The Need for HR Agility in an Era of the Gig Economy

Agility Consulting |

1468331906022The era of digital disruption for Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) is often referred to as the Gig Economy (AKA — contingent work, sharing economy, agile talent, non-traditional work relationships, or alternate forms of employment) where Uber and Airbnb have received most of the attention from the press.  Other Gig Economy “digital disruptors” include Lyft (ride sharing), UpCounsel (legal experts), Instacart (shopping and delivery), and TaskRabbit (odd jobs). The rapidly accelerating growth of the Gig Economy represents one of the most significant and all-encompassing challenges faced by Human Resources professionals.  The fundamental question is whether Human Resources can demonstrate the agility to lead the change in culture, programs, processes, and policies originally designed for work completed by full-time employees to a new era when more of the work is being completed by a talent portfolio increasingly represented by contingent workers (AKA — Gigsters, free agents, contingent workers, temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, independent contractors or freelancers).

Technology-enabled talent platforms are accelerating the disruption of the status quo for CHROs and creating a new era of business turbulence, often referred to as VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity).  Illustrations of these talent platforms include Tongal, Topcoder and Mechanical Turk (which the author has used).  These talent platforms better enable people to have more control over how they work—whether that’s better balance between work and home, choosing passion-driven projects, or being their own boss. The Gig Economy makes all those things possible on a scale like never before.  As a CHRO, will you leverage these and other talent platforms to successfully manage your entire talent portfolio, or will you leave that responsibility to the hiring departments or Procurement?

The Gig Economy is demanding a fundamental shift in the typical talent management philosophy which historically focused on full-time employees to Talent Portfolio Management, which represents both internal and external talent.   How an organization manages the internal-external partnership has a lot to do with the successful management of the HR processes, policies and philosophies supporting an entire Talent Portfolio.  Some organizations have problems because they have treated contingent workers as totally separate and not “equal” to internal employees.  The culture of most organizations would never allow treating free-agent talent like internal employee talent.  CHROs need to develop managers to fundamentally change how they think about and manage the entire talent portfolio.

The Procurement Department is often responsible for negotiating the contract with contingent workers.  The process flow diagram illustrated here is a typical process that Procurement often goes through in managing the selection of contingent workers.  Hiring managers are expected to manage the relationship with Gigsters as part of their talent portfolio, but are seldom well prepared to do so.  The challenge for HR is to work with Procurement and hiring managers on a more collaborative approach to acquiring and managing the organization’s entire talent portfolio. 

The 5 Steps to HR Agility in a Gig Economy

The volume, velocity and intensity of “noise” encountered in the Gig Economy requires HR to demonstrate agility in its policies, processes and practices to enable the organization to transform to be more gig-economy capable.  The secret to becoming more agile as an HR Team is to demonstrate that you can be focused, fast and flexible, even in turbulent circumstances. 

Step 1 — Anticipate change resulting from the Gig Economy by conducting an HR Agility Process Audit.

Step 2 — Generate confidence in the changes necessary (e.g., training, policy changes, processes reengineered, etc.) to thrive in a Gig Economy.

Step 3 – Initiate action to change the policies, processes, and philosophies of HR which have historically considered talent to only consist of full-time employees.

Step 4 — Liberate thinking by creating the environment for the HR team to think creatively about how to redesign HR processes, policies and philosophies supportive of the Gig Economy workforce.

Step 5 — Evaluate results by conducting After Action Reviews of the changes made.



The growth of the Gig Economy has implications for HR policies, processes and philosophies.  CHROs have the opportunity to take the lead in developing HR Agility within their teams to more effectively compete with a change ready organization. 

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