the integrated workforce: is a new phase at hand?

August 20, 2014

Most talent acquisition decision makers are familiar with the promise of the integrated workforce. Over the years, more often than not, procurement has had the final say on the buying decisions regarding contingent workers and contractors, and HR has owned the attraction and hiring of traditional employees. It is a siloed approach, where the left hand often doesn’t know what the right is doing. 

we know the promise

That’s where the promise of the integrated workforce strategy comes in. By putting procurement and HR on the same page and putting variable workforce engagement and traditional hiring under one umbrella, a company can get a leg up on the competition in securing the people it needs to stay ahead in the market. An integrated workforce strategy offers a tremendous opportunity for improvement in terms of visibility, cost control, quality of talent, employer branding and, ultimately, overall enterprise productivity and performance.

we know the obstacles

In my experience, particularly in the world of MSP and contractor workforce management, I have found that almost every client and colleague would agree that an integrated workforce approach would deliver a great advantage to the business. Unfortunately, the promise remains aspirational in many organizations because the devil is in the details.

How do you bring together the disparate reporting structures of HR and procurement, the goals of each, and their separate relationships to hiring managers? How do you marry the disparate systems used to track the processes? How do you carve out time to put procurement and HR in the same room, repeatedly, to hash out a collaborative process? How do you encourage the creativity of all parties involved when corporate policies and procedures are in place to maintain the status quo? The details seem to pop up everywhere across the world of workforce management. 

clearing the hurdles, one win at a time

Despite the hurdles, business is business, and if there is value to reap and a competitive advantage to be achieved, the integrated workforce approach will eventually gain traction. So the question remains, how will companies finally begin to approach a holistic strategy? The answer has already begun to unfold.

A number of buyers are using concepts that integrate RPO, payrolling services (employer of record), and MSP, establishing “one-stop shops” for handling all these talent needs. Many other organizations are exploring the idea. Small to medium-sized organizations and departments within larger enterprises are typically the early adopters. The integrated workforce strategy may not be fully mature. It may lack a formal governance structure but have a common reporting framework (or vice versa). In other words, adopting an integrated workforce solution across the enterprise is still a novel and intimidating concept for many; rather, they are  more comfortable with rolling the concept out to specific departments or job functions.

That’s why a different type of thinking may help companies turn the corner on the integrated workforce. The problems that stand in the way are not workforce problems. They are, in fact, problems of implementation, change management, and adoption.

Looking at the opportunity through that lens, the integrated  workforce is no longer a pioneering trail. We have seen many organizations master the challenges of implementation. They wrestle with the need for a phased approach that establishes wins through one organization at time, or a “big-bang” implementation that coordinates resources simultaneously across the enterprise.

We have seen clients successfully roll out an MSP to a “new” environment across a complex global structure. In 2010, a global IT solutions provider did just that. We helped realign the client’s procurement groups from multiple regions to report to a single owner and become one team.  We helped build the value proposition to establish collaboration between HR and procurement in multiple countries to develop an MSP and payrolling solution in countries where it did not exist. This led to initial success across a few countries, followed by ongoing refinement of those programs that resulted in implementation and adoption by additional countries. Today, the expansion to new countries continues, and ongoing engagement of HR and other stakeholders by procurement enables the adoption of services so that greater value can be achieved for all involved.     

practical success: a phased approach

Can an integrated workforce approach be implemented in a similar fashion? From my perspective in working with companies that have already started down the road, the answer is clearly “yes.”  However, there are caveats. If you simply engage the same RPO and MSP provider to address contingent and traditional talent needs without the commitment of internal stakeholders to integrate reporting, technology, processes, and governance, the benefits will be limited. If you make the commitment but don’t consciously push the contingent workforce supplier community to get onboard, you may end up with only half a strategy. In other words, a clear display of integration and resulting benefit is essential for the early win.

By phasing in their strategy, more companies will begin to crack the code for the integrated workforce approach. As the boundaries between the contingent, contractor and traditional workers continue to blur in the talent marketplace, it is a code worth solving now.


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