Free Agents and the Hollywood Model.

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Rebekah Kowalski is the Vice President of ManpowerGroup’s Global Strategic Workforce Consulting Practice. As the Principal Consultant for the practice globally, Rebekah focuses on helping clients understand the risks to business and economic growth strategies posed by workforce supply and demand forces, and partners with them to develop practical options for ensuring they have the right talent in the right place, at the right time, and at the right cost. Rebekah specializes in consulting and advising on how the convergence of government, education, employers, and individuals drives local and global market competitiveness.  Prior to her current role, Rebekah spent nine years at the helm of Manpower’s US and Global Solutions units and led the teams responsible for working with ManpowerGroup’s most strategically significant clients. Rebekah led the project team responsible for the Be Bold 2 study in Wisconsin.  She is a member of the Advisory Council of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Center for the Study of the Workplace and a member of multiple research consortia.Prior to Right Management, Rebekah spent 10 years with Manpower, where she led the teams responsible for architecting global workforce solutions. She also developed ManpowerGroup’s first global, cross-brand sales training program. Rebekah has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin – Parkside.

I was at a conference with a number of other companies speculating on the shape and function of future work models.  There was an almost universal recognition that the silo project model does not permit organizations the agility or the leverage needed to engage their knowledge-worker talent in complex problem solving.  As we all talked, a different question started to form in my mind: What keeps the “Hollywood Model” from being effective in organizations?

First, we need a little context about ‘Going Hollywood.” In Hollywood’s Golden Age, the movie studios owned talent, means of production, and distribution.  MGM, for instance, would ‘own’ movie stars for a fixed period of time in which they were not allowed to contract with another studio.  All of the other talent was contracted as well.  But Hollywood underestimated the power of the mega-star, and their studio-centric model died off to be replaced with the ‘free agent’ model where cast and crew could sign with any studio to make a movie.  Ultimately, this proved a great thing for the movie industry as the best talent could be sourced from multiple silos to produce the best movie possible.

This is not a new idea in the business world.  Most large companies have tried multiple experiments to leverage the best talent in their organizations for key, critical projects.  Many recognize that there could be significant power in collapsing their silos and parsing out tasks in bite-sized chunks to allow highly specialized talent to work on key parts of a project.  So why aren’t more companies managing work this way?

Clients tell me that they are overwhelmed by the inertia of existing organizational structures.  The processes, management framework, and measurements are aligned according to how tasks need to be completed to sustain the organization.  Cross-company and global project teams are more of a ‘special assignment;’ the leap to a fully free-agent talent pool is too big to make.

In some industries, this may be appropriate for now.  But other industries chasing transformation are not well served by this structure and need to consider the evolutionary journey they will need to make over the next 3-5 years.  This journey will encompass much more than simply leveraging internal talent.

The companies I talk to consistently reference the critical importance of incorporating the customer’s voice into discussions about ‘star’ talent.  Companies will need to consider a more unorthodox talent pool that includes their consumer base, competitors, clients, retirees (alumni) and free-agent talent available in crowd-sourcing communities.

Employers also need to consider external factors that affect talent supply and demand such as demographics, global economic shocks, and rapidly evolving technology. This will put significant pressure on managers and leaders to think about how work is defined, distributed, and executed. In other words, they will be more like a movie director than a manager, with technology providing the platform.

Of course, this has massive implications for how organizations will define roles and skills and how work is structured and outcomes are managed. Look for my follow-up post where I will provide some inside knowledge from cutting-edge clients as well as research I think you will find interesting.

So, over to all of you: What would make a ‘free agent,’ silo-free work model effective in your organization?  For those of you who have successfully implemented this model, what advice can you share with readers?

4 Responses - Hide

    • I think you point a very important element here, namely the very role of organization's structure on the possibility to talk and work horizontally, across silos but also with the outside. I wrote some time ago a post on the issue of horizontal hierarchy, a parallel approach to yours. The notion of "Hollywood", and of "valuation of agents", that you outline here is a clear consequence of the rise of this horizontal hierarchy. http://www.boostzone.fr/horizontal-hierarchy-organization-progress-or-more-complexity-3/
    • dominique Turcq
    • November 10, 2011
    • Dominique - what a great article. Thank you for contributing. Particularly insightful is the list of the questions that organizations must ask themselves in order to properly orient themselves. I think the question that remains is that list of practical places to start. I will share some thoughts on that in my next post...I'll look forward to hearing what you and others think.
    • Rebekah
    • November 29, 2011
    • excellent piece of information, I had come to know about your website from my friend kishore, pune,i have read atleast 8 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your site gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanx a lot once again, Regards, Free Valuation
    • Anonymous
    • February 25, 2012
    • Thank you Anonymous!
    • Rebekah
    • February 29, 2012