A New Work Ecosystem

End of the Talent Wars & Rise of the Talent Advisor

The future belongs to those recruiters who make disruptive changes to the status quo. To do this is challenging and not for the faint-hearted. It belongs to those who de-emphasize traditional search and focus on internal mobility, networks, and teams, who convince managers to recalibrate qualifications to enable more realistic and affordable hires, who figure out how to use the contingent workforce more effectively, who harness automation to serve their needs, and who hire diverse workers.

Talent wars are a leftover of the past and the hunt for employees with long lists of credentials and skills is a zero-sum game. No one wins. We need to be able to convince more managers to think differently. We need a new perspective on the composition of the workforce and a better measure of what skills actually matter.

Our traditional view of the workforce is a monolith of full-time workers. We have an embedded view that all workers should be permanent and that working hours and the place of work should be fixed. We hire deep functional experts in the hope that they will develop the next great product or help us become more competitive. Yet the decades of constantly increasing hiring requirements and scouring the world for the most elite have not paid very big dividends. In fact, many of the most successful startups have been founded by misfits and mavericks who fit no hiring requirements. It was their ability to harness teams of people to achieve their goals that made them successful.

A more useful view of the workforce is to see it as an ecosystem made up of the skills and knowledge found within teams of permanent and gig workers, contractors, part-time and full-time workers, customers, service providers, strategic partners, and remote workers partnered with automated tools, augmented with A.I.

The Shamrock Organization & Workforce Emerges

In 1989, Charles Handy, a management theorist, wrote a very prescient book called The Age of Unreason. In it, he described what he called the "Shamrock Organization." The book outlined a future of how organizations and work would be structured that was hard to imagine in the 1990s, but one that is coming into focus clearly today.

He advocated that an organization should be a network rather than a hierarchy. It would be made up of three types of workers. which he described as the three leaves of a shamrock.

The first leaf was made up of a small number of permanent executives and professionals who conceived new products or services, maintained the culture, and set the strategic direction.

The second leaf was a diverse group of contractors and consultants who built the products or developed the services through a series of flexibly staffed projects.

They were assisted by the third leaf which was made up of the transient contingent workforce used as needed to support the projects or to provide an on-demand source of skills as needs waxed and waned.

If he were to update the book today, he would most likely add a fourth leaf which would include artificial intelligence and automation. Technology is already a critical part of the workforce and it will continue to replace less-skilled, routine jobs, and augment higher-level ones. Figure 1 shows what the worker composition of a new organization might look like, including technology and A.I.

Figure 2 below, shows how roles will evolve, be replaced, or augmented with technology. The entire workforce will be reoriented and refocused as automation becomes more embedded and sophisticated. Paradoxically, roles that are both the easiest to hire and least expensive, as well as those that are the hardest to hire and the highest-paid, will be the ones most vulnerable to automation.

Transactional roles will be fully automated or outsourced within a decade. This process is already well underway and has accelerated because of the pandemic. Any work that is repetitive or that can be done by following procedures or formulas is a good candidate for automation. Everything from analyzing legal contracts, writing routine news reports, assembling products, packing boxes, to reading x-rays, and flying airplanes can be automated. Every day the capability and accuracy of these tools to deal with exceptions and make decisions improves.

For the past decade at least recruiters and organizations have been fixated on finding and hiring hard-to-find deep technical experts. The need for these skills will decrease with automation and many skills that cannot be automated will be outsourced to experts who work as consultants or on fixed contracts. While there will be a need for some of these experts as permanent employees, the need for them will decline. As Handy envisioned, we are seeing the birth of organizations with a handful of competent broadly skilled experts who manage consultants, lead projects, and oversee the development of new products or services. A.I. will augment their knowledge and help them make decisions.

The roles that will grow in importance and volume are those that facilitate communication, build and lead teams, design new products and services, and rely on relationships and connections to achieve their goals. These collaborator, communicator, and innovator roles are uniquely suited to humans and leverage our need to socialize, share, and create. More work will be done in teams, and more focus will be placed on learning to lead teams, collaborate and negotiate, and work across many different functions, knowledge bases, and cultures. The concept of the individual contributor will disappear in favor of the team player. This has already happened in the military where small groups of diversely skilled soldiers act as a team in the field. They are connected by radio and wifi to support units in the rear that provide intelligence and use A.I. to analyze data and guide decisions. This is a model that will be replicated in the corporate arena.

What This Means for Recruiters

Technology is a partner and assistant to recruiters. Well executed, technology can augment the weakest recruiter and make even the good ones more effective. Rather than pitching products as solutions to problems, vendors should focus on how their tools help reduce the mundane and administrative aspects of recruitment and how technology can help make assessment more unbiased, administration less burdensome, and automated engagement more useful.

Some recruiters, recruiting assistants, schedulers, and other administrative roles will be automated rapidly over the next few years. This will require upskilling and rethinking what recruiters do and what skills they need. Successful organizations will find ways to retrain many of the people whose role will be eliminated, or move them to other places within the organization. RPO will grow and take over many of the recruiting activities.

RPOs and savvy internal TA functions will leverage tools that will give them a competitive edge including sophisticated chatbots to seamlessly engage candidates and do a basic assessment along with tools that assess candidates and automate tasks such as onboarding, data collection, reporting, and analytics.  Other tools that will gain are tools focused on augmenting internal mobility and employee development. More technology will be designed for a mobile world with simple interfaces and extreme ease of use.

Surviving recruiters will need to focus on advising, coaching, career development, engaging and closing candidates, and interfacing with hiring managers. They will move into the collaborator and communicator roles and will become more valuable.

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Relevant Links

The Shamrock Organization

Charles Handy (Wikipedia)