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So, You Want To Be In Pictures?

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Category: Leadership

Rebekah Kowalski is the VP and Principal Consultant for Strategic Workforce Consulting at Right Management, a ManpowerGroup company.

How to Get Started in the Hollywood Model

In my last post, I asked why the “Hollywood Model” is not being adopted by many organizations.  Certainly, most organizations see the value of this approach, and research (such as the very helpful article provided by Dominique Turcq on Horizontal Hierarchy) supports both a cost and efficiency basis for this structure.

Many of my clients feel that they cannot overcome the inertia of their existing organizational structure, but they also recognize (now more than ever) that their ability to transform and lead their industry rests on unleashing human potential.  What was once a nice theory has evolved into a necessity.

Still, taking expertise out of silos and putting it where it’s needed is a daunting task, and the question is: where to start?  Certainly, very few (if any) organizations can afford to knock down all of their silos at once.

Make an Indie Film…And Change the Mindset

Probably the top institutional barrier to the Hollywood Model is the mindset of leadership.  Leadership may agree, in theory, on the value of “horizontal hierarchy,” but will still lead with questions about how it will impact the traditional structure, roles, and responsibilities.  Perhaps the best way I’ve seen to change this mindset is to have the leadership team be the “stars” in your company’s “indie film.”

For example, at ManpowerGroup, we took our 120-person global leadership team and assigned them to groups looking at high-risk/high-potential focus areas for our business.  What began as an experiment four years ago has become the model for cross-brand, cross-geography collaboration and problem solving.  This approach accomplished several things for us:

  1. It helped us approach and solve real problems by leveraging diverse perspectives;
  2. It forced collaboration and provided the framework for ongoing collaboration and relationship building;
  3. Leaders began to model out-of-silo thinking and behavior in order to be considered successful;
  4. It unearthed key areas of expertise that had been hidden;
  5. People’s attitude about the initiative shifted, paving the way for us to tackle problems at all levels with this model.

This mode of cross-company, cross-geography working has now become the key way we solve problems and drive innovation in our business.  I’ve also seen indie films start in a key geography or business unit and spread from there; the key is to pick a starting place that will have positive, viral impact on your organization.

Make a Crowd Pleaser

The momentum you create in your indie film gives the organization and creates the mindset shift to do something bigger.  What you decide to do and how far you go (a romantic comedy or summer blockbuster?) depends on what your business needs to accomplish.  The Hollywood Model may not be the way to organize your entire company, but really leveraging the human potential inside of your organization to achieve speed, efficiency, and innovation will require you to at least lower the barriers of your silos.

In addition to thinking about big problems that need to be solved, you might also consider how tasks themselves can be broken down into smaller units that allow you to tap into highly specialized talent and get work done faster.  A very useful article on this was co-authored by my colleague, Tammy Johns – SVP Innovation and Workforce Solutions, and could provide some inspiration for you [link to article].

In order to assemble an all-star cast, it will be critical to do the following:

Define the problem: All too often I have seen companies that have no “rallying point” to access the best talent – internally or externally.  It is critical to be clear about the problems that need to be solved so that you can a) pinpoint the talent you will need to solve the issue; b) create a mandate in the business for accessing that talent; c) be able to measure results; and d) allow people to build their Employability Profile (more on that in a moment).

Understand Skills: Skills are the cornerstone of being able to identify the talent you need and how the work (the problem) can be broken down.  Consider how expertise is defined in your organization.  You cannot move to a Hollywood Model without knowing the capabilities and skills of your talent.  Traditional skills taxonomies are almost dead on arrival for many of the hottest skills and traditional “catalogues” of talent won’t cut it either – something new is needed.  Success Mapping and Employability Profiles will allow you a better way to codify the skills of your talent. The right kind of Success Profile will also better enable you to tap talent external to your organization for more sophisticated collaboration.

Consider New People Practices: Once you have invested in structuring work differently, you need to consider whether the people practices you have in place will provide the right motivation and environment for the people doing the work.  This could mean increased flexibility, creative rewards, or transparency to other high profile teams looking to attract the next “star.”

Support with Systems: In addition to the tools we use every day (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) to make our skills visible, many very interesting technologies have come online to support skills transparency.  These technologies can create a quite useful transparency inside of your organization and will become very powerful if combined with a mindset shift around how talent is leveraged to get work done.

Direct the Talent: The role of the manager in the Hollywood Model is complex; she is probably in a matrixed role, which could be different next month.  She may be directing both internal and external talent (and the external talent could be inclusive of competitors, customers, and freelancers).  She will need to be able to create vision and drive collaboration, but still let the talent “have the scene.”

