Why Having an External Talent Strategy is Becoming Increasingly Important
The old way of winning the talent wars was to search for and hire the very best talent and keep them inside your own four walls by offering them competitive compensation, benefits, and perks. Your hope was that your talent is better than your competitors’ talent. But over the last couple of decades, companies have increasingly found that employees who pursue what they do with passion will outperform an employee with a gun to their head every time. Circuit City learned very publicly that people are not commodities and went out of business from treating them as if they were. At the same time, we know that diversity is very important and hard to foster internally. And so it is to get to this diversity of thought in order to accelerate product launch and innovation timelines that companies must open up – it is a global economy with a global talent pool.
The question becomes: what is happening at the micro level with this global talent pool? Well, the world continues to move away from being a place where employees expect to have jobs for life, and fight against any change to this paradigm, to a world where portfolios, personal branding, and project-based work will become more common in an increasing number of industries. The evolving world of work is becoming a world in which individuals will need to be really good at collaborating and playing well with others, while also honing their skills at standing out from the crowd. At the same time, the external perception of your network value will expand from a focus on internal connections to also include the talented minds you might know outside the organization that can be brought in on different projects or challenges.
At the macro level, we are also confronted by an economy right now that is characterized by high unemployment – especially for the young. And for those that have jobs, many are underemployed. Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum, many baby boomers will continue to look to make money and stay involved in the workplace in significant numbers. And for those not retiring who still have jobs, many employees now are doing more work but feeling less engaged. When you combine the macro and micro pictures, you can see that there is an army of talent out there looking to build their resumes or their balance sheets by working on interesting challenges and projects.
As your organization opens up and crafts a formal external talent strategy, there are several ways external talent can help benefit your organization.
- External talent networks can form an expanded rolodex of experts that you can consult with to expand your knowledge on a particular search area or market and give you a running start instead of a standing one.
- You can use your external talent strategy to find existing solutions from outside your industry. One example of this is a tire company adapting existing technology for cutting cheese to cutting rubber. Another is InnoCentive client OSRI, who used concrete construction principles for the purpose of oil spill cleanup (see sidebar).
- To accelerate innovation and product development timelines, many companies strategically partner with external talent to advance their projects and help fight through roadblocks or work on other components when the lead team is off the clock. Dissecting work and distributing it to the individuals, groups, or partners that can best complete the work is an essential component of open innovation strategy.
- You can form a relationship with a particular expert and work together to solve a problem, to evaluate a range of potential solutions from internal folks, to tap expertise you lack currently
in your organization, or to add diversity of thought.
- You can use your external talent strategy to engage a large number of potential solvers on a tough problem. Through open innovation and crowdsourcing, Roche found a solution to a problem it had been struggling with for fifteen years by engaging the InnoCentive global solver community. At the same time, the company validated that the approaches it had already tried were the logical and correct ones.
- When you engage external talent, you can collect lots of little ideas from outside, and connect them internally, uncovering some really big ideas that properly applied and executed can lead to some great new breakthrough innovations.
- An under-appreciated and under-utilized benefit of working with external talent is to use it to learn new problem solving techniques by analyzing how the external talent solved the problem, to learn new technical skills not held internally by having external talent train internal talent, and by encouraging information sharing from the outside-in from external talent working in different disciplines.
Teamwork and Collaboration:
- An increasing number of problem solvers are working together to solve challenges posed by organizations and this collaboration and teamwork is yielding higher quality solutions. Research by EMC into their own internal innovation challenges has shown that teams were more likely to successfully create winning challenge entries. InnoCentive, for instance, has responded to this behavior by creating more collaborative features for its global solver community to use in responding to challenges.
Consider scale for a moment. A person delivering a ton of value does not need a ton of headcount anymore if they are employing an effective external talent strategy. In an era where organizations are focused on increasing productivity and output without changing the number of headcount (focusing on revenue or profit-per-head), smart employees and business units will increasingly focus on being a force multiplier – getting more work done with the same number or even less headcount.
Two of the most important job skills in this new world of work will be the ability of the individual and the organization to deconstruct the work into portable units that can be executed by a mix of internal and external talent, and construct a project plan for distributing, aggregating, integrating, and executing the component parts to achieve the overall project goal.
But to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your work with outsiders – as well the output – you need to be strategic in your approach because the speed of adaptation (your ability to adapt and integrate work from outside into the inside) will become more important. And the flexibility you show as an organization and the ability of your employees to execute under immense market and customer pressures will become increasingly important as well. You must be strategic because ultimately you want to design scalable external talent strategies, policies, and processes.
Braden Kelley is a Social Business Architect and the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden is also a popular innovation speaker and trainer, and advises companies on embedding innovation across the organization and how to attract and engage customers, partners, and employees.