Universal Workforce Model

This month, host Bruce Morton welcomes Simon Bradberry, Vice President of EMEA for Allegis Global Solutions. Right now, talent tops executives’ lists as the biggest risk to their business, making organizations eager to rethink how work gets done. Bruce and Simon discuss what is happening in the industry that is causing this reimagining of work and why now is the time for organizations to look to new, innovative approaches to getting work done. 
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Welcome to Subject to Talent, brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to workforce and talent experts from around the world, covering market trends, technology, and our ever-evolving, dynamic industry. 

Bruce Morton: Hi, I'm Bruce Morton, host of Allegis Global Solutions' Subject to Talent podcast. Today, I'm super excited to be joined by Simon Bradberry. Simon is our Vice President of EMEA for Allegis Global Solutions. Welcome, Simon.

Simon Bradberry: Hi there, Bruce.

Bruce: Great to be talking to you today. So as we kick things off, could you just share your journey within the workforce solutions industry, how you got to this point?

Simon: Yes, certainly. So I am like many other people in the workforce industry; had no great plan and fell into it by accident. Originally, I actually started working in the industry in 1992, graduated, went to a recruitment company, who I thought was very lucky to have me walk in their door and say, "Look, can you get me a job in an investment bank?" And they said, "Oh, you don't want to do that. What you want to do is work for us and work in a recruitment industry."
That was news to me at the time. But this was in London. I really wanted to live in London. So I thought, "Well, I'll take the job, do it, do it for six months, get a proper job after that." I was with that company for 18 years.

I probably spent the first kind of three years or so in the staffing industry side, doing investment banking recruitment, then kind of got into the outsourcing recruitment side, sort of master vendor, temporary recruitment, then evolved into MSP and RPO within maybe three or four years.
I remember I did my first ever pitch ... Just a brief aside here; first ever pitch was to what's now JP Morgan, then Chase Manhattan, which was successful. That was in the end of 1996. And the feedback they gave us was, "You've won the business, but that's not how you spell Manhattan," which is something that I remember.
And then beyond that, I did leave recruitment for a bit and worked for Deloitte in a HR consulting role in their HR transformation business. I've come via Asia. I spent seven years living in Singapore, covering Asia Pacific, launching an MSP and RPO business out there for another organization; came back to the UK just over three years ago, and thoroughly enjoying my time with Allegis Global Solutions. And here I am now.

Bruce: Great. Thanks, Simon. The smart thing would've been just say New York. You could have spelled that one correctly. But anyway, moving on, thanks for sharing that journey.
So we're obviously at a really, really interesting time here in the workforce industry in itself and the so-called new world of work, call it what you will, but there's definitely, and this isn't hyperbole, we know that, there's definitely change afoot. Organizations are spending a lot of time rethinking, re-imagining the way they get work done. So how is that playing out in conversations that you are having with clients?

Simon: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. This is not a fringe issue with senior people. I've definitely seen a change, quite a significant change, in the last six to nine months. 
I would say that ... I use the phrase "workforce Renaissance." What I mean by “workforce Renaissance” is, it's a very exciting time of kind of renewal and creative thinking right across the workforce industry. And we are seeing that in every single conversation that we're having, be it with existing clients or be it with prospective clients that we're talking to.

What I would say is, I think as an industry, we've got to be honest with ourselves, and there's a bit of an elephant in the room about the way that we operate today, and this is not a comment about individual organizations or even in-house versus outsourcing, that the models largely don't work as well as they should.

And my evidence for that would be, if you look at the surveys that are coming out ... I think there was a big Deloitte survey a few months ago; 3,000 global CEOs. I recently read an article in The Economist a week or two ago, again, referencing a major survey in the US. And the number one issue for CEOs globally, the number one risk to business, is talent and people. And I don't think that's because everything's working brilliantly.

So I think we've got to be honest as an industry that now is the time to look at this and come up with the answers, and do things differently to help the organizations that we serve succeed in the marketplace.

Bruce: So as we think about that, obviously it's very visible, the challenges organizations are having. I think, at some point, this is going to be called "the help wanted year," because every high street you walk down, they have help wanted signs. Forget the resignations.

So we know that's going on, there's the whole return to office, that dynamic of hybrid work and so on. But if you think about this, again, in the conversations you're having at the C-suite level, what challenges are those business leaders facing when they think about the traditional recruitment of so-called permanent FTEs, or the ever growing and incredibly fast-growing and extended workforce? How are they thinking about the challenges right now and what they can see in the future?

Simon: Yeah, sure. So I think the starting point is, the senior people in organizations understand the theory of, "How do I get a more agile workforce? How do I get my organization to respond better to the needs of what we're trying to do within our marketplace?"