Winning the Oscar

What about you?  Where do you think the best place is to begin the Hollywood Model in an organization and what else is critical to experiencing success?  I’m particularly curious to know if anyone works for an organization that is mainly organized around this kind of model and what makes it work.

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Free Agents and the Hollywood Model.

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Category: Professional Perspectives

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?

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The Secret Sauce of Virtual Working.

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Category: Professional Perspectives

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. 

Is Virtual Working Right for You?

Your first consideration should be whether the work can be completed virtually.  Of course, welders and machine operators need to be physically co-located with the work, as do field-based technicians and most healthcare providers.  But knowledge work, for the most part, can be restructured successfully into a virtual model.  Before taking this step, you will need to consider the following:

1. Where is the talent located? If it is in the US, that’s great.  There are high IP protections, good broadband availability, and shared culture in terms of work ethic and communications.  But what if the talent you need is halfway around the world?  That takes me to point two.

2. How creative can you be? If the talent you need is in Panama, Saudi Arabia, or the Ukraine, you will need to be very creative.  First, consider whether the talent abroad meets your standards.  A partner with market presence (like ManpowerGroup) can help you make that evaluation.  In Panama, for instance, there is a strong sense of shared culture with the US – they have similar working patterns and communication style.  Saudi Arabia has a plentiful population of skilled IT professionals who are women.  However, the women will require very specific working conditions – likely home-based and fully virtual – but could be a valuable source of multilingual IT talent for you.

3. How will you structure the work? If you decide to tap into these virtual talent pools – domestic or international – will they be part of an existing team?  Will they be dedicated to a specific project, product, service or operation?  In other words, will your virtual team be taking on a full service assignment or project, or will you be breaking multiple streams of work across many virtual and physical players, across multiple geographies?  Both of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. You will need to consider what works best for your organization, bearing in mind how well the current work structure operates. You may need to re-shape it.

4. How will the team work together? We all know that engagement drives collaboration, which in turn drives innovation.  That ‘secret sauce’ is what is necessary to leverage in order to pull ahead of the competition.  How do you do this when working with a virtual team?  And how much more complicated will it be when the virtual team is working together with a team that shares a physical location?

How Do You Make Virtual Working Work for You?

Regardless of how big or small the shift, there are a few things that I’ve found essential, beyond the structuring of the work itself, to ensure ongoing engagement and success in your virtual model:

•       Cultural Sensitivity –Not only should your culture embrace virtual working and what it does for the organization, but also your team members must be sensitive to two things: 1) the rules of the road in your virtual workplace and 2) cross-cultural differences.  Point 1 is likely to be a matter of policy and is less of an issue with cultural and generational differences.  Point 2 requires setting the right expectations with your team from the get-go and continually reinforcing them.  The most effective programs I have seen us conduct with our clients connect some brief formal cultural awareness training with applications that require teams to work together to accomplish a task outside their normal day-to-day work and in an environment where they can get to know each other and forge personal relationships.

•       Collaboration – Collaboration with other virtual and physical team members needs to be ongoing reinforced by practices that reward collaborations.  That means having work practices to discourage silos.  Technology should be simple and prevalent and suited to the work the team is doing.  This goes beyond mobile applications, texting, video conference, and instant messaging.  Much work is well-suited to collaboration platforms that allow team members to formally and informally share and comment on work.  Others require technologically advanced platforms for breaking software development into project tasks and tracking results.

•       Recognition – Too often, the unstated ‘rules of the game’ are that individuals with the most ‘face time’ will be successful in the organization.  Employees who work virtually require equal recognition and opportunity to succeed.  In addition to first-line manager recognition, this means exposure and opportunity – for example, the opportunity to present their work to senior leaders and consideration for high potential leadership programs.

•       Engaging and Creative Management – Your first line managers should spend just as much one-to-one time, if not more, with their virtual team members as they do with those who are co-located; every employee has a need for their interests and motivations to be understood. Managers need to continually connect both the individual and team efforts to the greater goals of the organization and make success visible; everyone must know how they are contributing.

In summary, a leader will need a robust workforce strategy clearly establishing talent required  and how to make it successfully and  closely aligned to business strategy.  You will also need to understand virtual work models, and how to make those models a success.  Technological revolutions have made virtual working increasingly common and a viable option.

I’d love to hear from you–how you are using virtual work models in your business, the successes, the challenges, best practices, and how it has helped you better access the talent you need to help you win in this new post-recession era?

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