Work is an inseparable part of the human experience. It’s as human as our existence, relationships, consciousness and the pursuit of happiness. As humanity has evolved, so has the nature of the work we do and the meaning we find in work.
But what does it mean to work? Do we live to work or work to live? Philosophers have debated this for centuries and many would argue we work to have leisure and our happiness depends on it.
What is certain is that the world has changed. Accessibility to the internet and the insatiable mobility of commerce has inspired a new generation of worker: a generation of worker united by their collective desire to experience the world on their own terms.
These same macro trends have changed the rules of doing business. No longer is success defined by our ability to accurately define our 5-10 year strategy, plan a workforce, hire and retain full-time employees into roles to execute upon it, but instead by our ability to quickly and efficiently assemble and disband the right people around the right problems at the right time.
The convergence of these trends and the exciting possibilities this convergence unlocks for our future is the reason I took to the stage at TEDx Sydney. You can view the full TED Talk above or read the TEDx transcript.
An interesting uncomfortable truth that organisations are coming to terms with is the fact that 40% of your staff, are no longer your staff.
In my TED Talk, I discussed a customer of Expert360 that has about 4,000 people working for them. They really understand the power of talent - no matter where it is. When people leave (on good terms), rather than losing all those skills, relationships and knowledge forever, these people become part of their ‘project panel’. They have created a new category of worker - their project-based worker.
Today, smart companies are taking a flexible approach to talent. Contrary to the oft conjured image of a millennial on their laptop on the beach - here we’re talking about flexibility of who does the work and how, in order to prioritise speed and quality over short-term cost efficiencies.
If we can break free of traditional ways of thinking about how work gets done i.e. you hire someone full-time into your organisation (and onto your balance sheet) and take a life-long responsibility for ensuring they can contribute to the organisation until they quit or are made redundant, organisations can unleash enormous amounts of productivity and loyalty whilst ensuring clarity of objectives and driving accountability.
What does the future actually look like?
Put simply, organisations are increasingly organising their workforce into multiple pools of talent - a unique combination of internal, known external (alumni, freelancers, contractors and consultants). The beauty of configuring the workforce in this way is that companies can always ensure the right skills are close to hand and critical work can get done much faster when there is an interconnected ecosystem of talent.
In practice, technology is essential to organise the workforce into multiple talent pools and engage with talent on a personalised, 1-1 basis, while ensuring the engagement is manageable at scale.
What usually happens?
The way we have setup our processes around matching talent with opportunities is pretty broken.
How does it work today?
Organisations kick off a search for talent externally through vendors, then maybe jobs boards, then they’ll look to networks, then maybe word will get around and by chance they’ll find someone internally. Perversely, many internal recruiters are restricted from looking internally.
Outsourced recruitment providers (who run the talent operations of many large organisations) are incentivised for churn to be higher and to always look externally.
To successfully navigate their organisations into the future, organisations will need to reverse this process (which is fundamental to their operations).
Organisations, and the talent seekers within them (I say talent seekers because whilst today this is HR, increasingly, there may be decentralised searchers of talent - with HR playing a more strategic role than a transactional/administrative one) should always start their search within their known pool of talent and this means starting with their employees first.
Where it gets interesting is when the project can’t be completed internally, due to capacity or capability constraints. In this situation, that same opportunity can be distributed and matched to the highly engaged pool of company alumni. Failing that, the project can be fulfilled in the external market.
Companies who invest in project-based ways of working and the culture required to support it, will be the companies talented people want to work for and grow. These companies will have highly engaged talent ecosystems and processes geared around the engagement of ‘project worker’.
The traditional job is not dead but it is changing.
If your business is building your company on the foundations of the traditional job - it’s time to pull up. The old principles and thinking governing the way we work has evolved to meet the needs of today's talent and the speed businesses need to operate.
In the future, organisations will still have a permanent workforce, as well as a project-based one. Their people can be rolling on or off work, taking some time off to walk the Camino, caring for a parent, writing a book or engaging in other projects. As project-based workers, we may belong to the project panels of many different companies, with whom we have trusted relationships.
I hope Expert360 keeps me on theirs in decades to come.