Understanding Workforce Ecosystems

This month, our team has been reading the new MIT SMR-Deloitte report on Workforce Ecosystems, for which Lynda Gratton was an academic advisory panel member.

The report is extensive – based on a survey of 5,118 managers and leaders from 138 countries and 29 industries to provide a picture of how they approach their workforce.

One significant – but unsurprising – learning is the prevalence of contract and freelance workers: 87% of leaders stating they have external workers in their workforce, with some admitting that these outnumber their permanent employees. As a result, leaders are increasingly thinking in terms of an evolving workforce ecosystem that extends far beyond their permanent employees and encompasses any form of talent that helps them pursue their goals – and those of their clients – including freelancers and contingent workers, permanent employees, partners, advisers, consultants as well as complementary businesses such as dealers.

The positive side of this shift is that it allows leaders to look to the future and really understand the talent their business needs and where it is coming from. But there are challenges. Only 28% of the leaders surveyed said they felt sufficiently prepared to manage employee populations that include them. This is particularly interesting given that more than 30% of the managers surveyed have themselves worked in a contingent capacity in the past five years.

What this reveals is that while workforce ecosystems have evolved to include temporary workers in line with business needs, underlying organisational structures have not. Many of the leaders surveyed are therefore faced with a situation where their business depends on freelance workers, but their internal systems and processes only acknowledge internal employees and make it difficult for businesses where external work plays a large role to gain an integrated perspective on their workforce. In many countries, government legislation has not made this any easier, forcing organisations to manage different types of talent in parallel streams. This failure to adapt has far reaching implications for strategy and organisational culture – not to mention leaders’ confidence in their workforce management practices. The challenge for the future is to develop new approaches that allow for the effective management – and nurturing – of a successful ecosystem.

Interested in learning more? Read the full report, or contact Anna to learn more about how to start reframing your workforce as an ecosystem.