Unlearning the way we design work

Picture of Michelle Fotheringham

Michelle Fotheringham

CEO & Founder

3 min read

No longer is “talent” a term exclusively applied to an employee workforce.

A broader, and more contemporary, definition of talent considers all individuals and teams doing work within your organisation. This includes full-time employees, part-time employees, contractors, service providers, agencies and on-demand talent.

They’re all doing work within your organisation.
They’re all creating outcomes for your business and your customers.
Their performance matters. Their impact matters. They matter.

One growing segment of the modern talent ecosystem is on-demand talent. Also known as freelancers, independent consultants or gig professionals, these are highly experienced professionals who are brought into organisations as and when needed. They’re often corporate escapees who have opted out of the traditional employee-employer work model to deliver outcomes across multiple organisations.

But to make the most of this valuable talent pool, we’ve got some unlearning to do.

Before we even think about resourcing on-demand talent, we must reimagine the way we design work. This is a critical enabler of any on-demand talent strategy. Yet, most organisations aren’t differentiating between how work is designed for on-demand talent (gigs or projects) versus employees (jobs), and default to what they’re most familiar with.

The default: Time-based design

For decades we’ve designed work into jobs by looking at how many days per week, and over how many months work will happen. More often than not, we still define work as an ongoing job needed precisely five days a week and engage talent as a permanent employee. This is largely built on the underlying assumption that we need the same capability at the same capacity all of the time.

Of course, the employment model absolutely has its very important place at the very core of organisations and within the talent ecosystem. But this approach can be a bit of a blunt instrument and is not the only, or most efficient, way to get work done.

The alternative: Outcome based design

Where work is designed using outcomes as the basis, leaders define the work to be done in terms of specific deliverables that need to be met and achieved. They engage on-demand talent to deliver.

It’s a bit like when you go to the hairdressers or take an outfit to the dry cleaner. They charge for an outcome, rather than an arbitrary number of hours, meaning you’re paying just enough for the task to be completed.

Example 1: Flexible capability
As opposed to employing an Organisation Development lead to work across a range of programs over a 12 month fixed term contract, an outcome based approach would involve bringing in different types of capability as needed. Perhaps a racial equality advisor to contribute to the Diversity Strategy, a panel of facilitators to deliver hybrid teaming workshops and a human-centred designer to co-create a new performance process.

Example 2: Flexible capacity
As opposed to employing an additional part-timer in the PR team, an outcome based approach might involve curating a bench of PR freelancers. You would bring them in when you need additional PR capacity during peak periods and leave them on the bench when you don’t.

When engaging talent for an outcome, it allows for a more strategic conversation about the type of capability and talent needed by the business, why it’s needed, where it’s needed, when it’s needed and how you can maximise your talent budget. It starts to shift the conversation towards outcome-based performance.

And this where work design becomes even more important if you are wanting to access this talent segment. On-demand talent are unlikely to be able to commit to a default fixed ‘days per week’ job. This is because they’re typically working across other client projects who have engaged them for an outcome, rather than time.

The amount of days per week and when the work gets done matters far less than the milestones and the outcome.

Take action

It’s a talent-short market right now, and with an ever-growing on-demand talent market, an outcome-based approach to both designing and resourcing work will give you greater access to talent. A recent study suggests that 20% of employees are considering a shift towards freelance work. This means that you may lose some of your own top talent who make the switch, but it also means the pool of available on-demand talent is even greater. The action that organisations take today will determine whether these changing talent preferences are working for them or against them.

If you need help reshaping work into outcome-based projects or gigs, please book in a free consultation.