Unleashing talent in the 21st century organisation

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A fresh perspective is sometimes all it takes to greatly change a scenario. The 21st century business must take stock of its assets and capabilities, but also be looking to augment these with new ideas and approaches available in the wider world. Most organisations are too ‘inside-out’ in their approach, wanting to create everything themselves. It’s obvious why this is appealing, it means ownership of tangible assets like money, products and property. However, for the 21st century business intangible assets including information, customer relationships and talent can be more valuable. It just takes a 21st Century perspective. 

It is hard for anyone to deny that getting a talented team on board and motivated is a problem. Leading Edge Forum’s Unleashing Digital Talent report identified attracting and then fully unleashing top talent as one of the 3 biggest challenges to the company achieving its strategic objectives. And, talent presents a particular challenge in fast moving industries like IT and Digital, simply because they are evolving so quickly. 

The changing role of technology and the IT department amplifies the challenge. At the moment, the digital talent picture is especially challenging, because the role of technology in the world is evolving, and so is the scope of the IT department. Cloud-based services and the matrix of digital services that are being used across business is increasing the need for cloud architecture, integration and commercialisation skills. Conversely this may reduce the need for traditional infrastructure and the talent needed to manage it.     

New opportunities from new technologies create new needs in terms of talents. Big data, new data architectures and tools, unstructured data analysis, multimedia data analysis, machine intelligence and AI all create a need for specific skills. Every enterprise must ask itself which skills it needs and where those skills fit within the organisation. Alongside this need for different skillsets is the need for hybrid skillsets. An employee with both in-depth technological experience and consumer marketing talents could become a very useful asset if utilised properly. 

The question then is; how do you source this new talent? How do you ensure it continues to provide value? And, how do you keep it an agile resource? There are a number of tools you can use, but here we’ll explore several breakthrough techniques to access this digital talent. 

Crowdsource your talent 

Crowdsourcing is generally more associated with gathering funds from a community, but it can just as effectively be applied to other assets. Platforms like Kickstarter, Crowdcube and Seedrs popularised the idea, but a number of services have offered similar things with talent over the last decade.   

Topcoder is one of the most famous examples. It is a software development crowdsourcing platform that has around 1 million developers signed up, hosts about 7,000 projects per year, and its community has been paid $80 million since it started in 2001. Companies run competitions on Topcoder, challenging developers to fulfil their need, and awarding a financial prize to the winner. The platform is also designed to generate learning for all participants. 

It is clear that the crowdsourcing approach would not work for all projects, but it can enable you to access talent that you may never find any other way, not just in terms of skills but also ‘fresh eyes’ unclouded by corporate assumptions. This is partly because the talent finds you (not the other way around), and also because you may not be able to afford to hire them permanently, they may not be willing to dedicate themselves to your organization, or it is just plain inefficient for you to hold on to them permanently. 

This approach is best for one-shot, modular projects, which don’t need a repeat and are cleanly separable from other work. It helps if the work doesn’t require too much context-specific knowledge, and isn’t too confidential. Platforms such as Topcoder have specialists to help you right-size the task and the prize, and generalize the problem so that more members can participate. Breaking a task into pieces and generalizing it also often helps to make it less confidential and more accessible. 

Bring your team with you 

Instead of hiring individual members of staff, a different option is to hire a whole, pre-formed team together as permanent members of staff. This method is practised consistently in certain contexts including movie crews, surgical teams, certain military units and investment banking trading desks. However, this is not a common practice in the general world of work.   

The value proposition is compelling – by bringing on board a team that has done similar work and is together already, there is reduced risk and a short on-ramp to value. The right way to do BYOT is to let the new team operate as they did before as much as possible. Imposing your company’s tools and approaches may destroy a lot of the value the team brings. 

The obvious issue is the danger of creating an ‘us and them’ culture, and that must be countered by including key success criteria for the team that cover integrating with other teams well, and creating shared learning opportunities. In addition, management must be vigilant in watching for and stamping out any unhelpful ‘us and them’ cultural issues. 

Widen your scope with an incubator 

An increasingly popular idea for sourcing talent is that of partnering with an incubator of some form. Whether that be sponsorship of an external company, partnership with a university or an internal setup these all provide a regular supply of fresh startup talent. 

As well as the value creation aspect of making startups more successful, there is also a talent aspect to participating in an incubator. Incubators, and the startups they attract, are often a great place both to find talent and to learn about innovative work practices. 

For companies participating in incubators, the key is being extremely clear why you are doing it. Do you hope that it will produce startups you want to bring inside the enterprise? Is it mainly to learn about the domain, e.g. blockchain? Or to learn innovative work practices? Is it about brand building? If the purpose is clear, you can maximise the aspects that support your purpose. For example, to spot talent, you can create rotations for internal staff to mentor or work in the incubator, looking out for and spotting those with relevant skills. 

All of these methods have one thing in common. They bring in fresh thinking from outside the organisation. Whether that thinking comes from the crowd, from bringing in whole teams or working with young companies it’s time for businesses to face up to the challenges of hiring and use the tools available to them.      

Richard Davies, VP, Strategic Advisory, DXC Technology and Managing Director at Leading Edge Forum 

Image Credit: Kirill Wright / Shutterstock