May 19, 2020Read More
In anticipation of the tech-centric VMSA Live conference in April, we’ve devoted a lot of content to exploring the digital transformations that are creating new workforce ecosystems, driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, smart devices, wearables and a host of other platforms. This heightened sense of automation, despite the myriad benefits, also causes a fair amount of concern. Workers today worry more about being replaced by robots and machines. They’re also fretting over the influx of contingent talent. The complementary workforce is no longer fueled by the presence of temps who cover seasonal roles, absences or unexpected turnover. Modern freelancers and contractors are highly specialized experts, brought in to tackle big projects. And a sense of distrust and insecurity is growing among full-time employees. This is precisely why engaging with managed contingent workforce programs is even more imperative than in years past.
Whatever you call it -- the gig economy or the sharing economy -- this “as a service” employment model is here to stay. It’s growing, in fact, with advocates on both sides of the spectrum: the employers and the talent themselves, who are discovering the benefits of independence and stronger earnings. In the not too distant past, we looked upon freelancing as a desperate measure.
During bouts of economic decline, employers concentrated their recruiting efforts on contingent workers -- in all their various stripes and categories -- to keep operations running smoothly while containing statutory and other costs associated with full-time employees. Conversely, in economic booms, companies returned their focus to building up their permanent staffs. For talent, economic conditions carried similar sway. Freelancing became a temporary fix for cash-strapped workers struggling to find “gainful employment” in down times. That is no longer the case.
As Jon Younger and Michael Kearns write in Harvard Business Review: “This blending of internal and external talent can have huge benefits to the organization — cost savings, access to new capabilities, speed and flexibility — but having a blended workforce creates special challenges that most managers aren’t prepared to deal with. The increased use of external talent creates suspicion and generates concern and even resistance from internal employees.”
Think about the situation this way. In times past, an organization’s workers were no strangers to temps. If you worked for a large retailer or department store, you would expect to see temps during the holidays to help support the increased demand. Or let’s say you managed the data entry department of a finance company, and a few employees left for their scheduled vacations. A familiar and simple solution came from calling in temporary talent. However, that’s all changed.
Professionals today are seeing contingent talent enter the ranks at higher levels. Their roles are mission critical, and they’re solving challenges alongside a company’s veteran workforce. Without proper communication, collaboration and management, full-time employees can succumb to doubt and fear. Questions arise, which must be addressed.
“When problems of collaboration exist between members of a team, whether they are internal or external, performance suffers,” observe Younger and Kearns. “And when trust erodes between your employees and freelancers, your organization almost certainly will not be able to take full advantage of the expertise you’ve brought on to help your internal team.”
When complementary workers are sourced and placed directly by internal recruiters, confusion and mixed messages can easily spread. Engaging a managed contingent workforce program overcomes the major obstacles to success.
The presence of an MSP program manager immediately indicates that contracted talent are not there to replace jobs or steal anybody’s thunder. Internal employees can already see that a group has been engaged to assist with a project or initiative. However, clearly communicating the organization’s vision for the blended workforce is imperative.
“One way to reinforce good relations between employees and external experts is to involve internal project managers and well-respected internal professionals in the shaping and execution of the blended workforce vision,” Younger and Kearns explain. “If employees feel that their voices are heard, their input is reflected in the vision, and they have a deep understanding of the value of the model, they are much more likely to support it.”
Providing internal workers with direct access to MSP or contingent workforce program managers before implementation allows the company to bring regular employees into project decisions, process planning and even talent selection. Younger and Kearns note that this practice ensures a greater likelihood that contingent professionals will integrate well into the existing culture – and receive better levels of support while on assignment.
Whether documented or not, most companies have a set of prescribed behavioral competencies by which they assess the performance of the business culture. When looking to augment expertise for projects, corporate recruiters often focus on resume keywords and skills during the candidate sourcing process. Experienced contingent workforce leaders recognize the shortcomings of this approach.
Contingent workforce experts obviously look for compatible skills, yet they also know to scrutinize characteristics that inform behavioral commitment: listening skills, effective communication, team orientation, respectful demeanor, cooperative attitude, punctuality, proven follow through and more. They have also mastered a best practice recommended by Younger and Kearns: sourcing candidates with “a history of integrating effectively into teams, getting the job done well, and making a positive contribution to the skills of the internal employees with whom they’ve worked.”
By aligning the soft skills and emotional intelligence of contingent talent with the hard skills required for the job, contingent workforce leaders help foster trusting relationships between internal and external staff.
When internal HR or recruitment teams are left to acquire and place contingent workers, the onboarding process can be expedited, cursory or even non-existent. Onboarding is one of the most important and powerful differentiators clients find with MSPs and seasoned contingent workforce program managers. To ensure cultures of trust, freelancers and contractors must understand the client organization, even if working remotely. More than basic orientation, they will receive a comprehensive overview of missions, values, pain points, drivers, culture and more. Following are key topics suggested by Younger and Kearns.
As we covered last March, in discussing the vital contributions MSPs will have in the gig economy, comprehensive management speaks to their core competencies. Most MSPs have long been exposed to working with different contingent talent groups. They know firsthand how these workers’ needs differ, as well as the nuances in scheduling, measuring attendance, reporting on metrics, executing the proper agreements, ensuring compliant billing, the appropriate management techniques and more. And because managing outsourced enterprise workforce efforts is their job, MSPs aren’t overwhelmed by all the other corporate obligations that fall on hiring managers. They have the resources and dedicated account teams to install for each contingent talent group. In the end, all the moving parts involved in overseeing a gig economy workforce appear seamless to clients, who can focus on running their businesses.
While client hiring managers endeavor to adjust to the workforce changes that come with this new paradigm, MSPs feel right at home. They understand these different talent categories. They’ve already immersed themselves in learning the new freelance and online work platforms. They’ve designed compliant processes for onboarding, ongoing administration, billing and invoicing, and mitigating their clients’ exposure to risks. They handle performance in the same way they would with any outsourced service provider or supplier -- in relation to agreed upon contractual obligations and service level agreements.
The 21st century could easily be described by a single word: disruptive. We have witnessed an explosion of digital advances at exponential rates, never before experienced. Marketplaces are shifting and changing with new dynamics. Consumers, clients and workers are decoupling. Some disruptions, such as controversial government policies or economic downturns, are unpleasant. Others, such as the evolution of virtual reality, are exciting and promise hope. Yet how we perceive disruptions is often influenced by how they are communicated and introduced.
The increasingly blended workforce is no different. By enlisting the expertise of MSPs and contingent workforce leaders, client organizations can ensure that they are building cultures of trust between traditional and contingent talent, for stellar results.
Please join us at VMSA Live in Phoenix on Wednesday, April 5 at the Tech Pavilion. We’d love to talk more about the incredible opportunities and bold changes that are shaping the future of staffing.