And by "the theory," what do I mean? I mean things like tasks. If you can understand a task, rather than starting with a job, that's a better place to start.

So the question to a business leader would be, "What are you trying to do here? What do you need to get done?", not, "Who are you trying to hire?"  And the theory is, if you do that, you've got a better chance of answering the question. You've also got a better chance of coming up with an automation type idea around, "Maybe we could also make that bit."

Because you're looking at it more broadly and more holistically, rather than just going, "Right, well, we used to have X person doing that job. They were a permanent member of staff. Let's do that again," or whatever it might be. So I park that under "task not jobs."

But I can give another example; senior people also understand the theory, quite rightly, that if you retain your staff, it's a far more efficient way of growing your business and developing greater productivity, if you can retain your existing people, rather than having high levels of turnover and so on.

So people understand. I can keep going, but they are a couple of examples of theory.

Those theories then bring themselves into a strategy that organizations develop. So an example might be to say, "Right, well, let's try and understand what the task that our business is doing. Let's make sure that internal recruitment's a real high priority for us"; just in those two examples.

Equally, I could talk about technology. Senior people understand the role that technology has to play in terms of efficiency; "Well, let's make sure that we're getting the best technology to bear." And that's the strategy.

But then you look day to day, and I'm a practitioner, ultimately, I'm not really a theorist, I'm a practitioner. You look day to day at what's happening on the grounds; are organizations really asking their business leaders and hiring managers, "Don't tell me who you want to hire. Tell me what the task is?" Well, that really happens very, very rarely.

When you look at internal recruitment, again, just as an example, almost every organization that I know has rules around internal recruitment that don't apply to external recruitment. You've got to tell your hiring manager when you're applying for a job, you've got to have been in that role for a certain period of time, etc.

And therefore, is it really easier to apply for an internal job than it is to just go and look externally, when you've got rules around that? And also, the reality around implementing technology is really tough, because it's a complex world.

So the point I'm making here as context to answer this, Bruce, is that we understand the theory, we understand how to turn that theory into a strategy, but then when we get to operationalize that and turn it into reality, something gets lost somewhere on that journey, and organizations are not seeing, on a day-to-day basis, and behaving and doing things, regardless of whether they're in-house or outsourced, stuff that's actually delivering what they want to deliver. So that's what we've got to address.

How does that manifest itself on a day-to-day basis in terms of the conversations that we're having out there and talking to clients? I'm going to talk about four broad areas, all of which are topics which come up again and again.

The first is fragmentation. 

So the way most organizations hire, and I'm oversimplifying here, is that they have an infrastructure for permanent recruitment, they have an infrastructure for contractor and temporary recruitment / staff augmentation, and they have an infrastructure for statement of work / consultancy type hiring. And all three of those channels / silos represents workforce, people doing stuff for that organization.

What happens is we ask the business leader, the hiring manager, "Who do you want to hire?" They say, "Oh, it's a permanent person. I need a contractor," or, "I need to get a consultant in." But you are instantly into one of those three silos. You are instantly into a process, a sign off, a technology, a way of capturing data, which then doesn't cross pollinate between permanent recruitment, contractor recruitment and statement of work or consultancy. And you follow the path down one of those three. So the fragmented sourcing bit is the first bit that I would highlight.

The second bit is, we see a lot of organizations have in-house talent acquisition teams to do their permanent hiring. I feel, and it's a topic of conversation, that what is expected of in-house TA teams is what I call "the impossible ask." And the reason is that if you're an in-house team, it's very easy to become isolated from what's true best practice, what's going on in the marketplace.

It's very hard to interpret the full ecosystem of technology capability that is out there; "What's the best technology for us as an organization?" And then even if you can get that agreed and signed off and paid for, to then get it implemented and prioritized and through vetting and screening internally, and the practical reality being, in a very fast-moving marketplace, that we can implement something that really is working, really making a difference, is extremely hard.

And in fact, just to illustrate that point, I think you're familiar, Bruce, with the organization Talent Tech Labs . They do a phenomenal report which comes out every year, which is the Talent Acquisition Ecosystem Marketplace.

They've got 39 categories of technology, each category supplied by, on average, more than 10 vendors in the marketplace. And they span different areas of the talent marketplace, from kind of initial attraction right the way through to onboarding and life cycle and everything that sits in between the two. They've just released their 10th report. Compared to their ninth report a year ago, they've taken away 96 vendors and added 82. So my point being, if you are in-house, what chance do you have of staying truly on top of this rapidly moving marketplace at a speed that means that you're going to be able to deliver technology to your organization?

The third one is RPO.

