HR Tech Europe 2014: welcoming the age of access?

Let’s talk about what talent management, digital information distribution, the sharing economy, and social ecosystems have in common

I recently read an article titled, “Culture in the Era of Digital Distribution.” In it, they discussed Abel Ferrara’s new film about Dominique Strauss-Kahn called “Welcome to New York” and the unexpected distribution the film received. During the Cannes Film Festival, the movie was sold to individuals with video on demand (VOD) purchases – which is quite surprising when one considers how much this approach broke the normal rules of film distribution by directly bypassing theatrical and Blu-Ray/DVD releases.

In considering this I realized that the way art and culture, in general, is shared and spread has changed significantly in recent years. We buy fewer discs for films and music, we stream and download instead; books and magazines are loaded and deleted on tablets, and new visual artists post to Instagram and Tumblr seeking followers before seeking patrons. We’ve shifted from what can be called a “stock-flow” to a “logic flow” – the physical element of the artistic medium is no longer essential. As Joel de Rosnay and Jeremy Rifkin have written, our society has undergone a paradigm shift in how information is shared. Respectively, de Rosnay and Rifkin focused on our fast-paced society and our age of access. As consumers, we are not necessarily seeking ownership and acquisition of information and assets, but access to them. In turn, we also allow more from our own lives to be shared and accessed. The sharing economy that has been so effectively harnessed by Airbnb is a fantastic example of this.

What if the paradigm shift in culture, art, and ownership – our pivot away from physical possession towards access and sharing – also applied to talent management and the workplace? BirdOffice has provided a way for companies to rent workspace by the hour, wherever they need it. Business real estate costs a fortune, and BirdOffice has found a way to allow companies to shift from a mentality of acquisition to access. What fascinates me is that we as managers and HR professionals we can seek to apply the same mentality to human capital.

When we shift from a stock-flow to a logic flow we view our professional organizations less as businesses and more as ecosystems. In a logic flow companies don’t feel they “own” the human resources necessary to meet strategic objectives, instead, they have access to the skills, knowledge, expertise, and TALENT found amongst employees within the company and individuals outside of it. The focus ends up being about mapping where talent can be found and should be placed on a permanent or temporary basis – hiring, while important, ends up not being the central, driving issue. Some might argue that this approach has always existed and has had names of outsourcing and temp hiring. However, the difference with how things were before the aforementioned paradigm shift and how they are now is twofold:

  • Most work nowadays is more cognitive than manual in nature. Because of this, an expert can be brought in to work on a one-time project without ever being physically present. We can see and talk with her on her blog and social media accounts, involve her in online communities, and learn from her virtually anytime, anywhere, often without having to pay anything. Which brings me to my next point…
  • We can involve people in work projects without ever having to pay them. If individuals believe they will experience growth and meaning by participating, thereby allowing them to learn, acquire experience, gain influence, etc. they will often gladly participate – just look at Wikipedia! A man may spend literally thousands of hours cataloging and verifying baseball statistics although he will see absolutely zero financial gain for doing so. This creates what is essentially a talent ecosystem – people share their knowledge, skills, and abilities online knowing it will likely give them access to the knowledge, skills, and abilities of others. Furthermore, such an ecosystem leaves them unfettered from obligations to a single organization or company – they are free to continue to pursue only those projects they feel give them growth and meaning.

The talent ecosystem that has emerged has caused personal power to supplant positional power. We don’t need to be CEOs, prime ministers, rock stars, etc. to easily build relationships with other talented people– we have social media, anyone can do it. In an internet-connected world where anyone can place anything online, our knowledge and talents and how we provide access to them are what allows us to grow and develop both our personal and professional lives.

Business leaders need to realize that in the war for talents they are now dealing with an environment that is built on digital information distribution, the sharing economy, and dynamic social ecosystems. The question of who is managing whom and who belongs on what team is becoming increasingly irrelevant – what really matters is whether or not all the people involved in something, directly or indirectly, are making meaningful contributions to a mission or project. Knowing this allows us to rethink the concepts of talent management as well as the service and reporting relationships associated with it. Stop asking, “do we HAVE these people?” and start asking, “do we have ACCESS to these people?”

In distributing movie filmmakers used to have to work with a few studios to get their stories out there, but now, they just have to make sure people have access to the stories they want to tell, then, if the story is good enough, people will come. The same concept applies to managers and leaders, in the field of HR and elsewhere. They need to focus on building dynamic networks that allow them to give access to their organizations and projects while simultaneously getting access to the skills and talents of the people who can best help with the work that needs to be done. Talent, like art, isn’t something that is physically owned, its something you work to get access to. In the modern world digital information distribution, the sharing economy, and dynamic social ecosystems aren’t separate things that can be compared to talent management – they are talent management.