Open models are an exciting part of the future of work and innovation. Every year, more and more companies are choosing open models for innovation, blending freelance with in-house talent. But that transition can be tricky for traditional employees.
Just as it is with blended families, the dynamics can become, well … complicated. “When you disrupt the norm, the typical reaction is to push back against something new,” says Liane Scult, Senior Freelance Program Manager, Microsoft. Questions about job security, quality control, and the effectiveness of open-sourcing often arise in the early stages of implementing a freelance program.
“For an enterprise to grow—to be able to keep up with customer demand—you need to be open to change, to doing things differently, to constantly being curious and learning,” says Scult. Helping employees make that change in their outlook is critical. Here’s how Scult and others are guiding that transition on behalf of employees in their companies.
- Offer reassurance about job security. “Employees need to know that freelancers aren’t their enemies or secretly competing for their full-time job,” says Paul Hlivko, Chief Technology Officer of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. His advice? Openly address their big concerns: Is my job at risk? Can I trust my freelance colleagues to support me when I need their help?
- Encourage the mindset shift. It’s critical to help employees set aside assumptions that they’re used to operating with regarding the best approach to solving a problem. “Those assumptions are no longer relevant given current digital tools and new business models and markets,” says Dyan Finkhousen, Founder and CEO of Shoshin Works, who used to be the Director and Founder of GE Geniuslink and GE Fuse at General Electric. Scult puts it this way: “There are wonderful perks and benefits of being part of an enterprise company, but to be valuable to our customers, we need to keep up with the future of work and this new economy of working without borders.”
- Talk about why. Like most transformations, using open sourcing was at first disruptive, admits Scult. So they dug into the why behind the company’s decision to explore open sourcing. “We had thoughtful discussions around the urgency to keep up with the speed of innovation and customer demand. We felt freelancers could help by enhancing our full-time workforce and suppliers.”
- Name discomfort and disarm myths. Scult is prepared to be a myth buster whenever employees push back. “I have a list of more than 30 comments I commonly receive, including ‘Freelancers can’t be trusted,’ ‘I’m not going to give my work to a non-skilled person,’ ‘There aren’t enough skilled people out there to do what we do.’ These comments are from people who feel uncomfortable, she explains. “It’s important to let them know that you hear them.” Take time to listen carefully and let them express their concerns, then show them the value and benefits.
- Tackle the QC myth. “When people are first introduced to the crowd, they often go toward concerns about work-product quality and control of the end deliverables,” says Hlivko. “The irony of that is an underlying assumption that the few hundred employees of the company are assumed to be the best control mechanism for quality versus the crowd of thousands competing and measured with data and algorithms.” Hlivko hasn’t found a scenario where a crowd’s quality control failed to meet expectations when the challenge is defined appropriately, company engagement is good, and the incentive model is right for the work.
- Talk often. “I speak with employees every day,” says Scult. She talks to them about what they have on their plate, followed by a deeper discussion about the work they feel is the best use of their skills and experience, and what they want to learn or do to make more of an impact. “We look at areas in which they can have that growth mindset to keep themselves and our company more relevant and to improve customer (and potential customer) experiences while keeping up with the increasing speed of innovation.
“The future workforce blends internal and external professionals working together as part of a flexible whole,” underscores Hlivko. But this doesn’t mean a change in principles, he says. Businesses still need to focus on doing right by their employees: “Pay people fairly, provide them with opportunity for growth and development, manage them respectfully and inclusively, communicate honestly, and direct the organization to contribute positively and ethically.”
Taking these steps will help ensure employees are partners in building open source models within the company—that they can clearly see the benefits and get rewarded for their excellence.