Navigating the gig economy

The war for talent isn’t over; it’s just many of the really talented people have decided to leave the building…literally.

" High-performers have become disbelievers in the sincerity of flexible hours, disillusioned by the daily struggle to balance life and work."

As a result, this talented group of opportunity seekers has opted out of the comfort and security of company bricks and mortar in lieu of the digital independence and capability.

They appreciate freedom of the gig economy – a steadily growing part of the labor market in transition from traditional, full-time, single-employer, permanent jobs to contingent, short-term, multi-contract, highly fulfilling engagements.

According to a 2016 Australian Industry Group report, 32 per cent of Australia's workforce had entered the gig economy between 2014 and 2015. Today, the gig economy represents $A51 billion of the economy according to Upwork – a global freelancing platform.

To put this into context, there are now around 129,800 more people working part-time than there were a year ago, and around 40,100 fewer people working full-time, according to the ABS.

Shifting mindset

While the market is wide open to high-performing talent, the challenge for employers is the shift in mindset, adaptability and elasticity to build capability through multiple talent groups – permanent, temporary and contingent.

The gig economy poses a great threat to old-school thinking about attracting, retaining and leveraging key talent. But simply reacting to the gig economy today doesn’t guarantee preparedness for the next labor market change.

The ability to navigate the gig economy will require transformation in five key organisational areas.

Strategic Alignment

In the book, Strategy, People and Performance: Aligning business strategy, 70 business leaders from 35 companies identified the extent of strategic alignment on business, people management and employee relations strategies and the impact of alignment on organisation performance.

Companies with strategies that were more aligned performed significantly better – measured by return on assets, equity and sales – than those companies with strategies that were less strategically aligned.

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Employee value proposition

An EVP has three key outputs: symbols and artifacts supporting the employer brand; attraction and desirability illustrated by the organisation through the employer brand; and how individuals perceive the employer brand.

An effective EVP attracts and engages potential candidates, retains and commits incumbents, and cultivates an environment in which key talent fully realise the unique value of company benefits illustrated through their loyalty, satisfaction and affinity to the brand in return for their knowledge, skills and capabilities.

EVP return is the alignment between the investment in intended employer brand proposition and the tangible outcomes of the employee value proposition measured by attraction, engagement, commitment and realisation of values.

As a function of navigating the gig economy, EVP return at each point of engagement is critically important.

If temporary or contingent talent engagement is short-term and intermittent, the investment in intended employer brand proposition and its relationship to actual experience will be required to deliver on what people see, think and values they believe at every touch point to fully realise business benefits and return.

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Digital recruitment and selection

A significant digital footprint across social media platforms on which to develop multiple candidate touchpoints as a means of:

a) Attracting and identifying interest, expertise and professional motivation;

b) Engaging potential candidates through interactions with current, contingent and former employees

c) Assessing values alignment and cultural fit through on-line situational interviews, company-specific case studies and capability assessment centres;

d) recruiting talent for multiple roles (permanent, temporary, contingent, project or competency-based), skill gaps and time-to-deploy; and

e) Selecting talent based on a portfolio of work, development and performance.

Values and culture are key attributes used by high-performing opportunity seekers in the gig economy to make decisions about their alignment to and fit within an organisation.

Integrated workforce planning

Integrated workforce planning is managed through a system that identifies of enterprise-wide roles including permanent, ready-to-move, temporary, contingent, project and competency-based positions.

To realise the full potential of key talent in the midst of rapidly changing labor market conditions – exacerbated by  the gig economy – a robust workforce architecture with up-to-the-minute market, business and demographic data, should provide a single source of truth for workforce analysis, planning,  decision making and execution.

While modern planning tools range from spreadsheets to desktop, ERP and cloud-based systems, the requirements for any integrated workforce planning tool are relatively simple.

Key workforce planning requires a single source of information with reliable, up-to-the-minute data that can be sourced quickly to guide planning decisions across multi-scenario parameters.

Without an integrated workforce planning tool, an organisation’s ability to develop elastic capability to effectively negotiate market changes will be slow, reactive and inconsistent.

A robust workforce planning architecture that integrates live enterprise-wide and labor market data, business and capability requirements, and maps change and transformation in real time is a distinctive competitive advantage in the gig economy.

Build, buy, move

While the principles of build, buy and move are implicit in an organisations’ continuous improvement and risk management strategies, significant changes to the labor market and access to talent prompted by the gig economy require a forward thinking and transparent platform on which to lean into capability development, leadership, succession, talent acquisition planning and execution.

Historically, building capability has often been linked to uncovering gaps that stand in the way of achieving commercial and  development objectives.

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However, the gig economy requires a pre-emptive approach to and continuous development of people as a true competitive advantage.

In a digital environment where employer brand can be engaged passively, there must be a strategic and intended purpose to embed capability development into the employee value proposition as a core offering to attract and retain key talent.

Irrespective of role permanence or contingency, building capability should be seen as a transparent value expectation explicit in all forms of engagement from role descriptions,  to performance reviews and development planning.  

Going forward

Navigating the gig economy is just the latest transition in the continuous evolution of work and the impact of change on organisations.

Going forward, the difference between this transition and the next will the speed of change, its relative impact and the elasticity of organisations to be able to transform faster than their competitors.

The question for companies isn’t whether or not they have a willingness to continuously transform themselves in order to effectively navigate the gig economy.

But rather, do companies have the transformative mindset, strategic adaptability and workforce elasticity to continuously build capability – through multiple talent groups – required to navigate the next change, the change after that, and so on.

Dr Wesley McClendon is a global HR executive, thought leader and executive director at McClendon Research Group

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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