World Science Day and Exponential Careers- Is HR really ready?

From the UNESCO Director General’s message…

This World Science Day for Peace and Development comes two months after agreement on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable DevelopmentThis new agenda embodies a new vision for humanity, for the planet, for peace, for the next 15 years – science stands at its heart as a force for positive transformation and a development multiplier… 

…to make the most of this power, we need to understand more clearly the global landscape of science and we need better tools to monitor progress.

World Science Day was last week, and it got me thinking about some of the opportunities we have in HR to take the lead and do what we’ve always aspired to do – build great organizations with incredible workforces, smart people and great careers.  Even if we don’t work for a science-based organization, science and technology drive just about everything we do, and in particular, they increasingly drive the change velocity of millions of careers; velocities that make HR tools designed to help people navigate their careers seem hopelessly dated – job descriptions, career paths, competency models, traditional training and mentoring programs, to name just a few.

Careers are moving at a velocity that people simply can’t keep up with.  Job descriptions are inaccurate the day after they’re written, and competency models are obsolete before the consultant cashes the check. Traditional one-on-one mentoring doesn’t work, isn’t scalable and is often uncomfortable.  Real mentoring takes a village.  No one mentor can possibly help navigate all of the options that exist in today’s careers, particularly science and technology careers.

We need new tools.  Tools that deal with exponential careers – careers driven by ever-accelerating change velocities, work technologies, collaborative requirements, business models and competitive landscapes. Managing a career effectively has two major components – the what (content), and navigating to the what.  Tools like Lynda and Cornerstone do an OK job of serving up the what, but figuring out which what to focus on is the real challenge.  Tools like do this better – with IBM Watson-curated content and blindly empirical success profiles. This way, content can be delivered in ways that help people understand the which what better, to explore their next steps (the “adjacent possible”) and plan the longer arc of their career in engaging, self-navigated ways.  Likewise, companies like Ramco Systems (the best HRMS software you’ve probably never heard of), are disintermediating static competency models with dynamic algorithm-driven, crowd-sourced tagging models.

We need to embrace the composite workforce.  While more than a third of today’s workforce is comprised of temps, freelancers, contractors, consultants and other enterprising and absolutely legitimate work models, organizations (and their HR teams) still manage through the lens of traditional employees.  Composite workforce arrangements aren’t limited to just Uber drivers.  Increasingly, scientists, technologists, creatives and others find these work arrangements to be vastly more consistent with their career- and life-goals.  In short, they offer workforce participants the opportunity to do their best work, and traditional employment doesn’t.  This is the reality, yet too many in HR focus on the traditionally employed and leave everyone else to Accounts Payable. Policy, practice and leadership behavior all have to focus on a single workforce, regardless of what the employment arrangement is.

And while we’re on the topic of Uber drivers, where is HR’s voice on this?  New and innovative business models continue to be saddled with outdated employment laws even over the objections of the people being “protected.”  There have to be ways for people to choose a freelance career and still be offered reasonable protections, and HR professionals should be figuring out how to connect the dots.  Disruptive business models like Uber, and innovative HR platforms like PTO Exchange, really do describe the future of work.

We need to create diversity, not just embrace it.  Too many organizations still suffer from three diversity-destroying biases:

  • Shiny pennies.  Resumes always look better than real people.  We make it way too easy to manage your career by leaving, rather than by staying;
  • Round pegs.  We look for exact fits, particularly when the last person in the role was “perfect”.  This may feel safe, but unless we advocate for diversity of ideas, skill-sets and approaches, the organizations we look after will calcify and die.
  • Pariahs.  Former employees should be treated like alumni, not defectors.  At one science-based company we’re familiar with, 900 ex-employees were asked “would you come back?”  87% said yes.  Why wouldn’t a talent-short organization see this as a resource instead of the more common “You left.  You’re dead to me.”

We’re in an era where science and technology are making fairly substantial dents in the universe.  If we go beyond just thinking differently, and push our organizations to execute on ideas, experiment more, and take a bit more risk, we have a huge opportunity to build truly great organizations.


-Tom Connolly, CEO of GattiHR, LinkedIn

GattiHR is the parent company of leading recruiting firms Gatti & Associates and Armstrong Franklin.

Why Can’t The Workplace Run Like Fantasy Football?

Why Can’t the Workplace Run Like Fantasy Football?

