If You’re Not Tapping Into It, You’re Not Innovating
By DONNA WELLS
Because I have an unusual work history, a lot of people ask me how it is possible for start-ups to innovate so quickly while corporations can’t. Since I’ve been employee No 150,000 at American Express and employee No 9 at Mint.com, here is my point of view: organisations don’t innovate, individuals do.
Every so often, someone captures the essence of what makes small companies so nimble in a way from which both struggling entrepreneurs and even larger organisations can benefit.
The most recent is the trend toward project-based, often contractor-staffed, teams, newly branded the “liquid workforce” to execute at the project level and deliver products and services ahead of the competition.
I’ve personally seen this approach work at past companies and my current start-up, Mindflash.
It’s also been key to the success of two of our best-known unicorn customers: Uber, where in major markets jumped from 15% to 46% of all paid rides in just one year, and Airbnb, which is on track to host 130 million room-nights per year.
Here are three ways to make the “liquid workforce” a successful part of your business strategy:
1) Embed contextual training everywhere
According to Accenture’s Liquid Workforce: Building the workforce for today’s digital demands report, the future of work involves adaptable workforces organised around projects with embedded training.
The first challenge is making sure that training is relevant to the individual learner.
For example, if you hire an industry expert, you’ll want to create training focused on unique organisational processes versus industry material.
The second challenge is distribution and redistribution. Leverage Cloud-based services to make content available anywhere and anytime to your dispersed expert team regardless of their time zone or device of choice.
For content on which you want feedback, assessment and tracking, many of our customers use our online public or private course catalogues.
2) Foster communication in the distributed workforce
It’s shocking to me how many organisations still struggle with real-time team collaboration.
The reality is that a leading industry expert you must hire for a short-term project won’t likely relocate within commuting distance of your office.
In addition, like Uber and Airbnb, any rapid time-to-market strategy is likely to require successfully sourcing and training contractors worldwide.
The solution is to provide the right communication and collaboration tools to your contractors so they can be effective despite their distance.
At Mindflash, we provide our contractors with real-time access to every person on their project team by including them in our Slack channels and Sococo spaces and realising benefits such as immediate file and screen sharing.
And these tools pay for themselves with the first round-trip plane ticket you avoid.
3) Measure team and project effectiveness
Recognise that feedback mechanisms and objective success metrics can be even more important in successfully managing fluid teams.
We’ve found that the Agile Scrum methodology, including daily 15-minute team meetings, frequent sharing of even partial project deliverables, and finely-sliced milestone tracking are all elements of successful liquid team management.
Jira and Asana, for example, are great tools to make frequent micro-meetings efficient and to ensure public accountability.
And if you’re ready for a seamless, end-to-end solution to liquid workforce management, consider integrating your Cloud-based content and learning management system with your customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Property management company TruAssets has done just that, integrating their contractor course work and quiz results with their Salesforce CRM portal.
As a result, they can track, manage and measure both the training and the related sales results for hundreds of external vendors and contractors.
Another large organisation finding success with a liquid workforce is General Electric (GE). Through GE’s FastWorks teams, they’re embedding lean start-up practices to push themselves to change faster, make smarter decisions and stay close to their customers.
And it’s working. Their FastWorks approach helped them bring a diesel engine for ships to market two years before their competition.
Taken to a thought-provoking extreme, the liquid workforce strategy could result in entire organisations with no full-time employees.
Accenture predicts that we’ll see a Global 2000 company with this structure within 10 years.
With TruAssets and GE’s success stories, I’m becoming more open-minded that big companies would start behaving like a Silicon Valley start-up.
But whether you’re looking to become a unicorn, or prevent being overrun by one, it’s time to dive into the liquid workforce.