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“Employees are adjusting to new ways of working and dealing with significant life changes. Most will not miss the grind of the commute, but there are fewer day-to-day touchpoints between managers and colleagues, which is demanding new approaches”
The return to normality beckons, with the promise of much change. The tempo is quickening and freestyle is the trend as businesses prepare for the return. The need for fluidity and adaptation in such a stressed time has reinforced the value of independents and external expertise and in the transition from response to recovery, the key focus for businesses will be how to blend a fluid mix of external resources with internal teams to achieve some semblance of choreographed synergy.
A recent survey of CEOs by IBM, for the WEF, noted that; “agility – being able to respond quickly and pivot without losing momentum – is a top priority for leaders on an unprecedented degree”. More than half (56 percent) of CEOs emphasised the need to “aggressively pursue” operational agility and flexibility over the next two to three years.” This trend is broad, deep and global as demonstrated by the rapid rise of independent freelance platforms providing essential talent, whether on demand, staffing critical projects, or partnering on a longer-term basis. This flexible form of recruiting to access specialists from all over the world, with the capacity to resource and deliver projects, has led to a rise in the occurrence of flash organisations, teams that come together to tackle specific, complex problems and then disband.
They consist of the best people for a particular challenging project and can be a mix of inhouse and external talent, solely assembled based on their expertise and fit. As well as being able to adapt to the entrepreneurial challenges of workplace diversification and the increasing number of cross-functional, complex projects, the creation of flash organisations are becoming even easier, thanks to falling transaction costs for recruiting independent experts. What is emerging is that this evolving method of team construction and dynamic is in tune with the shifting parameters of flexible work culture, as people are discovering the happiness and motivation afforded from greater autonomy and freedom from the constraints of working for one employer on a traditional contract of employment.
But irrespective of geography, individuals can still be managed against a set of KPIs or targets and the fundamental elements of performance management – like review meetings – can be carried out remotely and often with more candour than the stilted and rigid traditions of PM. Indeed, a shared coffee break and virtual bonding can very capably support creative catch ups and more personal chats, which simply would not have been accommodated in the past. Nowadays, the world’s workforce is accessible to businesses and with the right set up, recruiters can find the right person, in the right role at the right time. This means that performance management begins way before an individual has even entered a business and, as a result, team and project managers are not just recruiting on talent or skills but looking at hidden and often subconscious interpersonal factors. This requires gaining knowledge of people beyond the CV and traditional interview cycle and gaining an understanding of preferred working styles, communication skills, leadership potential, ability to collaborate, working methods and preferred project framework, whether that be an independent or a new hire. A very effective capability is matching algorithms through work-psychology based questionnaires, which can identify whether an individual has the best professional skills to perform against the given business challenge. It not only highlights what is required from an individual for the job in question, but also guides recruiters to think very specifically about how this hire is likely to perform in the workplace and, as a result, brings performance management to the top of the agenda. As an example, if a business is establishing a new digital marketing strategy that needs to find broad support in a business, the objective is to obviously engage candidates that combine tech skills with creative experience in a marketing background, but ideally also very collaborative person and convincing communicator who enjoys bringing stakeholders on board. By aligning interpersonally and culturally, we enable people to be efficient so they can add value from the start. All too often independents and consultants are hired for hard skills purely and fired for the lack of certain soft ones. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of performance management, that needs to be reset. This level of insight will be critical to optimising the hybrid workforce in the future.
Creating a work environment where the flexible, blended workforce will thrive should be the focus for HR teams now. Building a high-performing workplace that people like, means focusing on what people are good at and enjoy doing, which puts an onus on other performance management strategies like; clear communication to the entire workforce around the role of freelancers and their value, ensuring freelancers and independents feel a valued part of the team, providing training for management about how best to manage this evolving workforce and improving onboarding processes to encourage integration. It is also vital to practice rigorous performance management and feedback for consultants and those outside the organisation. Independents depend on positive client experiences for their livelihood and it is essential to establish the conditions for a solid start; a clear statement of work, realistic measures and milestones, a thorough on-boarding, ongoing support, regular check-ins and two-way feedback. To best realise this vision of a fluid and happy workforce, will require a major shift in mindset. Despite the progress that has been made in building teams of inhouse and independents, there is still a phenomenal amount of self-preservation in the workplace. This is probably going to worsen before it improves, as global economies recover from the pandemic. A classic example is when in-house identify a problem as their responsibility to solve and are reluctant to make an external expert aware. It’s a terrifying prospect for a fulltime employee to face, given the perceived risks of voluntarily highlighting a skill or knowledge gap. With such situations in mind, clear and transparent demarcation lines are essential, because flash organisations do not work without a strong, resilient inhouse workforce, that owns the most important core processes, they are the heart of a company.
Above all else, a cohesive and synergistic hybrid workforce requires a trustful and appreciative working culture, where employees feel valued and comfortable to reach out for external help. Additionally, managers who are willing to “lend” their own employees to teams of other departments for certain projects and therefore support the flash organisations mindset, should be supported and incentivised. One of the lasting mantras from the pandemic is that “we’re in this together” and this will be true tomorrow, just as it is true today. It’s a new era for performance management, where work will be delivered by the right blend of independents, consultants and internal teams. With the ongoing uncertainty, this talent flexibility will be key for businesses to thrive, so businesses must consider all of these groups as part of the workforce and manage them accordingly. This means finding methods of integrating them into the business and an appreciation that building teams goes way beyond a procurement box-ticking exercise. Businesses can now bring together the best combination of a team to deliver a project or piece of work and the workforce are able to work on their terms, without major compromise against a set of personal criteria. In many respects, what we are witnessing is the dawn of a bright, new era in performance management in step with a significant shift work culture.