Workforce Ecosystems: Rethinking How We Achieve Goals

Recently on the Outthinkers Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Elizabeth Altman, associate professor of management at the Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell and guest editor of the MIT Sloan Management Review Future of the Workforce project, about her research on workforce ecosystems. She shared a fascinating new lens for thinking about how organizations think about the composition of their workforce and how to achieve their strategic goals in today’s business environment.

Defining Workforce Ecosystems

It used to be that your workforce was made up of your employees. But today, a significant portion of a company’s workforce is made up of contingent workers. Add to this the increasing amount of work begin done by suppliers and partners and it’s clear that the definition of your workforce today is much different than it once was.

Dr. Altman defines a workforce ecosystem as a structure focused on value creation for an organization that consists of complementary and interdependent actors – including employees, contingent workers, partners, and technologies.

Major Implications of Workforce Ecosystems

  • Leaders need to think more holistically about their workforce, not just full-time employees. Contingent workers can make up 30-50% of the workforce.
  • Laws around managing contingent workers vary, so multinationals need to understand regional differences.
  • Employees and contingent workers often have different needs and values. Your culture may need to become heterogeneous to meet diverse ecosystem needs. Leaders should focus on aligning people around mission and values.
  • Leading without traditional authority is more challenging in an ecosystem model. Inspiring and aligning people without promotions and titles is key.
  • Onboarding, training, and skill development get more complex with ecosystem workforces.
  • Some forward-thinking companies are including artificial intelligence (AI) as part of their workforce ecosystem. NASA gives its software bots employee ID numbers.
  • Ethics and social responsibility are critical considerations with broader and more diverse workforces.

This was a thought-provoking discussion on how organizations need to evolve their approach to talent and partnerships to drive strategic success. The workforce ecosystem lens provides an important new perspective on how companies can compete and create value in today’s business environment.

Listen to the full interview here.

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