Why Total Talent Management is Key to an Agile Workforce

Business agility, which Ardent Partners defines as the ability for businesses to respond dynamically to real-time pressures and challenges, in its rawest form has dominated business discourse for several years. 

The Impact of the “Agile Workforce”

Put another way, business agility is the power to harness talent, operations, and systems to overcome the obstacles that arise in an increasingly globalized business world. Agility also enables businesses to quickly take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. As today’s business leaders pursue agility, they realize that leveraging a blended workforce enables greater agility in how they execute their plans and achieve their objectives.

A company’s talent is what most often sets it apart from the competition. The enterprises with the sharpest brainpower and most robust and innovative voices are the ones that will ultimately succeed and, more importantly, thrive. The continued growth of the contingent workforce (which includes traditional temporary workers, “gig” workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and professional services) translates into more businesses blending various sources of talent to address critical projects and initiatives while developing a culture that promotes more fluid and dynamic measures regarding its total workforce. Combining the power of the contingent workforce with in-house experts expands innovation and brainpower in a more efficient and agile manner.

The Blended Workforce: A Critical HR Priority

Before the Great Recession of 2008-2009, a mere 15% (or less) of the average enterprise’s total workforce was considered “non- employee” (temporary worker, professional service, “gig” worker, freelancer, or independent contractor). As a “perfect storm” unraveled as a result of that economic downturn, with 1) businesses realizing the value of contingent labor (flexibility, depth of skillsets, etc.) and 2) talented professionals adopting the “gig” workstyle to eschew more traditional employment structures, this percentage of non-employee workers began to increase dramatically.

Ardent Partners’ recent State of Contingent Workforce Management 2020 research study, which captured the intentions and views of nearly 300 HR and procurement professionals, discovered that 78% of HR leaders state that their businesses have experienced a moderate-to-significant increase in the utilization of non-employee talent over the past 12 months. With such a large, growing chunk of the total workforce comprised of non-employee talent, it is critical that HR executives prioritize how they approach and manage contingent labor. Too, nearly 70% of HR executives express that having access to top-tier skillsets and expertise is the core reason for this growth and consumption, pointing towards the blended workforce as a top priority.

Visibility into the total talent pool is what enables organizations with the ability to react dynamically to real-world challenges (and opportunities) in an adept fashion. As businesses reconfigure their workforce options amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, those that have clearer visibility into the structure of their workforce (both contingent and FTE) are the ones that can better understand how to address critical shortfalls and knowledge gaps, and, most crucially, how to react to volatility in the global market due to the pandemic’s economic impact.

HR’s Perspective on CWM and the Future of Work

It is important to note that the Future of Work movement is not founded on technology and innovation alone, but rather the convergence of talent evolution, the transformation of business strategy, and the progression of enterprise technology. Since talent sits at the center of true work optimization, the blended workforce is the keystone to the Future of Work. Businesses that are moving closer to true workforce agility are enabled with the ability to tap into top-tier talent when and where it is needed, understanding that productivity and value are typical benefits from the agile workforce. The HR function is beginning to truly embrace the agile workforce, and, as revealed in Figure 1, this workforce is only expected to grow significantly.

Building an Agile Workforce

The Future of Work movement, as defined by Ardent Partners, follows three major principles: talent, technology, and progressive business thinking. The human resources function has long been an advocate of “people” and the skillsets, expertise, and value that they bring to the organization; this group understands that a business’ top competitive differentiator is its talent pool. A third (33%) of HR executives (according to new Ardent Partners research) fully embrace both an agile, flexible culture and the agile workforce, proving that this function plays a pivotal role in helping the overall organization achieve its work optimization goals through the utilization of blended talent, with another 54% building towards this goal.

Total Workforce Management: Reality, Not Theory

For nearly a decade, the idea of “total workforce management” (also known as “total talent management”) has been a polarizing concept: some procurement leaders are slow to integrate core human capital principles into their management of non-employee talent, while some HR executives will always favor a talent-led focus over a commodity-led one. Today, however, more businesses realize that talent in and of itself is valuable no matter the source, the very idea of total workforce management has become reality.

The fundamental principles of total workforce management include integrated procurement and HR competencies and systems, prioritization of visibility into the total talent pool (FTEs, contingent workers, gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, professional services, etc.), and streamlined and standardized means for engaging and acquiring all types of talent. As the contingent workforce continues to rise (43% of all talent today is considered non-employee or contingent, according to new Ardent Partners research), total workforce management initiatives become more critical.

A core benefit of total workforce management is to guide enhanced talent-based decision-making by harnessing the total talent visibility of both shared acquisition strategies and total talent data gleaned from the contingent workforce and HR systems. Ardent’s research validates this talent-led approach, as the top two market shifts expected to transform how work is done are the need to plan for unpredictable skills needs (72%) and the need to reskill/upskill the workforce (68%). These skills-based shifts prove that HR (and other functions) require the knowledge afforded by total workforce management to better plan for the workforce of the future.

Too, total talent intelligence is not just a boon for greater workforce planning. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many human resources executives were burdened with the task of understanding where workers were located, what they were working on, and their overall health and safety. Total talent intelligence is actively leveraged in today’s evolving business climate to effectively pinpoint if all types of workers (both FTEs and non-employees) are currently in “hotspots” around the globe, allowing HR leaders to help make determinations on critical safety issues (and also to move these workers to a remote or virtual setting, if necessary, to reduce further risks).

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