Managing talent in a digital world means organizations may need to redefine the way work gets done and create innovative talent ecosystems that build engaged, enabled, and agile workforces. The transferable skills that organizations may need today — creativity, problem-solving, an understanding of how digital technology can be used — are those that help their people think, act and thrive in a digital world that is much less predictable than once thought.
Workforce ecosystems can help leaders better manage changes driven by technological, social, and economic forces. Effectively managing a workforce comprising internal and external players in a way that is both aligned with an organization’s strategic goals and consistent with its values is now a critical business necessity. However, legacy management practices remain organized around an increasingly outdated employee-focused view of the workforce — that it consists of a group of hired employees performing work along linear career paths to create value for their organization.
We see many companies experimenting with ways to manage all types of workers in an integrated fashion. Several novel management practices have emerged across the business landscape. Even so, few — if any — best practices exist for dealing strategically and operationally with this distributed, diverse workforce that crosses internal and external boundaries. Executives seeking an integrated approach to managing an unintegrated workforce are left wanting.
Facing a future that is less defined presents several challenges that can vary for each organization. Every organization is different with diverse requirements. Managing a workforce ecosystem goes beyond efforts to unify the dissimilar management practices currently organized around employees and non-employees. It’s a new approach to a new problem that demands a fresh solution. Our view draws upon two years of research that includes two global executive surveys and interviews with leaders and academic experts. This brief article introduces the concept of workforce ecosystems and discusses how they can help managers rethink the way they align their business and workforce strategies. Organizations are increasingly composed of distributed, unintegrated, and diverse workforces. The workforce ecosystem approach can help leaders rethink how they align their business and workforce strategies.
A workforce ecosystem approach can help companies address several macro shifts—driven by technological, social, and economic forces—that are changing how work gets done in the enterprise. For instance, more companies are relying on nonemployees to get more work done; more work is becoming task- and project-based, and a growing number of executives are recognizing that a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce delivers better results. Companies that adopt workforce ecosystems can take advantage of these shifts, and better align work with strategy.
One way forward for organizations: build a workforce ecosystem, which we define as a structure that consists of interdependent actors, from within the organization and beyond, working to pursue both individual and collective goals. Findings from our two-year research effort—comprising two global executive surveys and interviews with leaders and academic experts—indicate that a workforce ecosystem approach can help managers accomplish their organization’s strategic goals.
Gone are the days when companies’ workforce agendas revolved only around hired employees performing work along linear career paths. Today’s workforces comprise a range of internal and external players—employees, contractors, gig workers, professional service providers, application developers, crowdsourced contributors, and others.