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Is it time for Co-opetition between organisations?

Sharing Economy

There has been a lot of talk about Collaborative Consumption models and the Sharing Economy, particularly about their disruptive impact on traditional business and markets, so I thought I would review this topic in light of the Recruitment industry and consider opportunities for ‘Co-opetition’ between companies.

I am going to use this working definition kindly provided by www.investopedia.com:

“A sharing economy is an economic model in which individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else. The sharing economy model is most likely to be used when the price of a particular asset is high and the asset is not fully utilised all the time.”

With this in mind, let’s reflect on its relevance to the Recruitment industry today…….

Another Surprising Conversation

At a recent industry event I overheard two Talent Acquisition Leaders talking, they worked for large international businesses often competing for similar people in the labour market, the conversation went something like this:

TA #1: “We know that in about 5 years time 80% of the graduates we hire today will leave and get a job in firms like yours.”

TA #2: “Yes, it’s a great source of talent for us, your training and development programs are great and there is always a close cultural fit.”

TA #1: “Why don’t we simply recognise this happens, plan for it and start to work together to hire and develop talent that we both want?”

TA #2: “Wow, that’s a radical idea but would kind of make sense. Could we really do this? Would we be allowed or would we get fired for even suggesting it?”

Whilst the last comment about getting fired was a joke, the rest of the conversation wasn’t and it got me thinking about the merits of Collaborative Consumption models in the Recruitment arena.

Aussie Health Jobs

Shortly after this conversation I learned that elements of the Healthcare sector in Australia are embracing this approach already – apparently a group of 12 Hospitals are in discussions to partner with the team at LiveHire to establish a shared talent community for all participants to access.

I was delighted to hear about this because about 8 years ago I consulted to a major Australian Hospital and like most, it had very limited resource to fund its Recruitment function, yet it was paying to source talent from overseas. Having explored this further I soon realised other major hospitals were making an annual trip to Ireland and the UK to source talent, all tripping over one another at Heathrow and Dublin whilst incurring significant collective costs.

At the time I thought it would make sense for several of these organisations to aggregate their sourcing budgets and run a campaign to hire people as a collective (Aussie Health Jobs or similar), potentially then rotating workers between their various organisations – what an employment proposition that would be! The idea was a bit too ‘out there’ at the time and soon landed in the too hard basket, however, today, as demonstrated by Livehire and the participating hospitals, times are changing and the strategy is becoming a reality.

A Maturing Industry

I recently discovered another US technology platform, currently in Beta, that and will launch next year with the goal to create a common employment ecosystem and language (skills and capability) that will enable organisations to more seamlessly share and transition talent between them. The business is well funded and already has a sound base of foundation customers. Their model will provide a genuine (and more sophisticated) alternative to existing platforms and tools like LinkedIn.

Closer to home, the recent initiative I have been involved in with PwC and Australia Post seeking to develop an industry Maturity Model talks to collaborative consumption models and elements of the sharing economy with predictions for the future such as these:

  • ‘Candidates become part of universal talent community shared across organisations, regularly engaged and ready for immediate consideration’
  • ‘Talent is seamlessly mobile between organisations leveraging the strength of each to build joint eco-systems’
  • ‘All data relevant to candidates is available through integrated talent communities creating ubiquitous access for all’

I am sure many readers will find some of this language and thinking fanciful and the prospect of competitive organisations working together and sharing talent hard to conceive, but I challenge you to pause and reflect further on some of these principles and see if there are any opportunities for your organisation to work with others, I am sure once you start to really think about it, they will become evident.

I am convinced progressive organisations will forge ahead leaving industry laggards behind and some of this thinking will start to become a more frequent reality than most of us originally thought.

Low Hanging Fruit: Illustrative Sharing Opportunities

To bring this point home I thought it may be useful to provide some pretty basic examples of how ‘co-opetition’ could play out in reality, there are many more examples out there but here are a few to get you thinking:

