Abandoning feudalism – the open talent economy

The second part of Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends 2013 paper discusses the emerging open talent economy, a change in the way that businesses relate to the talent they employ.

While Deloitte ties this shift to some very modern trends such as crowdsourcing and ecological analysis, it can also be seen as part of a much a wider historical trend away from medieval structures of feudalism and into a less hierarchical age.

Defining the open talent economy

The open talent economy represents a more fluid, collaborative approach to working than the traditional model in which talent is sourced through the strict employer/employee relationship. It sees sources of talent as sitting on a scale from the traditional employee through to the free insight tapped into through customer feedback, through partnerships, collaboration along the value chain, and the employment of contingent workers.

Driven by changes in education, technology and mobility, this open talent economy means that the best way for companies to employ skills is not by always including them in their own workforce but by working in a less bounded, more project focused way, employing talent through the route that best serves a particular need.

It also places demands on HR managers who must come to grips with different models of work, as employees increasingly insist upon these arrangements.

The deeper pattern

The wider pattern that Deloitte is endorsing represents a relinquishing of control. Traditional businesses try to rigidly control talent, bringing people within their organization as employees, dictating the goals they aim for and how they achieve them. It is a modern extension of the mind-set of pre-industrial feudalism, in which tenants were bound to lords in a rigid economic and social hierarchy. Employment contracts have taken the place of binding titles, but it is still about those in a position of power exerting control over those who labor for them.

This search for control is a natural human instinct, but it is one that managers must learn to relinquish to thrive in the open talent economy. If the best workers refuse to be bound by traditional employment then the best businesses will learn to collaborate with them, or see that talent tapped by their competitors.

A more fulfilling relationship

This involves building a more fulfilling relationship for both workers and customers. Businesses will need to fulfill independent workers’ need for psychologically satisfying challenges  to draw in floating talent. This creates an opportunity to get the most out of them by using talent in a goal-focused rather than task-focused way.

When dealing with customers, this involves making better use of their insight, nurturing sources of information and so closing the business feedback loop. By providing substantial responses to feedback and asking for more information, businesses can encourage insight into their products and services for free. But customers might not remain customers forever – one who offers good insight could be seen as a potential freelancer or recruit if a business moves away from thinking in rigid divisions between employees on the inside and others on the outside.

Drawing talent in like this is partly about branding, and that’s what we’ll move on to next – managing the talent brand.

– Mark Lukens

Links or other articles in this series:

Link to the full paper on Human Capital Trends

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