By James Minger, Associate at Gatti & Associate’s sister company, Armstrong Franklin | LinkedIn


So, the pundits have spoken – by 2020, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be free agents.  That’s right, we’ll be a nation of Uber-delivered engineers, scientists, teachers, technicians and customer service reps.  Financial analysts by Task Rabbit.  Neurosurgery by Kelly Services.  Organizations everywhere seem to be embracing and even preparing for this.  Here comes the great talent commoditization wave, where people are simply plug-and-play bundles of skillsets.

Of course, this has been the “hook” for generations of sports statistics buffs – an artificial world, where every situation has been anticipated and ruled on and where every shred of performance can be reduced to a number.  Add a few teraflops of computing power and viola! – Hypothetical teams, playing hypothetical games, with hypothetical outcomes that people are now paying millions of dollars to participate in.

We get the attraction.   Wouldn’t it be great if we could run an entire economy this way?  With the data-fication of everything, isn’t it logical to think that a full-blown workforce-on-demand is right around the corner?  Like most over-the-top prognostications, there is a major dose of truth in all of this, but as usual, the reality will probably be somewhere in the middle.  Great companies will run on a combination of traditional employees, contractors, temps, consultants and free agents of all sorts, but the mix will change pretty dramatically.

The pundits have gotten our attention by radicalizing an old idea.  After all, freelancers have been around forever.  Contractors, Temps and Consultants of various sorts are a major segment of the workforce.  The sports and entertainment industries are built on talent running their own careers.  Movie-makers, studio musicians, sportscasters and quarterbacks all make their livings in a freelance economy.  The reality (and magic) of biotech has been the small drug discovery company, often driven more by aspiration than fact, surrounded by a collaborating community of government-, academic-, industry- and patient-advocates that is 10X its size.

It’s also true that lots of positions are so well-defined that they are very close to being those interchangeable bundles of skill-sets – ever see flight attendants (or pilots!) introduce themselves before a flight?  There’s no need for them to actually know each other in order to work together – the job is completely standardized.  Other jobs can approach that kind of predictability with constant feedback that quickly transforms survey results into credentials – witness Uber drivers evaluating customers evaluating Uber drivers or the software development community at GitHub, an ecosystem where more than 11 million careers thrive on the “street cred” that their work generates.

At the risk of raining on the parade, though, we have to point out that the fallacy in all of this seems pretty obvious.  Even if, as XXXX puts it, corporations are becoming social institutions more than economic ones, they are certainly not going out of style.  Organizations are why one plus one often equals way more than 3.  They hold the world together.  They serve a basic human need – wanting to achieve things together.  There are critically important things that can’t be commoditized – context, mission and motivation among them – that make all the difference.  Perhaps most important of all, and least recognized, is the fact that jobs drift, skills develop as problems are solved and solutions form, and organizations inevitably invest in people – explicitly and inadvertently.  Why would they ever want to throw that investment away by throwing them back into the talent pool?

Successful companies will have to master a more complex, ambiguous and even contradictory set of concepts:

Balancing Abundance & Scarcity.  The challenge will be to know which skill-sets are open-source, relatively abundant and quickly available and which are more context-specific, esoteric and unique to the company’s mission.

Managing Flow & Fit.  In today’s market for talent, flow is easy.  Fit is hard.  A biotech client of ours had 300 jobs to fill last year and had 33,000 applicants.  Google gets more than 2million applicants each year for a few thousand positions, and there’s an entire generation of talented staff, recruiters and managers who have become a bit “LinkedIn lazy.”  They post and pray, troll resumes or apply for (literally) thousands of jobs at a time.  Flow is easy.  Fit is hard.

Understanding Loose & Tight.  There are situations where you can “phone it in,” but we view those as increasingly rare and increasingly sub-optimal.  More often, creativity and innovation comes from the talent “soup” that’s created when a group of really bright people are immersed in the same problem.   Sometimes, this is a very short-cycled process – a complex financial derivatives trade, or a print advertisement.  In others, like drug discovery, it’s a decade-long proposition, with team continuity, unity of purpose and a deep sense of mission being the most important elements.

Managing the “Tribe”.  All organizations are prone to tribal behavior – geographic, cross-functional, or along myriad other dimensions.  In a truly positive and functional culture, employment “status” – as a “regular” employee, contractor, freelancer, consultant or tempcannot distinguish one tribe from another.  In a composite workforce, the only thing that should convey second-class citizenship is performance.

In summary, we expect this particular set of predictions to fall a bit short.  Recruiting great talent will become easier, more data-driven and more standardized in some situations and at the same time become more difficult, more intuitive and more customized in others.  Either way, talent will remain the greatest constraint on, and the greatest opportunity for, the success of organizations everywhere.