Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

'Cull talent from both inside and outside the organisation'

John Winsor, executive-in-residence at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard University, tells us how to leverage the potential of a globally distributed, digitally connected workforce

Published: May 22, 2024 12:04:03 PM IST
Updated: Jun 5, 2024 10:34:49 AM IST

'Cull talent from both inside and outside the organisation'John Winsor, Author and Co-founder, Center for the Transformation of Work

Entrepreneur John Winsor co-founded the Center for the Transformation of Work to revolutionise the workplace for a billion people by 2025. He is also the co-author of Open Talent: Leveraging the global workforce to solve your biggest challenges. In an interview with Forbes India, he explains how networked organisations can transcend traditional boundaries to nurture a culture of openness, collaboration, and continuous innovation.

Q. How has talent transformed in recent years?
The transformation of talent in recent years has been profound and multifaceted, significantly influenced by technological advancements, shifts in workforce demographics, and changing business needs. This transformation is characterised by several key trends including the rise of independent work, digital and remote work adoption, demand for specialised skills, the growth of talent platforms, a shift towards skill-based hiring, emphasis on work-life balance, and the adoption of open talent platforms.

These trends underscore a significant transformation in how talent is sourced, engaged, and managed, with implications for workers, employers, and the broader economy. The future of work is likely to be even more fluid, with continuous evolution in how talent and work are conceptualised and executed.

Q. What’s ‘open talent’? What is its potential in driving innovation?
Open talent refers to the practice of leveraging talent beyond the traditional boundaries of an organisation, encompassing freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, and participants in crowdsourcing platforms. This model taps into a global pool of skilled individuals who can contribute to various projects and tasks on an on-demand basis. Open talent platforms facilitate this by providing a marketplace for businesses to find and engage with external talent for specific needs.

Its potential in driving innovation includes access to diverse skills and perspectives, agility and flexibility, cost efficiency, speed to market, fostering a culture of innovation, and enhanced collaboration.

Q. What goes into the culture of a ‘networked’ organisation?

 A ‘networked’ organisation is characterised by its flat, flexible structure, where collaboration extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the company. It relies heavily on technology and open talent to connect, engage, and mobilise resources and expertise from across the globe to achieve its objectives. The culture of a networked organisation emphasises connectivity and collaboration, openness and transparency, empowerment and autonomy, plus adaptability and learning.

UST, a multinational digital technology services company, exemplifies a networked organisation by integrating open talent into its operational model. They built a Center of Excellence for Open Talent and launched an initiative to staff highly skilled freelancers from digital talent platforms on internal and client-facing projects. This move allowed UST to access specialised skills on demand, drive innovation, and respond more agilely to market demands.

Also read: Developing effective strategies in today's diverse workforce

Q. Scarcity mindset vs abundant mindset. Can a leader’s mindset make a difference?

The distinction between a scarcity mindset and an abundant mindset can significantly influence how leaders approach talent management, especially in the context of leveraging open talent. These mindsets can shape organisational culture, talent strategies, and ultimately, the company's ability to innovate and grow.

Leaders with a scarcity mindset view talent as a limited resource. This perspective is characterised by competition over collaboration, risk aversion, and a limited growth perspective. In contrast, those with an abundant mindset see the global talent pool as vast and capable of contributing significantly to their organisation's goals. This perspective fosters more collaboration, innovation and experimentation, flexibility, and scalability.

UST’s adoption of open talent is an example of leadership with an abundant mindset. This shift is enhancing their service offerings and facilitating more agile and rapidly right-shored deployments to meet the global needs of UST clients.

Q. “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.” How relevant is this catchphrase in the current business climate?
In the current business climate, characterised by rapid change, uncertainty, and complex challenges, this catchphrase remains relevant but requires a nuanced understanding. While it encourages problem-solving and proactive thinking, leaders must also foster an environment where people feel safe to raise issues, even without immediate solutions. This approach ensures that problems are not hidden until they become crises, allowing for collective brainstorming and innovative problem-solving that leverages diverse perspectives, including open talent.

In an era where collaboration, innovation, and agility are key to business success, leaders must balance the encouragement of solution-oriented thinking with openness to discussing challenges as they arise. This balanced approach promotes a culture of trust, innovation, and collaboration, essential for leveraging open talent and navigating the complexities of the modern business landscape.

Q. Centre of Excellence and External Talent Cloud. How crucial are these?
The concepts of a Center of Excellence (CoE) and External Talent Cloud are crucial for organisations seeking to enhance their agility, innovation, and ability to scale by leveraging a broader workforce ecosystem. These frameworks allow organisations to integrate and manage a mix of internal and external talents, including freelancers, contractors, and part-time workers, alongside their full-time employees.

A CoE is an internal entity that provides leadership, best practices, research, support, and/or training for a specific focus area. It often focuses on the strategic incorporation of external talent into the workforce, ensuring that the organisation can efficiently and securely access and manage this talent pool.

An External Talent Cloud refers to a networked pool of external workers that an organisation can draw upon as needed. This approach allows companies to access a wide range of skills and competencies on-demand, providing flexibility to scale workforce capabilities in response to project needs and market dynamics.

Deloitte’s Pixel is a notable example of an External Talent Cloud. It helps Deloitte access external talent for specific, short-term tasks within larger consulting projects, allowing the firm to tap into a broad range of specialised skills and expertise as needed.

Q. What’s the potential impact of AI on open talent workers?

Its impact is multifaceted, encompassing both opportunities and challenges. Opportunities for open talent workers include skill enhancements and new roles, increased efficiency, and access to global opportunities. The challenges include skill displacement and adaptation, market saturation, and the depersonalisation of work.

AI represents both an opportunity for growth and innovation and a challenge for adaptation and skill development among open talent workers. The key to harnessing the positive aspects of AI lies in continuous learning, flexibility, and leveraging AI as a tool for enhancing human capabilities rather than a substitute for them.
Q. How far have organisations woken up to the potential of a global workforce?
Organisations worldwide are increasingly recognising the potential of leveraging a global workforce through crowd-based platforms and open talent ecosystems. Several factors contribute to this trend: Digital transformation, demand for specialised skills, cost efficiency, and agility.

While a shift towards a crowd-based workforce presents numerous challenges, the potential benefits in terms of access to talent, flexibility, and cost savings are driving increasing adoption. Addressing the challenges requires thoughtful strategies around integration, management, and security to fully realise the potential of this model.