Traditionally, organizations have tried to adapt through tweaks and workarounds to their traditional workforce models and policies. However, we’re now at a point where duct tape and baling wire aren’t good enough and fundamental changes are required. The top two barriers to unlocking the workforce ecosystem, according to the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, were the need to shift culture (27%) and ways of working (26%).
The new fundamentals
Adopt a workforce ecosystem mindset. Moving forward, you need to think of your entire pool of workers (and future workers) as a boundaryless ecosystem—treating all types of workers as highly valuable and integral to the business. This includes not only explicitly factoring nontraditional workers into your workforce strategies and plans, but also integrating all workers into your organization’s culture (whether they are full-time or part-time workers; remote or in-person). Every single person who contributes work to your organization should reflect its core values and feel like part of the culture. Interestingly, despite being overlooked at an organizational and system level, data from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte reveals that a vast majority of global managers (93%) already consider both internal and external workers to be part of their workforce, indicating that managers may have already adopted this mindset.3
Take a skills-based approach. As noted in the “Navigating the end of jobs” chapter, a growing number of forward-thinking organizations are moving away from the centuries-old workforce model that is built on a foundation of formal, narrowly defined jobs and job titles. In its place, they are adopting a new skills-based approach centered around skills, capabilities, and interests. This shift aligns perfectly with the concept of a workforce ecosystem, focusing on the work that needs to get done—and skills required to do it—rather than worker type or job title.
Create an open workforce platform. Instead of having completely different approaches and platforms for traditional and nontraditional workers, adopt an open approach to talent that unlocks the full potential of every type of worker while providing greater consistency across your entire workforce ecosystem:
- Open. Develop workforce strategies and plans that recognize and embrace the unique value and contributions of all types of workers, as well as their unique needs and preferences.
- Integrated with speed. Ecosystem platforms need to be integrated with business strategies to flexibly adapt to changing work and customer needs.
This isn’t to suggest all workers should be treated identically. Different types of workers have different needs, contribute value in different ways, and choose different trade-offs. For example, traditional full-time employees typically receive extras such as full benefits and greater job security in exchange for dedicated focus, availability, and loyalty to a single employer. Other worker groups get fewer perks in exchange for higher hourly rates and increased flexibility. To attract and harness crucial talent, it’s important to respect those personal preferences.
Pivot from directing to orchestrating. Preparing organizations and managers to operate in a workforce ecosystem requires new management practices, shifting away from legacy command-and-control approaches to cross-functional alignment and integration, to effectively access, engage, manage, and develop external workers in ways that were previously reserved for traditional employees. Today, it is common for external workers to be influenced by many different groups, such as human resources, procurement, technology, and business development, which often do not communicate with each other about external worker processes and practices. Going forward, functional and business unit leaders need to work together to purposefully and systematically think about the holistic workforce ecosystem. These new relationships may require fundamental changes in management practices, technology, integration, and leadership, which all underpin an organization’s ability to successfully orchestrate workforce ecosystems.4
Current experiments: What leading organizations are exploring
- Faith-based health care providers in the United States are exploring the creation of a consortium to develop and share talent that can be deployed across multiple member systems; build a more attractive, collective employer brand; and address talent challenges and shortages within health care. This also creates deployment flexibility within the consortium and expanded career opportunities and agency for workers, who have shared access to multiple organizations within the consortium.
- Two large media companies going through a merger are shifting the workforce ecosystem paradigm as they seek to harmonize their two businesses and workforces. While traditional workforce integration approaches would consider employees first and only, these companies intentionally began their workforce integration work by looking at external workers first and then “zooming in” to traditional employees. This shift will enable the organizations to better identify areas of focus and overlap to achieve synergy targets and align on the right growth plays for the future-integrated organization.
- Novartis is integrating the management of its 100,000-plus internal workers and 50,000 external workers under the umbrella of the People & Organization function to offer a seamless experience and a holistic workforce strategy. Building this integrated view will enable leaders to think intentionally about the desired balance of internal and external workers, basing those decisions on the specific needs of the business and considering factors such as availability of skills, speed to access, and affordability.5
- Unilever employs more than 150,000 people worldwide, but the outer core of the consumer goods company’s workforce—people, third parties, and agencies—is estimated at 3 million. Senior leaders at Unilever are working to digitize data and insights about the external workforce as a prerequisite to upskilling external workers in addition to employees, to create a more flexible and agile workforce.6
- M&T Bank partnered with a regional coalition of nonprofits, local governments, and educational institutions to address unemployment and underemployment in Western New York (WNY) by training community members in high-need skills.7 The WNY Tech Skills initiative provides free courses in skills such as data analysis, UX design, and software engineering, and is designed to promote economic stability and health within the community, while building the broader ecosystem of talent in the region which all companies can access.
- Local government and nonprofits are responding to increasing workforce development challenges across the Greater Mesilla Valley region in New Mexico. The Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and The Bridge of Southern New Mexico hosted a summit with leaders from government, private industry, higher education, and the community, to build a coalition for a self-sustaining local workforce ecosystem in the region. The summit centered on strategies to recruit, develop, and retain local talent, particularly in light of increasing worker agency. This coalition approach demonstrates a true ecosystem mindset, as government and private companies come together to build a collective development approach for their workforce.
The path forward