Last week, Catalant hosted its first annual Re:Work | Reimagining Work Summit, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Twenty-seven forward-looking executives in human resources, strategy, finance and operations joined a curated list of thought leaders and analysts, partners and Catalant team members for two days of thought leadership and knowledge-sharing. The agenda was packed with high-level trends and analysis, data-driven insights and discussions of first-hand experiences of the challenges and opportunities of driving workforce transformation across complex, multinational organizations. While the event was intentionally intimate, companies in attendance collectively represented nearly 1.5 million employees and over $800 billion in annual revenue.
At the summit’s outset, Flexcel Network’s Sophie Wade and Forrester’s Matt Guarini framed the big picture for later discussions, with conceptual and analytical examinations, respectively, of strategic and tactical implications of market-level forces shaping the future of work. As the days progressed, a few broad themes emerged as common threads:
What it means to be an employee is evolving, and companies must adapt to access – not just acquire and retain – talent.
Operators and practitioners at the summit, both speakers and attendees alike, continually highlighted the increasingly blurred line between internal and external talent, not to mention talent working across different parts of their organizations. For many, the evolving definition of an employee seemed like a foregone conclusion. Alongside these changes in companies, expectations that people have of their own work and how they do it are also evolving. Millennials are just bellwethers of broader trends in worker expectations, according to data presented by Matt Guarini. And, as Highland Capital’s Craig Driscoll shared, companies like Catalant and Remote Year are enabling independent professionals with a widening array of options to choose how and where they work. Forward-looking companies, New America’s Kristin Sharp noted, would do well to offer support for current employees in the development of entrepreneurial skills required to participate the new economy.
In a similar vein, many summit attendees are rethinking their employer value proposition not only for full-time employees, but also for contractors and independent consultants. Given the need for highly specialized, niche talent and expertise that often exists outside or in distant parts of a given organization, leading companies believe that they must do this out of competitive necessity. An innovation leader for a large west coast technology company, for example, discussed her company’s top-down approach to fostering a more inclusive working environment. Similarly, Dell’s Susan Schmitz discussed how rehumanizing leadership with empathy was a key driver of top performing teams, especially among remote team members.
Applying a lean methodology to realizing the Agile Workforce is prudent to avoid costly pitfalls.
Beyond technology, attendees concluded, aligning people and processes are critical ingredients for successfully driving organizational transformation — a point reiterated during moderated discussions with Ingersoll Rand’s Susan Cosmai, GE Ventures’ Jason Bowman and Shell’s Steven Henderson whose companies are partnering with Catalant, along with other key stakeholders across their companies, to drive the transformation. All highlighted the importance of getting relatively smaller wins as proofs of concept before scaling rollouts of their agile or flexible work programs.
The reasons, they said, were to learn, gather feedback, and iterate quickly to avoid the pitfalls of larger rollouts that move too fast, too soon — and, in many cases, miss the point. Insular organizational structures, ingrained mindsets, and both explicit and implicit incentives must also evolve and align for businesses to fully reap the benefits of an agile workforce. For example, some highlighted the differences required in rolling out their programs in countries with different labor laws, as well as different business units or functional groups with distinct cultures and affinities to external talent. To that end, as Susan Cosmai discussed, many are conscientiously approaching their programs with adaptive “guidelines”, as opposed to rigid “policies”, to ensure their initiatives survive the ever-changing landscape of the future of work across diverse constituencies.
Driving workforce transformation requires disruptive thinking and organizational courage, one CHRO in the audience added. But flexible work initiatives do not necessarily originate in human resources — as in the cases of Shell and GE — although HR undoubtedly remains key stakeholders as their companies’ stewards of people and talent. The cross-cutting nature of different companies’ flexible work programs underscores the competitive requirement to treat talent as critically strategic.
The challenges of reimagining work itself often hinders adoption of flexible work, despite open-mindedness.
A recurring challenge to driving adoption of flexible talent programs among line managers is the fact that many are still thinking about work as a monolith, not as discrete workstreams that can be further sub-divided into more granular, deployable jobs-to-be-done. Reimagining work itself as discrete workstreams — a point highlighted during Susan Cosmai‘s discussion of approaches undertaken at Ingersoll Rand — is the critical first step in being able to deploy talent and expertise, whether inside or outside a company, against work with agility.
During breakout sessions, some attendees highlighted their companies’ internal struggles with breaking with conventions on the way work is conceived and managed, despite open-mindedness to flexible talent. In contrast, others operating in industries that already think in niche, discrete workstreams, like the different members of surgical teams in hospitals, are already deploying hybrid teams that consist of both full-time employees and external talent. These hybrid teams, one attendee discussed, operated as a single team and performed extremely well across key performance indicators.
For a perspective on Re:Work’s learnings from a person living in the Future of Work, check out this post from Paul Millerd, a freelance consultant, writer, researcher, and podcast host who helps people and organizations navigate the Future of Work.