Catalant’s Reimagining Work 20/20 Report: Good Imagination or Perfect Vision?

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Catalant, a provider of innovative solutions to access and maximize the value of expert talent, recently released a report entitled “Reimagining Work 20/20.” In essence, the report focuses on the evolving relationships among organizations, expert workforce and the so-called future of work.

Reimagining Work 20/20 examines why and how organizations are already on--or will need to begin--a transformational journey (our words) to arrive at a place where they can take full advantage of what Catalant calls the “radically agile workforce.” The report also acknowledges and cautions that the journey to becoming an agile organization will be a challenging one. And it identifies some of the obstacles organizations may encounter on their journey and suggests strategies and actions organizations can take to avoid collisions or run out of gas along the way.

The report is based on an independent survey of 100 senior HR professionals from U.S.-based organizations (with more than $100 million in revenues and 2,000 employees) as well as Catalant’s experience with its customers and the insights it has derived about what will be necessary for future success.

In this article, we highlight some of the key findings and recommendations of the report, as well as provide our own thoughts on whether organizations might be blindsided by the future of work.

Beyond Contingent Workforce

Reimagining Work 20/20 examines the emergence of a new model for engaging and optimally utilizing critical — and often scarce — skills and expertise in organizations operating in a hyper-dynamic, knowledge-based economy. For organizations, this means developing the capabilities “to access the right people — and skills — inside or outside their company, at the right times” — in other words, becoming an agile organization that can leverage an agile workforce.

Catalant describes an agile organization/workforce as one that is “made up of smaller, cross-functional teams, reducing bureaucracy to get work done faster. Leaders in an agile workforce have visibility and access to both internal and external skills and expertise, wherever it is. Workstreams of an agile workforce look like mission-based projects, with the right people working on the right projects — both aligned with the company’s strategic goals and priorities.”

Achieving this will, therefore, require organizations to break out of 20th century organizational structures and workforce management moorings — not a minor undertaking

Are Organizations Ready?

Catalant has stated that its “experience with Fortune 100 and leading global companies suggests we’ve reached a critical transformation point, as they prepare for what the future of work actually means for their business in the present.” But to what extent are organizations paying attention to or actively responding to the approaching future of work (including actively engaging in the necessary transformation process to become an agile workforce organization)? What do the data say?

The survey found that 53% of respondents considered being able to support an “agile workforce” a top priority (therefore, on the flip side, 47% have either assigned high priority to something else or are not even paying attention).

While 43% of respondents reported that their organizations are “behind or way behind,” 63% said they currently have a future of work (agile workforce) program we assume that the “programs” of these organizations range from being at a “strategy stage” to some “action stage. (We assume that the “programs” of these organizations range from being at a “strategy stage” to some degree of “action stage.) Given that 53% of respondents give a very high priority to responding to the future of work (agile workforce), it appears that not all organizations that have such a program consider it a top priority (a seeming inconsistency, but not impossible to explain).

Fifty-two percent of respondents at organizations with programs (or about  30% of all resondents surveyed) say that the CHRO/chief talent officer and the CEO are the key stakeholders driving such programs. (Of course it would be helpful to know what the remaining 68% of respondents said.) In any case, this finding that identifies CHRO and CEO as key stakeholders, along with the findings in the preceding paragraph, suggest that “agile workforce” has become a strategic focus among more than half of the organizations surveyed.

It’s not all strategic and future of work. Pursuit and adoption of an agile workforce model is also driven by problems and needs in the here and now. Respondents cite the following as what they need to achieve:

  • Access to highly skilled or specialized talent (75% of respondents)
  • Finding the right talent to get work done faster (62% of respondents)
  • Increased speed of talent acquisition (57% of respondents)
  • Reduced reliance on brand name consulting firms (40% of respondents).

Established ways of sourcing talent (hiring directly by traditional means or using incumbent intermediaries, including staffing and consulting firms) is not cutting it. For example, as reported, nearly half of respondents said it was taking more than 90 days to fill critical roles. About two-thirds of respondents said their companies were overspending on consulting firms.

