Consulting matchmaker presents five steps towards building an agile workforce

17 May 2018 6 min. read

Despite many companies having a ‘Future of Work’ plan in place, they remain impeded by multiple organizational and psychological roadblocks, finds a new report from Catalant – a workforce solutions specialist which pairs consultants with Fortune 1000 partners around the world.

“The word ‘job’ is no longer relevant,” argues the opening gambit of a new Catalant report outlining the importance of an agile workforce. Catalant clients, which now include over 20% of the Fortune 1000, are being advised to embrace a “productivity-oriented mindset in which tasks may be done by workers, technology or a blend of the two.”

The Boston-headquartered matchmaker – formerly known as HourlyNerd – helps clients access and deploy talent from among its expanding marketplace of over 50,000 freelance consultants and 1,000 boutique firms. Having shaken up the industry in 2013 by bringing the ‘gig-economy’ philosophy to consulting, co-founders Rob Biederman and Pat Petitti’s agile workforce evangelism has only intensified in the past five years.

In their co-authored foreword to the new Catalant whitepaper – ‘Reimagining Work 20/20: How Winning Executives Are Building an Agile Workforce’ – the pair emphasize the importance of having a ‘Future of Work’ plan. This is a talent management strategy which prepares a firm for a “radically agile future” characterized by skills obsolescence in the face of technology, the vanishing of steady jobs and job titles, and young talent’s demand for flexibility.

Executives need to get ahead of the game and incorporate agility into their workforce immediately if they haven’t already. “If you build in agility only when you need it, it’s already too late,” says Chuck Leddy, a Boston-based Future of Work expert who co-authored the whole report alongside Boundless founder Paul Millerd.

“You need agility now, and not just in your IT department. Disruption can happen overnight, as it has to countless flat-footed enterprises in multiple industries” – citing Kodak and Blockbuster among other casualties of the 21st century – “Do you hear that sound? The Future of Work (FoW) is knocking.”

Talent is becoming core to strategy for companies and HR leadersTo evaluate just how prepared leaders are for the Future of Work (FoW), Catalant sponsored a survey of 100 senior HR professionals across the US. Their findings indicate that while their message about the importance of an agile workforce might be heard, it is not being listened to at the highest level.

A healthy majority of 63% of respondents said their organization has a FoW plan in place. A slimmer margin of 52% said that their CEO or CHRO were the thought leaders driving the FoW plan. A resounding 84% of HR executives confessed they were well aware that a wealth of talent lying outside their walls could invigorate their organization with new ideas and capabilities.

Part of the reason for the gap between what executives know they are lacking and the actions they are taking lies in their perception of what a workforce is and what it wants. “The walls between internal and external talent will need to come down,” says Millerd, “and the technology now exists to do just that. Top talent doesn’t want to be ‘acquired’ and organizations will realize more efficiency by tapping into agile talent solutions.”

Building an agile workforce is a top priority for companiesThe will is certainly there. Talent leaders surveyed by Catalant were almost three times more likely to consider “developing an agile workforce” a more worthwhile venture than “investing in artificial intelligence and automation.” Yet organizations are still struggling with basic talent management challenges – like filling roles within a reasonable timeframe – and finding the resources to put their FoW plan into action.

Defaulting to big consultancies to resolve a talent crisis can be akin to “buying a gold-plated tool set when all you need is a flat-head screwdriver”, says Leddy in response to the finding that two-thirds of executives believe their firm is overspending on consulting services.

Existing channels for filling talent gaps are not delivering enough value The hiring process is also far too slow, adds Petitti, noting that almost half of companies surveyed often leave critical roles unfilled for more than 90 days. Both Leddy and Millerd agree that precision is vital to the securing of new talent in the agile era. Training and smartly-targeted resources will also prove vital to a firm’s ambitions of attracting top talent.

Path to agility

So how can HR executives accelerate their agility strategies before it’s too late? Catalant outlines five steps to success in the Future of Work which the co-founders (also joint CEOs) believe are, at the very least, a good start.

Step one is to align the top team and shift mindsets so that an organization’s entire senior leadership understands the pivotal importance of developing a FoW plan centered around an agile workforce. Only with the leadership’s unwavering support will thought and talent leaders, and external stakeholders, be able to concentrate on developing a strategy that blends people and technology while redefining outdated roles and job descriptions.

Step two is assessing strategic talent gaps. The chasm between ‘skills needed’ and ‘talent available’ will only widen as technological change accelerates. Biederman and Petitti argue that, though this is not reversible, it will only get worse if organizations quit assessing talent gaps and making efforts to close them.

The third step entails developing pilot programs or projects that focus on internal learning. These in-house teams – investigating new HR technologies and avenues of communication – can optimize agility in different departments. The authors advise a delicate low-risk approach that offers employees more flexibility and room for error in applying their skills in novel ways.

Step four is the roll-out of a FoW initiative that is imbued with a startup philosophy – encouraging innovation, learning from mistakes and constantly refining, tweaking and changing the plan based on results.

Once a FoW plan is in place, the fifth step is to take it for a test drive. An established FoW stakeholder group should lead the way in scaling the plan up and down, collecting and integrating feedback. The goal is to see the entire organization is operating on an agile plan that has carefully evolved the collective experience of different departments and meshes dynamically with emerging technologies.