Can a Liquid Workforce Ease Staffing Burdens?

451 Alliance

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Accenture is attempting to leverage a new fluid project management technique for its employees. The goal is to find the most qualified individuals for specific projects, reduce workloads, increase job satisfaction and boost production to keep up with growth.

This new technique combines the concept of crowdsourcing with the vetting practices of traditional employment. Today, Accenture applies this technique only to its own employees, but it plans to open up projects to outsiders as well, giving both groups equal opportunity to choose their favorite projects.

Go With the Flow

Accenture refers to the concept as a 'liquid' workforce, in order to convey that the workforce is fluid - it moves around, and comes and goes. Think freelance or contract labor in the style of crowdsourcing.

Accenture asked its employees one simple question: Would you be willing to work more if you got to pick the projects? Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Here's how it works: Accenture created a project board where it posts available projects, and employees choose projects they're interested in. To be eligible, employees must go through a vetting process to ensure that they're qualified for the specific work.

Some projects pay financially, while others pay in 'ego points' with a leaderboard-style display showing off the top performers.

Accenture says the process also works for customer projects and in customer environments. The company has helped a small number of organizations implement similar internal programs.

The idea of crowdsourcing internal projects is, of course, not new. Vendors such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook have 'bug bounty' programs, where the public at large can submit vulnerabilities and security issues in turn for rewards.

Similarly, Bugcrowd connects security professionals with enterprises that need help with specific issues. More broadly, websites such as connect freelancers with businesses.

Could this concept be applied more liberally across various organizations?

Caveats and Caution

High-profile projects where participants could gain visibility and new skills will draw a large crowd of volunteers. However, those are the projects that an organization's full-time employees would want to do.

The problem is how to attract participants to necessary but perhaps less appealing projects - those that no one wants to do and that won't be resume builders, yet are still critically important to the business.

Will organizations be forced to raise the bounty to lure participants? Could payouts get so high that organizations would drop projects, leaving the work undone or incomplete?

Another challenge is vetting participants. On one hand, it would be interesting to leave the application process open so that organizations could discover hidden talent that has been waiting for the right opportunity - the internal equivalent of going to hackathons to recruit new employees.

On the other hand, projects could contain sensitive information or intellectual property that can't be exposed to just anyone, and thus would require special scrutiny of potential participants. Also, if a company farms out work for a customer, careful scrutiny would be required because of the risks presented to all parties involved.

Accenture screens all participants - regardless of the project - as a safety measure and to limit liability. The company would rather miss undiscovered talent than increase overall risks.

Questions Remain

Organizations should also take company culture into consideration. If projects are internal and employees are encouraged to work more and more hours - albeit for more fame and fortune - does the company run the risk of burning them out quicker?

Speaking of fame, being at the top of a leaderboard might be appealing for a while, but will interest wane over time, causing work to pile up again?

Outside contractors pose another challenge. IT departments are already resistant to outsourcing due to job insecurities: Will they willingly accept a steady stream of new faces?

There are clearly some kinks to work out over the long term as liquid workforce programs scale up and down. Accenture readily admits that the concept has limits, and that its program is now only supplemental rather than an overhaul of its existing staffing processes.

Problems aside, liquid workforce concepts could eventually ease employers' staffing burdens. 'Contract workers as a service' anyone?

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