We had an interesting experience last week.  We attended an exploratory conference call between CHREATE, a voluntary association formed by a group of HR professionals and focused on the future of HR in the workplace, and the Talent Platform Association, a recently created federation of talent platform technology providers focused on the “free agent” economy of freelancers, virtual teams, and virtual organizations.

Two newly formed organizations; two very different perspectives….the former focused on how “traditional HR” can evolve in a dynamic and changing workplace environment; the latter focused on working outside the traditional IT and HR gatekeepers to bring their talent platforms and remote teams directly to line of business leaders.

And yet both confronting one very clear and present reality – a rapidly transforming economy that all of us are trying to come to grips with, where stressed out workers at street level wonder how long their own “full time employed” label will apply.  This phenomenon – job insecurity across most industries and all pay grades – is the tip of the mother of all icebergs.

Maytag_Repairman.jpgOn the call were such innovators as Tim Geihll of FieldNation, a marketplace for remote services and repair technicians, working as independent contractors and rep’ing multiple brands. Good bye Maytag Repairman (or at least the not-so-busy but full time employed version of him)! Or James DeJulio, the founder of LA based Tongal, a platform to bring together businesses in need of creative work with creative writers and filmmakers, by-passing large swaths of the traditional advertising and entertainment crowds.  Or Daniel Callaghan, the founder of MBA & Company, a UK based talent platform focused on bringing world class strategic and advisory consultants to organizations in need and who don’t want to spend on the tier 1 strategy consultancy shops, on demand.  Or Alex Abelin, from LiquidTalent, a NYC based platform for identifying and recruiting software designers and engineers , in one of the labor markets where demand is still outstripping supply.

These talent brokers, and hundreds more like them, have created a forest of “platforms” spanning the globe and focused on bringing agency based work to virtually all aspects of the traditional workplace.  In past blogs, we have written about these changing workplace relationships.

Alien_vs_Predator.jpgListening on the sidelines while the HR leaders and innovators looked for common ground, reminded me of the Aliens vs Predators classic film series.  As the sci-fi nerds and gamers will remember, it was a story of mortal combat between extraterritorials, being fought on earth, before a human audience of passive, largely helpless by-standers.  The hook line at the end of the movie trailer: “whoever wins…we all lose”.

So what’s the connection?  To us at Organimi, it is the increasing virtualization of workplaces and organizational structures, driven by fundamental changes in technology on the one hand, and attitudes and behaviors about people – their capabilities, and where and how they work – on the other.

In one corner, traditional IT and HR organizations are being dragged kicking and screaming into the current SaaS / BYOD / decentralized systems era.  With IBM, Oracle and the other traditional players now deeply into the game, there is no question that SaaS is now at center stage.  Delivering more innovative and agile capabilities then the traditional IT organization can possibly deliver…better capabilities, at lower cost…is a powerful selling message.  At some level almost all organizations are now on the path to increased agility, or at least hoping to get there, by embracing these more flexible technology enablers and capabilities.

In the other corner, aggressive entrepreneurs – reinventing businesses, and disrupting entire industries, from taxi cabs to professional services – not content to simply sell licenses to use these technologies to traditional organizations, but leveraging the very same technology enablers, and vast supplies of highly qualified “for hire” personnel from a global labor force outside the organization, to disrupt traditional business models and pose major competitive threats to incumbents in the fields they are commoditizing.

Between SaaS vendors and talent platform providers, we’re not sure who are playing the aliens, and who the predators are, but it seems pretty clear that Marc Andressen was right when he famously argued that software is “eating the world“.  In 2011 he described “a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies would be poised to take over large swathes of the economy”, and particularly traditional industries grounded in the physical world – from travel, logistics, media and entertainment, to traditional industrial concerns such as auto manufacturing, power generation, financial services, health care and education .  Fast forward through this decade, and this truth is plain to see.

So what in the world does all this have to do with org charts, anyway?  In a word, “everything“.

Programs.jpgThe old ballpark saying is that “you can’t know the players without a program”.

In today’s world, and especially in tomorrow’s, that will be true and then some! Whether you are in IT, HR or business leadership — and whether you are a traditional company struggling to achieve more flexibility in your structure and for your team, or a platform company trying to achieve scale by signing up a virtual network of non-employees for your marketplace and plugging them into your clients — you will need organizational design tools that reflect today’s current reality of fluid organizational boundaries, and tomorrow’s adaptive and dynamic team structures.  Mostly, regardless of where you sit in your organization, you will need to “get with the program” and start thinking about how you can leverage these new technology enablers and the equally vast untapped capabilities of people outside your traditional “command and control” organizational hierarchies to survive and thrive.

Two recent articles captured some of the forward thinking we feel is necessary.  McKinsey in its recent publication “How Shared Services Organizations Can Prepare For a Digital Future” had some great advice for shared services / IT organizations wanting to redefine their core competencies towards building a digital business.

The traditional model has been a pyramid structure, where a small set of team leaders manage a much larger group of processing agents who have lower-level skills (data entry, rules-based decision making, and so on). Under a digital model, the shared-services group will still need a cadre of people fulfilling basic requests. But it will also need to establish domains of expertise for specific processes, and, within each domain, task small teams of technology and user-experience experts to work together. Some shared-services groups may need to hire, train, and retain employees differently under this model. IT and business leaders will need to identify the specialized skills required—machine-learning analyst, user-experience architect, or social-media strategist, for example—and determine where to find such talent, possibly looking outside traditional talent pools.

We can guess where more and more of the talent is going to be coming from to fill those gaps….not to mention who will be performing the basic requests.  IT invented business process outsourcing after all.  Forward looking IT managers are already figuring out how to leverage SaaS technologies internally, and talent platforms externally, to deliver more value, faster, at lower cost to the business.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Managing On Demand Talent, the authors build on this theme, providing some compelling advice and tips on how managers across the business landscape need to embrace, as a strategic imperative, the need to cultivate, develop and engage with entirely new networks of external, freelance, global professionals and integrate them into their teams, projects and strategies….not because they cost less, but because they can deliver more and still cost less.

Our research, which is the basis for our new book Agile Talent, found that over half of executives report increasing their use of outside expertise and sourcing talent from “the cloud.” While cost is clearly a consideration, managers describe the primary benefits of agile talent as increasing flexibility, speed, and innovation. In short: it’s better, not cheaper. 

Forward looking business managers are doing the same – harnessing not only their internal teams, but looking for the best talent they can find on the planet – however they can find it – to get the job done.

And where will HR be?  The best HR professionals – as always – will be keeping pace, migrating their focus away from the HR activities and business processes that are being eaten by software, towards the new domains in organizational design, talent management and team building that define the organizations and labor markets of the future.


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As always, thanks for reading, and for your continuing feedback.

The Organimi Team