Towards a marketplace approach to managing talent

Martin Moehrle

Dr Martin Moehrle is a management consultant based in Frankfurt and an Associate Director of EFMD. He was Global Head of Talent at UBS and Chief Learning Officer and Global Head of Development at Deutsche Bank. martin.moehrle@efmd.org

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To be successful, organisations and individuals need to transform jointly from a stable to an agile world. Agile organisational structures will be fuelled by agile talent, embracing and thriving in new dynamic environments. By Martin Moehrle

In the October 2016 issue of Global Focus, I shared my view that while talent management practices have extensively matured over the last two decades quite a few organisations still struggle with some fundamentals. 

I concluded with the view that in the new world of digital disruption, the contemporary approach to talent management has reached its limits, being designed – as most management practices – in the “industrial age” for times of stability and predictability. 

Organisations have come to realise that adjusting to an ever-changing market context through repeated restructuring is a painful and a wasteful approach. The quest for more agile structures and management practices will unavoidably lead to new ways of managing talent, in some industries earlier than in others. 

The EFMD Special Interest Group on Transparent and Adaptive Talent Markets, including senior HR leaders from Adidas Group, Capgemini, Cisco (sponsor), Intel, SwissRe, and W L Gore, was set up to explore more agile approaches to organise work and match demand for and supply of talent. 

This article is a summary of what the group imagines the future of work and agile talent management might look like. Work will be liberated from the alienated form it took on in the industrial era. The rise of a new breed of professionals will have much more in common with Renaissance master artisans than the blueor white-collar workers we are used to: proud of what they do and what they create, working with passion and purpose, and nurturing their personal reputation and brand. 

The key characteristic of those professionals and the organisations they are associated with is going to be agility. The platforms and networks enabling and enforcing agility are going to be talent marketplaces and the form “work” will likely take on in these environments can be called a talent journey. To be successful, organisations and individuals need to transform jointly from a stable to an agile world. Agile organisational structures will be fuelled by agile talent, embracing and thriving in new dynamic environments (see Figure 1 in PDF). 

Ideas, people and work will be liberated from silos and made freely exchangeable. Rather than jobs and roles, work will be thought of in terms of assignments, with teams assembled from the most suitable and engaged talent to execute them.

Individuals will rely more on their professional reputation and their visibility across internal and external networks. 

To enable and implement agility, organisations need to leverage innovative platforms and networks such as talent marketplaces. These are transparent ecosystems that connect the work assignments needed to execute a given business strategy with the people, their aspirations, experiences, strengths and passions. They enable an organisation to allocate, develop and reward talent in an agile, proactive and seamless manner while enabling talent to leverage the full spectrum of business assignments to grow and navigate their career, matching personal preferences with work opportunities – and sustaining their own employability. 

Central to the way a talent marketplace fosters organisational agility is the idea of work becoming assignment-based rather than role-based. Talent with the appropriate skills is then brought together into dynamic teams to fulfil the assignment. An individual’s professional reputation will no longer be largely dependent on his or her leader. Professional reputation becomes the means by which individuals shape a career on their terms, acquiring, developing and trading on their strengths and experience as they go. 

Reputation – of an individual, a leader, an organisation – is going to be the currency of this marketplace. And transparency about it is vital for both the supply and demand side to see what each has to offer. 

Agility works both ways then. It allows organisations to quickly assemble teams of the right people with the right skills for a particular assignment, making more efficient use of talent rather than having it stuck within “jobs” or departments that remain static regardless of the spring tides of business needs. It allows individuals to choose the assignments best fitting their career plans and aspirations and to be able to alter the intensity of work and better balance it with other factors in their lives. 

As organisations move from stable hierarchies to agile open networks, the corporation as such turns into a network of networks (wirearchy).

The enterprise talent marketplaces will also open up to external talent. “Employees” will become part of shared talent pools and work on one or more assignments for one or more companies. Equally, companies will become part of a “consortium” based on shared talent management agreements and requirements. 

This open talent marketplace – shared and leveraged by multiple companies – will make the traditional employee lifecycle obsolete. It will drive a transition towards an employee journey through multiple assignments in multiple companies – some of them at the same time. The key ticket to employment will turn from an exclusive permanent employment contract with a single employer into an inclusive professional passport – created and validated by the different employers of the “consortium”. It will provide access to assignments in all companies leveraging the open talent marketplace (see Figure 2 in PDF). 

Former securities that came from working in an established business have been disrupted and new platforms that allow any business to locate talent anywhere anytime have shifted the risk from working as a self-determined agent to more likely rewards. The pervasive availability of assignments, made visible through a talent marketplace, is awakening the entrepreneurial spirit of the prepared worker who is willing to combine continuous learning with the careful tending of reputation while delivering quality work. New virtual communities of practice are more inclusive and vast than any single company could be. 

The scale of these changes means their impact will be felt far beyond business models, organisational structures and the conditions under which most of us work. The so-called “gig economy” brings freedom and flexibility but also the potential for employers to side-step their obligations.

Traditional employment laws must be overhauled where they no longer protect workers from onerous terms and poor treatment. The opportunity here is for corporations, lawmakers, legal experts and workers’ representatives to begin intense discussions on how to keep pace with such rapid shifts in the labour market. 

Agile and flexible ways of working present opportunities but also significant challenges that must be addressed in a holistic way through a new alliance between people, enterprises, regulators and governments. On the business side, there is already an emerging trend for more dynamic, project-like structures in many organisations, which are starting to compete with more static hierarchical structures. Working in projects has great benefits but the need to set out these benefits suggests, rightly, that there is a cost. 

To counterbalance these costs effectively, the method by which resources are allocated to projects is important. The group assumed the use of a market rather than a more traditional resource management function. It assumed that market to be transparent and adaptive, meaning both workers and those seeking workers have complete information and the market can change to provide workers with different skills. 

The Transparent and Adaptive Talent Markets group also considered that workers at different stages of life can have different time and work preferences. Where employers do not match these preferences, skilled workers can find other employers. Transparent markets make work visible that can be part time or assignmentbased and so appeal to demographics otherwise at risk of exclusion from the traditional full-time work place. 

Greater visibility of the market will help workers understand when they are close to commoditised  skills and roles. Self-realisation drives people to seek for development to maintain their employability high and supports the objective of agile organisation to have properly skilled and futureproof talent. Training people proactively for a new role – leaping to the new – has clearer benefits when the workforce is deployed to projects. This approach improves productive time allocated, and gets greater value from an individual worker. 

The group believes both business and people perspectives provide powerful cases for agile transformation. The transition from a stable into an agile environment for organisations and individuals is about understanding their agility — and how they can seize the opportunities of an increasingly digitalised environment. 

Most of the talent policies and procedures still in place were designed to support stable businesses and an equally stable work setting. The agile world will require a revision and evolution (if not a revolution) of most HR practices including the underlying organisational structures and cultures. 

The group identified multiple external and internal enablers and inhibitors for an organisation to leverage a transparent and adaptive talent marketplace. Practices for each of these already exist in all organisations, and most will have to be transformed significantly to turn from inhibitors to enablers. 

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