Clearly, it is not only strategic concerns about the future of work that can lead organizations to consider the pursuit of an agile workforce model. There already problems and needs in the present that can add an impetus and urgency to doing so.

What Lies Ahead?

The Reimagining Work 20/20 report acknowledges that there are significant challenges and obstacles to realizing a new agile talent engagement and management model that will allow an organization to “access” talent, including tapping into the skills/expertise of an organization’s employees and creating agile project teams that blend internal talent and external independent, on-demand talent.

According to the report, the top three challenges standing in the way of companies trying to move forward into the future of work are: training (44%), planning and budgeting (38%) and technology (37%). With respect to technology, which was last on the list, Catalant reported that “36% percent of companies plan to increase the number of technology tools to manage their ‘talent supply chain’ in 2018  and therefore 64% do not — despite the importance of technology in supporting an agile workforce model.”

Online marketplaces are also crucial elements. However, 77% of HR leaders surveyed for the report could not name more than two of them. A more encouraging sign, however: 25% of companies that do not currently use online talent marketplaces plan to start using them in 2018.”

Using the right technology is just one piece of the agile workforce puzzle. The need for organizational change, new thinking and new processes are also major challenges to move from the prevailing workforce model to an agile one. The report puts it bluntly: “Organizations that treat on-demand talent as if they were hiring FTEs are not embracing the [agile, flexible workforce] approach. Put simply, structures, processes, mindsets and systems that support agile talent solutions need to be developed and integrated within the enterprise.”

The Catalant report does not leave its reader hanging in face of these daunting challenges. Rather, it offers suggestions for organizations heading down the agile workforce transformation path. These include engagement with high-level stakeholder engagement, accurate assessment of strategic talent gaps and piloting of new technologies. Each of those suggestions is discussed in detail and broken down into specific action steps. This is a key section of the report that merits taking the time to digest.

What We See 

We agree with Catalant’s perspective that a new agile talent engagement and management model is emerging.  There seems to be good evidence that a substantial number of organizations have begun to “prepare for what the future of work actually means for their business in the present.” And there are also other signs of the emergence of innovative organizational models for leveraging and holistically integrating internal and external labor, skills and expertise into normal operations.

One major piece of the puzzle is accessing external skills and knowledge — not simply as a temporary augmentation of the established organization but as a crucial capability that is woven into the fabric of an organization. In fact, according to the Catalant report, “Enterprises know they need to be more agile, especially when it comes to developing talent solutions that tap both internal and external expertise: 84% of executives Catalant surveyed readily admit that great talent, new ideas and enhanced capabilities sit outside enterprise walls, waiting to be accessed.”

We see the increasing use of crowdsourcing as an indication and a good example of how the external sourcing of important ideas (e.g., creating a brand), significant problem-solving (e.g., designing an algorithm) and critical processes (e.g., conducting cybersecurity testing) can become an integral part of an organization ongoing activity. For more on this, see What You Don’t Know Can’t Help You: Why Crowdsourcing Is Alive and Growing.

Another indication is the extent to which young organizations adopt holistic, agile models. One example is that of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Hyperloop has grown from the ground up as a dynamic organization that relies almost entirely on external expertise. Today, Hyperloop consists of about 20 full-time employees, about 25 part-time employees and about 800 external contributors that are working on 50 different sprint projects. These resources are also complemented by a community (Friends of the Hyperloop Movement, social media followers and talent that simply has an interest). For more on this, see Hyperloop Transportation Technologies: Building Breakthrough Innovations in Crowd-Powered Ecosystems.

These examples, the findings of the Catalant survey and those of our own research and observations seem to indicate that, rather than being far out, the future of work is, to some extent, here and already in the making. The science fiction writer William Gibson is reputed to have said, “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” This may also be true of the future of work.

For more on the subject of agile workforce and organizations, see our recent article, "Talent-to-Value (T2V): What Enterprises Need in Today’s Dynamic, Digital, Knowledge-Based Economy."

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