Five Principles for Getting Started with Your Contingent Workforce Program

Today, contingent labor makes up 43 percent of the working population—up from just 10 percent a decade ago. With no signs of slowing down, the need for every company to develop a centralized contingent workforce program has never been more obvious or more urgent.

Before you start building (or revamping) a contingent workforce program, you need to make sure you're set up for success.

On a recent episode of Contingent Workforce Radio, we sat down with Utmost’s Head of Client Services, Erika Novak, to find out what you should know before diving into program development. Formerly leading contingent workforce (CW) programs at LinkedIn, eBay, and Brightfield Strategies, Erika knows a thing or two about what makes contingent workforce programs succeed—and what makes them fail.

Before beginning any new projects, acknowledging these five principles can set you on a successful path to effective contingent workforce management:

Program Design Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

Often, HR and procurement leaders tasked with developing a CW program want to stick with a “tried-and-true” method. Maybe it’s pulled from the playbook for how they developed a program at their last company or how they’ve seen other companies be successful at it. But your business is unique. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter approach to designing a contingent workforce program.

Your program has to be built specifically for your current company—where it is today and where it is going. There’s not a single company out there just like yours. 

A company operating in the highly regulated life sciences industry, for example, is going to have very different requirements than a Bay Area tech company where compliance is important but likely not central. Similarly, a startup or small company with a few hundred employees will have very different growth and scale goals than a mature enterprise organization with 100,000 employees. You can't just transplant a program from one company to another without losing a little (or a lot) of its magic.

Another important consideration is the variability of purchasing power. “I see this a lot when people move from one company to another,” says Erika. “Maybe they come from a program that had a $300 million in contingent workforce spend or $1 billion in statement of work spend. They are used to suppliers clamoring to them. You have more leverage when it comes to negotiation. And sometimes they'll move to a smaller program, but they'll still think they have that same buying power of the former company.”

Your Success Is Your Manager’s Success

“In order for your manager to be an advocate for your program work, they have to see the value in what you bring,” says Erika. You need to engage your manager right from the start of program development and bring them along on the journey. Ensure they understand what you're doing and how it contributes to the overall success of the company and the HR procurement organization. By doing so, you can earn your manager’s buy-in, trust, and advocacy.

One way to achieve this is by setting realistic expectations. It takes planning and work, but your manager can’t be an advocate for you if they don’t clearly understand your vision, priorities, and timelines. 

You also have to communicate using your manager’s language and align your success with theirs. Don’t pepper your progress updates with all the acronyms we in the CW world love to use daily: EWS, VMS, MSP, IC, FMS -- the list goes on. How can your manager understand you—let alone advocate for you—when you’re speaking in code? Your manager has specific goals and objectives, and making sure you're aligned with those is a foundational but often overlooked element of program success.  

Adopting a Realistic Mindset is Essential

We all know the type (or maybe it’s you): They come in hot to a new project with a do-it-all mentality. While this mindset is usually seen as a sign of ambition, it’s a recipe for disaster when building or overhauling a contingent workforce program.

Execution is where many programs fall flat. You could have the best strategy on paper, but if resources aren’t aligned—maybe you don’t have the time or the budget—it doesn’t mean anything. 

Instead of boiling the ocean, zero in on an area of opportunity. Start with bite-sized pieces that you'll be able to accomplish with the resources and support available to you. Get your foundation in place and build from there. Showing incremental wins also can give you the capital to secure future budget and resource investments.

And remember, says Erika, “Buying is not strategic. Just because you’ve bought something doesn’t mean you have a strategic roadmap. Buying something—whether a tool or service—should be an activity of your strategic thinking.”

Relationships Matter

If Erika had a personal slogan, it would be this: Relationships matter. That’s how strongly she believes relationships impact program outcomes. 

Relationship building is a precursor to successful CW program design. If you come in and want to start digging into tactics and operationalizing everything immediately, program development becomes exponentially more challenging. Instead, start by understanding your stakeholders and what’s driving them. 

In a contingent workforce management team, relationship building is paramount because you typically influence others to achieve your own goals. You don't necessarily have the power of authority or even a dotted-line relationship to make others help you—you have to persuade them to help you. 

One tip from the master of relationship management herself? “Every month, have at least three different informal meetings where you're just checking in to see what’s happening in other people’s worlds. You’ll gain insights into what’s motivating them to help you—or not help you,” says Erika. “Although it feels like there are no deliverables from a 30-minute session, I can assure you it’s never a waste of time.”

Discovery is Not Optional

The fifth and final principle is that before making any changes to your CW program, you need to understand the state of the current program deeply. Put on your discovery hat and start asking questions. Don’t bring your biases from your last company. Avoid making assumptions—even ones that seem ridiculously obvious.

“This is the part I see a lot of people skip,” says Erika. “They make a lot of assumptions based on how things were set up at previous companies, for example. They don't do the discovery work that sets you up for long-term success.”

Erika suggests one of these discovery methods is to talk to both managers and stakeholders to construct a fuller picture of the program’s current state. Talk to a high-volume user and an occasional user, for example, and you’ll often see different perspectives emerge. “Some people on the stakeholder side will say, ‘This process is fine. It's been in place for three years. We're good. Don't change it,’” says Erika. “And then you talk to the managers who are using it, and they say, ‘I hate this. It takes forever. I'm going around it.’”

Developing a Best-in-Class contingent Workforce Strategy

With the growth and rising popularity of contingent labor, the development of a company’s contingent workforce program needs to be a priority. Having a well-organized program to manage and scale your contingent workforce is key to staying competitive in the new labor landscape.

It’s easy to get swept up in all the work involved with building a contingent workforce program from the ground up. But before you can even get started, you need to set the foundation. By understanding and acting on these five principles, you can set your CW program up for success and avoid the pitfalls that plague programs not built with these best practices in mind. 

Listen to the full episode

Check out the full podcast episode on Contingent Workforce Radio for more tips, insights, and stories from Erika for building a CW program that starts on a track for success.

See Utmost in action

If you want more information on how Utmost Front Door works in real-life scenarios, consider attending a live 30 min demo. 

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