frameworks. Each culture is unique, and tailoring the playbook to the characteristics of the organization can improve the adoption. To do so, the supply side needs to understand the talent needs. If possible, the supply and demand sides should co-architect the governance model, including the processes required to conduct talent background checks, systems provisioning for new talent, and much more.
- Coordinate metrics. Program success metrics can also align with existing client performance requirements: for example, cost and compliance metrics that ladder up to procurement requirements; speed and client satisfaction rates for operational leaders; productivity for finance; and provisioning cycle times for IT.
The staffing industry is uniquely positioned to provide valuable strategic guidance to its clients, as well as access to essential talent. By adjusting the conversation and operations to focus more on strategic enterprise impact, and less on project- or department-level outcomes, the staffing industry can help clients sort through the wealth of opportunity now available through their staffing industry partners. Together, they can improve the way advanced staffing models are integrated to transform organizational performance.