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How to Create a Company Culture for a People-Centric Digital Workforce


These days, it’s hard to think about any aspect of life that doesn’t somehow involve technology. Yes, that includes the way we source and hire talent. Exciting digital breakthroughs, even if they seem unrelated to staffing, are undeniably shaping the future of our work and our industry. But the big question remains: How do we get there? Let’s look at some ways we can alter our business cultures and thinking to prepare for the next evolution in human technology: the people-centric, digital workforce.

Digital Workforce: Technology for Humans

Despite the warnings that sentient machines will soon come for our jobs, there are an equal number of scientists who believe technology is adapting to enrich our lives -- professionally and personally. Some intriguing research by Accenture provided a glimpse into this mindset: “We are beginning to see the emergence of technology for people, by people -- technology that seamlessly anticipates our needs and delivers hyperpersonalized experiences.”

In the staffing industry, this concept is paramount. We serve the business of people. And to unlock the full potential of an intelligent, digital HR ecosystem, we should be concentrating on these wider trends, embracing them, and making them our new realities. As Joe McKendrick noted in Forbes, “We're hearing -- on an almost nonstop basis -- that to survive in the coming months and years, organizations need to go digital. But what does this mean?”

The answer spans a pretty broad spectrum: investing in new technology, becoming more involved with data analytics, and bringing in talent with new skill sets. Yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A more substantial change must come from within. “Going digital isn’t just doing new things with technology and data, it means fundamentally shifting the way organizations are managed,” McKendrick explained.

Our core missions and solutions don’t need to change, per se. But we do need to acknowledge that at some level, we must all become digital companies. McKendrick cited three powerful ways that digital technologies will mold our approaches to management.

Technology Decisions: No Longer the Siloed Realm of Tech

“The shift to digital self-service culture is changing the very essence of what makes an IT department,” McKendrick wrote. Business leaders and analysts are noticing a gradual release of control from IT, which has been moving decision-making processes closer toward the business. This places an increasing amount of pressure on IT to become more agile, focused on overarching business goals, responsive to users, and more cost effective.

The push to digitize affects every department in a company today. It defines how we market, develop business, process requests, interface with clients and colleagues, and all of our HR processes: recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, payrolling, and others.

Everyone who touches the workforce, whether full-time or contingent, must be involved in technology decisions. The needs of procurement, HR, hiring managers, and contingent workforce program managers will be instrumental in achieving optimal ends. They understand how talent-related interactions must occur, where costs can be contained, what metrics should be analyzed, and more. If IT has not given these important groups a voice, executives would be wise to bridge that gap.

Every Company is in the Business of Data

Every company has become a data company. It’s no longer the exclusive domain of software providers, hardware developers or engineering firms. Quoting Scott Gnau, CTO of Hortonworks, McKendrick offered a profound piece of wisdom:

“Having a pile of data isn’t valuable in itself -- but being able to offer insights is of tremendous value -- “the analysis that comes from your data—about your company, customers and your ecosystem,” he adds. “Whether you are a manufacturer of moving metal or a selling a service, I predict your data will become a product with value to buy, sell, or lose.”

This is another area where workforce data, sometimes overlooked, can bring tremendous value to any organization. Let’s say your company manufacturers pharmaceuticals. You may not realize how meaningful your people analytics can be. You are amassing troves of data about niche skill sets, laboratory science and clinical labor demands, success factors, employment branding, salary details, tenure and attrition statistics, and so much more. Internally, this information offers amazing insights to one of the largest sources of overhead in an enterprise. It can help executives make more informed decisions about outsourcing, contracting, forecasting, and right-sizing. Externally, the data can be scrubbed and sold as critical research, opening an untapped source of additional revenue.

Enhanced Collaboration

“Going digital means looking at the entire world as an on-demand resource. Organizations ‘are just now skimming the surface of what’s possible when aggregating data from outside their company -- pooling information from suppliers, for example -- to make real time operational adjustments,’ said Steve Woodgate of TriCore Solutions in McKendrick’s article.

Just a couple of decades ago, how did the corporate world view professionals at the helm of HR, procurement and contingent workforce programs? As functional necessities to support or complement processes. They handled the messy chores that executives hoped to avoid: administering benefits, dealing with employee relations, managing staffing suppliers, and placing temporary talent for projects or seasonal demands.

