Reimagining Your Approach Within Your Talent Supply Chain

It’s an exercise in strategy, not semantics.

September 08, 2017

Digital disruption has implications that are being felt throughout the world’s supply chains: the way companies design, source, produce, and market their goods and services today is dramatically different from just five years ago. Yet while most companies are quick to acknowledge or even embrace technology’s impact in their traditional supply chains, too many remain mired in the same transaction-minded approach to their talent supply chains. A new approach is needed, and it begins by asking “What work do we need done?” rather than “How many reqs do we need filled?”

It’s an exercise in strategy, not semantics. A focus on the work to be done introduces a fundamental shift in the way a company thinks about its business. In the solutions industry we’ve been talking about the disaggregation of work for years, but it’s not just a fringe conversation any more. Technology is enabling the ability to break down jobs into work, work into projects, and projects into tasks. The result is a set of discrete components requiring various skills and best performed by different types of talent, creating a “micro supply chain” within a single job description.

For example, McKinsey estimates that about half of the overall time of the workforce in finance and insurance is devoted to collecting and processing data, where the technical potential for automation is high. As a result, the financial sector right now has the potential to free up half of its workers’ time through technology. Depending on the company’s priorities, that time could be reinvested in higher-value activities like consulting with clients, developing new products, or implementing new marketing campaigns – each of which requires a different skill set and could be done through a remix of full-time, IC, and SOW talent. In fact, Kelly’s latest research shows that the majority of talent managers actually increased their use of contingent labor after implementing automation in their companies.

To bring it closer to home, take a minute to picture your own company five years from now. Think about how technology is disrupting your industry, the new products and services you’re developing, the technologies you’re investing in, what new markets you plan to enter, where your growth projections are taking you.

Now knowing your business won’t look the same, picture your company’s workforce in five years. Has it grown or shrunk as a result of technology? How much of it is automated? Are human workers using virtual or augmented reality to improve speed and quality?  Has your use of ICs and SOW talent increased or decreased? Do you have robots in your talent supply chain, and if so, who is training and managing them?

If these questions are new to you, you’re not alone. Kelly’s latest research confirms that less than 15% of companies are thinking holistically about how disruptive forces impact their entire talent supply chain.  Yet that small percentage is seeing outsized results in both cost savings and quality of contingent talent – one of the most elusive combinations in supply chain outcomes. These innovators have learned that as human tasks are replaced by (or assisted by) technology, the human talent that companies are looking for is becoming more critical and specialized, and ”jobs”—and the way we think about them-- require constant reinvention and retraining.

There are many stages between human, tech-assisted, and fully automated work, and talent leaders need to be thinking about the implications for how work gets done, and who (or what) does the work.  People tasked with acquiring talent need to re-examine their current pipelines and how tech will impact their decision to build, buy, or borrow the talent they need to implement their business objectives. As they do so, they can pull the supply chain levers of costs, quality, speed, and compliance in new and more effective ways.

In many ways, though the headlines tend to focus on jobs being lost to robots, the human element of the talent supply chain matters more than ever -- driving home the fact that you can automate processes, take new high-tech products to market, and order thousands of the fanciest widgets, but you still can’t make people come work for you if they don’t want to. As the in-demand human skill sets become more specialized and harder to find, you’ll also need to be ready to acquire and engage human effort in new disruptive ways. That involves identifying which human skills are most critical to your company’s success, and knowing where to find and secure those people.   

I have yet to meet a leader who thinks their business will look and function the same in 2020 as it does today. By reimagining your approach to the work being done within your talent supply chain, you can do far more than take cost out – you can move your company in to a more competitive position, better able to adapt to the future that lies ahead for us all.

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