  1. Government, Health and Education – there are some industries where sharing talent will be easier and less controversial or politically sensitive. Publically funded or funding constrained industries are one such example. We have already seen the appearance of ‘Defencejobs Australia: www.defencejobs.gov.au and I am sure further examples of collaboration and cooperation will materialise in the Government, Health and Education sectors in particular. In fact cost pressure and productivity goals will almost make this an inevitability. Let’s take the example of Locums or other part time / casual workers – these are extensively used by the Health and Education sector and often supplied via agencies. It is highly conceivable that joint talent eco-systems operating on common technology platforms will be developed reducing reliance on third parties and providing greater access to ‘just in time’ resource requirements. Significant efficiencies and operating cost savings can be made through collaborative consumption of sourcing, marketing, technology and workforce administration.
  2. Casual & Part Time Workers in Retail – volume recruitment in retail organisations is relentless; attrition and turnover rates are high, and recruitment is very seasonal, typically peaking in the latter months of the year prior to Christmas. Companies offer workers casual / part time shifts and workers are attracted to shifts that fit around their life commitments; often this process does not go smoothly and individual companies cannot offer sufficient work at the right time or workers cannot work all of the shifts offered or expected to be worked by the company. This situation is compounded in regions with genuine skills shortages such as Regional and Rural Australia. Would it not make more sense for some organisations to work together, pool their casual / part time shift sourcing activities and combine their work schedules to offer workers true work / shift choice and flexibility. Whilst workers informally manage this themselves today, it would be a much more efficient and transparent process if companies could combine their activities. Companies would have a much larger pool to source from when urgent needs arise due to the more powerful reach of a combined sourcing and marketing function. Operating costs of technology, process, resource could be shared which will keep acquisition costs down and again reduce reliance on expensive temporary agency hires. (Similar principles will apply in Logistics and many other industry segments, think Toll People but not operating as an agency, instead a shared ‘internal operating function)
  3. Contingent Labour Pools (Professional and Technology) – Most of the larger corporate clients I am dealing with are undergoing some sort of Transformation agenda that is shaking up their core business operations and with it core technology, process and systems. Large groups of professional contractors and contingent labour are migrating between businesses as projects come on and off stream, this is especially the case in Technology Transformations and the emerging Digital landscape. Whilst Agencies and Consulting firms have traditionally ‘housed’ these contingent labour pools and leased resource to business, it is highly conceivable that some firms could seek to ‘cut out the middle person’ and develop their own contingent labour pools to source from, particularly as in-house talent acquisition functions mature and more attention is given to the risk and expense associated with contingent labour. This has become much more of a reality with the increased sophistication and scale of Managed Service Providers and Contractor Management Outsourcing providers whose services and offerings will make this easier and less risky for businesses to engage in. Contingent resource can be sourced collectively, deployed on assignment and released back to the common pool for consideration by others, without the need to pay the significant fees associated with agency / consulting firms. Contractor rates, duration and extensions can be centrally managed across all participating organisations again keeping costs and risks down.
  4. Mobility Due to Redeployment / Secondments – Most companies today are restricted by their ability to manage their worker careers and personal development within their own organisation and internal job market. This is a particularly limiting factor on the employment proposition offered to workers and is often the cause of them updating their LinkedIn profile and browsing through SEEK on their mobile over lunch. If certain career opportunities cannot be offered (e.g. working overseas or working with a particular product / technology) or if the business simply doesn’t have access to certain types of work, people will resign and get this experience elsewhere. How powerful would it be if companies could work together and provide redeployment and / or secondment opportunities between them, whilst offering workers the stability of a ‘home base’ and in many cases a permanent employment contract. Workers could gain new skills and experience external to the organisation which will benefit the ‘home base’ when they return and worker engagement and advocacy will bloom. This structure could see workers boomeranging between businesses over a period of years, constantly gaining experience and developing skills for the benefit of the ‘home-base’ and entire eco-system. I witnessed this in reality this year when a large professional services firm was considering partnering with a competitive boutique firm to second ‘benched’ consultants to them for fixed time frames or particular consulting engagements.
  5. Inter-company Graduate Programs – When I left University I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life nor what I wanted to be when I eventually grew up! I considered Law, I tried to get into Investment Banking, and I ended up as a graduate accountant with Deloitte. As Accountancy was definitely not my ‘calling’ I left after a few years having has some great training and a grounding in corporate life. Reflecting on my own personal experience, I would have benefited from a graduate program that allowed me to experience multiple industries / jobs across companies so that I could work out what I actually wanted to do, what I was semi-good at and where I wanted to be. Can you imagine if Deloitte, as part of a corporate collective, offered me a graduate program that partnered with Banks, Law Firms, Corporates, Technology Firms and Consulting Houses – my rotations could then be across industry verticals / across business functions and geographies. After a couple of years doing this I would have a much better idea of what I was interested in, what I was good at and which culture suited me more. So when I apply for my post rotation role I am much more likely to stay with the employing entity and be committed to them and my job. Such programs could also allow smaller businesses to develop meaningful graduate or cadetship programs and compete for talent on a more level playing field with the larger firms. So much money is spent on traditional graduate hiring processes, graduate program management and learning and development yet for so many companies the ROI is often not evident. This is often due to companies hiring people like me who could interview well, but have not yet worked out what they are passionate about, or good at. Perhaps re-thinking the graduate hiring and management process in a sharing economy frame would yield different results and better outcomes for graduates and organisations alike.

These are just five examples of how Collective Consumption models may appear in the Talent Acquisition arena, however, if you really pause and think about it, there are many more. Whilst I am not advocating this practice across the board and for all organisations, I am suggesting it is worth assessing your talent acquisition strategy and exploring if there are opportunities that exist to play with others in the market.

On your next strategy off-site, challenge your team and colleagues to take the corporate blinkers off, think divergently, and think about ‘Co-opetition’. Consider who you ‘compete’ with in the talent arena, and importantly who you don’t compete with and ask whether by working together with some of these organisations you can solve a talent problem, or improve the situation of the collective, or improve the experience and opportunity of the individual worker in the middle of it all.

There are some tough questions to face to make this a reality and some challenging conversations to be had with nay-sayers, however, with a well thought out business case, clear ROI analysis in business not HR language you may get your chance to shine and build something that will be a game-changer for your organisation and your collective partners.

 

Footnote, I have been discussing this topic with several corporate clients and there is clearly appetite to initiate such programs. If you, having read this piece are interested in connecting with like minded clients / companies that are keen to explore this topic further, please reach out and I will be happy to broker some introductions and facilitate some industry dialogue.

Finally, if any of you like the sound of my ‘Inter-company’ Graduate Program and would seriously like to see this happen, reach out to me on gareth.flynn@tqsolutions.com.au – I think it has legs and would be a real game changer for those firms participating in it !