Today, those roles have changed dramatically. From functional to strategic, we are witnessing an era when HR, procurement and contingent workforce leaders have transformed into business partners, with advisory and consultative roles that shape the direction of the companies they support. They will be essential as the workplace moves from cubicles to digital ecosystems.

Driving Organizational Innovation for a People-Centric, Digital Workforce

Kurt Dykema, Twisthink’s director of technology, recognized that innovation has become a necessity in business, yet most organizations struggle to keep pace. Dykema’s company surveyed 200 senior executives to uncover the strongest hurdles to innovation.

“Three of the top five barriers cited were the ability to implement an idea, the culture of risk-taking, and a lack of industry expertise,” he wrote. “Those surveyed also cited difficulty keeping up with the speed of technology changes and the inability to allocate enough talent to accelerate innovation. So while 93% of business leaders recognized the need for innovation, only half had dedicated processes in place.” Here are some core strategies that can help organizational leaders drive the progress they desire.

Fault Tolerance

Anyone involved in business is no stranger to the word “success.” We use it all the time. Here’s the thing about success, though. It really can’t be measured without context. How can we validate success unless we view it against a backdrop of previous failures?

Orville and Wilbur Wright were not the first inventors to tinker with making an airplane. However, they were the first to launch a successful flight of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air craft. Many people had attempted to climb the savage K2 mountain in the Himalayan range. Many gave up. Others met more tragic fates. It wasn’t until 1954 that Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, members of an Italian expedition led by Ardito Desio, reached the peak of the treacherous berg and returned from the summit alive.

We know these ventures were successful because the world had observed previous failures. From missteps and setbacks arise important lessons that lead to continuous improvements. It’s nearly impossible to perfect a system or process in the absence of mistakes.

The strongest, most creative teams are those where brainstorming, crazy ideas, healthy dissent and broad ranges of opinions are encouraged. This requires promoting a culture of risk-taking. Consider the success of Google’s Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) initiative. The talent at Google are actually asked to fail. As Shana Lebowitz pointed out in Business Insider, Google deliberately requests workers to set goals that “they know will be ridiculously hard to achieve.”

“In order to set these ambitious goals and have them be credible,” former Google HR evangelist Laszlo Bock said, “you also have to realize they’re not all going to be successful. We look for that 60% to 70% success rate across everything we do.”

Choosing the Right Team

The best teams include a broad swath of representatives. For talent-related technology, workforce experts must be included. Robust teams would involve IT, executive leadership, hiring managers, HR leaders and procurement officers. However, we shouldn’t ignore the input of external users. As Dykema suggests: “While rebuilding internally, don’t hesitate to call on outside resources. While having a strong internal team is crucial, take advantage of your outside resources -- such as vendors, partners, or people in your personal network -- when looking for a fresh perspective to shake up your organization’s innovation strategy.”

In an outsourced workforce program, for example, that would incorporate professionals from the client organization, the MSP, the VMS and staffing partner firms. These subject matter experts can be instrumental in addressing the Whys, the Whats and the Hows of the project.

Thought Diversity

Innovation demands diversity. Differing perspectives, ideas, concepts, methods and thinking are the axles on which the wheels of innovation spin. In his piece for Entrepreneur, Glenn Llopis posed eight powerful yet simple strategies leaders can use to build a culture of thought diversity.

  • Focus on things that disrupt, not just inspire
  • Give up top-down control and allow people to have influence
  • Allow talent to define the business instead of the business defining the individual
  • Don’t shy away from words provoke debate
  • Align the mission to reflect the aspirations and realities of the talent in your workforce
  • Challenge the status quo and outdated processes
  • Acknowledge vulnerability as a strength
  • Destroy the silos between departments

There’s no denying or avoiding it: even the very human process of talent acquisition and management has migrated to a digital platform. However, workforce leaders have the power to ensure the construction of a people-centric, digital ecosystem -- a technological marvel built by people for people. By partnering closely with organizational decision-makers, talent leaders bring an important voice to the conversation of business dynamics, culture, and innovation.

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