The new normal in terms of the workforce is not just multi-generational or global. It’s multi-everything. Working alongside each other are permanent payroll employees and all kinds of contingent workers. A recent government report found that 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is composed of contingent workers, and the numbers are trending up. For a slice of reality, I hopped on Glassdoor and typed in, “Google contingency worker” jobs. Of the 49 that came up, there were even positions to be part of the team that manages Google’s enormous, 70+ country, contingency workforce.
Highly skilled, intensely focused, precisely specialized, or just super-competent generalists are parachuted in for a stint, often performing the same tasks and covering the same ground as their perma-colleagues. And we all know this, because many of us qualify as contingency workers: consultants, freelancers, thought leaders. The movement to free agent has shaken up the loyalty culture and put a different kind of spin on the issue of retention. Is it even necessary? Well, I’ll say, and this is all I’ll say for now: it is.
But the blending of workforces was a natural shift in our climate. The traumatic economic contractions we all had to weather not so long ago reminded people that it’s nice to not have to worry about being laid off. And it made companies reevaluate their staffing models. A swinging-door approach may well be a way to better leverage resources: project by project. Moreover, this is an entirely different landscape we work in: we don’t have to be anywhere. We can dwell in the cloud. We’re mobile and social and we’re working digitally and we’re productive wherever we are.
Good. Fine. But here are three essentials for doing it right:
1) Hire on the basis of skills, not cost.
Who’s in charge of bringing in the contingency talent? Let’s start with that word, talent.This isn’t a service contract for a set of copiers, so contingent workers shouldn’t be treated that way. It should be based on skills: what skills gaps need to be filled? Who do we need and at what level? And it’s usually a full spectrum of skills. HR should manage hiring, and it should be connected to other branches of hiring. It should be considered an issue of recruitment, not filling a hole in the dam. Whatever the role, and whatever the duration, should be coordinated with the rest of the organization’s talent strategies.
2) Source widely and often.
Whenever I think about talent sourcing I inevitably think: cast an infinitely wide net, but do it with the best arms you can; make it quick and make it responsive. In terms of sourcing for contingency talent, same rules apply, but even more so. Given that organizations may not anticipate their talent needs — and hence have to turn to contingency workers, there’s even less time to fill. Moreover, the range in contingency talent may be from interim leadership positions (think about it — Twitter, Dupont) to skilled assemblers, and geographically speaking, be all over the globe. We need to have agile, intelligent strategic partnerships with a range of empathetic and effective solution providers — including job sites, staffing specialists and external recruiters.
3) Practice diligent and insightful analytics.
Skipping the application of metrics and meaningful analytics to the non-permanent workforce is to overlook major issues, including organizational holes and skills gaps. But onboarding effectiveness is also affected. You have less time to get them into the daily flow, so this is a brilliant way to see how it’s working. It’s also a great way to measure key performance indicators and core competencies, so long as you have the tech with its sights trained not just on the one sitting at the desk in her office, but the one conferencing at the worktable with his temporary team. There are lots of sophisticated platforms that can respond to business priorities quickly, leverage data into insights, and plot a course going forward. Go for it.
There are, of course, plenty of issues in this new zeitgeist. It’s an incredibly complex example of why HR needs to stay focused on managing profound change. And that’s what this is: a profound change in the way we define, recruit, acquire, and engage talent. Instead of loyalty, we get rapid engagement.
Certainly many of us have wised up and are aware of the benefits of contingency workforces from both sides. For companies, there are all sorts of cost benefits; for workers, there’s work-life balance, millennial-esque self-determinism, and of course building one’s personal brand. And if you really start focusing on some of the most innovative employer brands, here’s an interesting twist: many are associated with interim, temporary, free-wheeling talent. Success lies in freedom, perhaps, and I’m fine with that.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 11/7/15
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