what an ancient Greek parable can teach us about creativity and workforce management

May 13, 2015


leveraging the human intelligence of MSPs optimizes the technology toolkit and unleashes creativity

I was recently helping my daughter with a homework assignment involving Greek mythology. To be a good parent, I set out to acquaint myself with Procrustes, the son of Poseidon. And in doing so, I realized he provided a good lesson for all of us in today’s tech-savvy times.

As the story goes, Procrustes would invite weary travelers to spend the night at his home on an iron bed. If unsuspecting guests were too short for the bed, Procrustes used his hammer to soften their bones and stretch them to a proper fit. If guests were too tall, Procrustes simply amputated their excess body length.

This is an unpleasant story to be sure, but what does it teach us? After my daughter and I talked it over, we agreed that the story of Procrustes is an allegory for any system that demands conformity. We further reasoned that Procrustes’ system seemed to have no rational meaning. It brutally inflicted innocent victims simply for the sake of conformity.

overly reliant on technology?
In today’s tech-reliant world, we are all subject to a growing number of systems and processes – so much so that most of us are at a loss when a cell phone battery dies or an internet connection is not available. Similarly, we have become overly dependent on rigid processes and the technologies that support them, resulting in a loss of problem-solving skills and creativity. This trend may explain the results of a 2013 Gallup poll.

In the survey of 150,000 US workers, 30% said they felt “engaged” at work, but 52% conceded to being “disengaged,” and 18% admitted to actively subverting their employers. I suspect this striking level of disengagement may be due to mass disenchantment with the technocratic systems and processes that seem to be replacing creative human thinking with the expedience of a pre-populated dropdown menu.

So how can the tale of Procrustes teach us a lesson about contingent workforce management? Today, employers too often rely on technology and strict processes to force compliance with internal mandates. Insisting on rigidity, this approach causes many businesses leaders to sacrifice agility for perceived efficiency. If you don’t fit the mold, then you will be made to fit.

However, such a notion runs counter to the idea of contingent labor, which is meant to provide as much flexibility as possible for business leaders to succeed. When program managers neutralize one of the key benefits of contingent labor, they further foster disenchantment and create disengaged workers.

Don’t get me wrong, technology such as vendor management systems has been invaluable for bringing transparency and process efficiency to the enterprise. They introduce order to where there is chaos and replace ad hoc practices with documented processes. What they don’t do well is account for exceptions, provide creativity when needed, and offer assurances to program participants. Experienced contingent workforce managers are painfully aware of the limitations of technology.

These limitations are often the reasons why organizations turn to managed services providers (MSP), who are experts in optimizing the power of technology and processes. This outsourced solution bridges the gap between what technology can deliver and what employers need. MSPs help vitalize contingent workforce management, humanize programs, and deliver creative solutions to unforeseen challenges that software engineers didn’t anticipate.

MSPs optimize technology
Having worked with numerous organizations, my experience tells me that truly excellent programs are supported by great technology and processes and enabled by flexibility and creativity. The hidden value of an MSP solution is not how rigidly it can instill process excellence but how effectively it can respond to the extraordinary. MSPs really shine when they partner with VMS tools to deliver process clarity, a great user experience, and customized services. Only by comprehensively addressing an organization’s pain point can a contingent workforce program claim success.

As you consider how you can introduce more creativity and flexibility to your workforce management approach, just remember that technology can only get you so far. Eventually, you need human intelligence and expertise to help your program thrive and rise to the next level – which brings us back to Procrustes. His name today is synonymous with arbitrary conformity. If you want your workforce program to avoid the same fate as him – he eventually was “fitted” to his own bed by Theseus – make sure to make allowances for the exceptional needs of your organization.


Previous Article
the sourcing dilemma: when to standardize and when to think outside of the box
the sourcing dilemma: when to standardize and when to think outside of the box

Consider steps in the sourcing process that require customization In the first of this three-part series o...

Next Article
want a better SOW outcome? get your MSP involved
want a better SOW outcome? get your MSP involved

better process rigor, transparency, and cost efficiency are just some of the reasons why organizations sh...