So some organizations will then go, "Okay, well, we're looking for market best practice, we're looking for flexibility, and we're looking for technology that can generally be implemented. And we've heard that RPO providers can do that." And of course, I say this as an RPO provider myself and representing a business. So this is core to us, but I'm reflecting the marketplace in general.

And I call this "the RPO paradox". The traditional RPO model is one where, well, it does exactly as is described. Recruitment process outsourcing is the client's recruitment process outsourced to a third party, but the end-to-end client process means that the client owns the data end to end, the client's process is followed end to end, and so on.
What that means is, when it comes to implementing best practice, it's actually a bit harder than you might imagine, because you're following the client's process. There might be some areas that you can tweak, but broadly speaking, right from the initial candidate attraction through to the end of the process, you're really following what's already there.

Secondly, you haven't really solved the technology issue. You've still got technology, you've still got to be within the client's firewall, it's still their data. They still want to vet everything, screen everything. It's still got to join a queue for implementation for their own resource internally. And you haven't actually really moved that forward.

And then finally, when it comes to the flexibility of resource, being able to deal with peaks and troughs in demands, yes, all RPO providers have service centers with hundreds of people sitting in them, but the reality is that the vast majority of those people are dedicated a hundred percent to individual clients because of the nature of recruitment process outsourcing, because they're dedicated to an end-to-end client's process.

So it isn't actually as easy as you might imagine to offer that flexibility. So we end up with a paradoxical situation, whereby the model itself, the design of the model, is preventing the output that you're desiring to get from the model. So that's the RPO paradox; number three.

And number four; this is to do with the extended workforce, which is also a very, very big topic of conversation. And I'm going to use the word paradox again, the extended workforce paradox. When I say extended workforce, I mean anyone that isn't a permanent employee. So including consultants and people under statements of work and temps and contractors and staff augmentations, and so on.

What happens here is that, in most organizations, not all, but in most organizations, the cost of this population is so high that the procurement or sourcing function is asked to manage the population to make sure that costs are minimized.

You end up with broadly two buckets. You end up with a bucket of temps and contractors where you've got structured data, highly visible information, you can see the margins, you can see the pay rights, you can see who's supplying, you can see what they're doing, what they're getting paid per hour, per day or whatever.

And then a bucket of unstructured data, which is normally statements of work and consultancy type arrangements, where they're more likely to be milestone-driven, although not always. You can't really get under the skin of exactly what makes up the total cost.

And so, as a procurement function, you would absolutely instinctively go to where you've got the structured data, where you know you've got something you can go after. And what organizations do is they reduce margins, they reduce vendors, they squeeze effectively that area of cost very, very effectively, and indeed use MSP providers, such as ourselves, to help them deliver that outcome.
What do we see? We see spend. Like Adam Smith's invisible hand from The Wealth of Nations several hundred years ago, the invisible hand takes resource and requirements and spend from the contingent worker space into the statement of work and consultant space, and actually what you've ended up doing, inadvertently, and only because you've executed your plan really well, you have moved spend from an area of low margin to an area of high margin when the original objective was to reduce costs. And actually, you've ended up doing the reverse. And we see this everywhere.

So I've gone into some depth there, but there are four categories. There's fragmented sourcing; there's talent acquisition, the impossible ask; there's the RPO paradox; and there's the extended workforce paradox. And all four of those are real live issues for organizations that we're talking to today, and it's our job to come up with a solution for them, which I think is what we're going to talk about.

Bruce: Yeah, which is a great segue. Thanks for that. And thanks for laying out those four key criteria there. So it does bring us to our subject for today, which is around the Universal Workforce Model being a part of the answer or the answer to those four challenges you just laid out. So can you just briefly explain for our listeners how we define the Universal Workforce Model? 

Simon: Yeah. So the Universal Workforce Model is a concept that is specifically designed to address the challenges that are out there today. And one of the things that we've talked about within AGS is the success or otherwise of total talent.

The first thing I want to say is this is not total talent. I have a rule internally, which is, you're only allowed to use the phrase "total talent" if you're prepared to define it. And most people struggle to define total talent.

For example, if you've got MSP and RPO with one provider, is that total talent, or is that not? What if statement of work is included? Does that make it total talent? What if the statement of work management is just headcount tracking? Does that make it ... ? I could go on.

So I'm going to answer your question by defining precisely what the Universal Workforce Model is. And that is, there are three elements to it.

The first is that it has to be tasked-based, not role-based. What that means is that the conversation that you're having with the business is, "What do you need to get done?", not, "Who are you trying to hire?"

The second is that you have workforce business partners. A workforce business partner is somebody who works specifically for a business unit, but spans the entire options of the workforce. So you could find a permanent person, a temporary contractor person, a statement of work person all through the workforce business partner. Think about how you have an HR business partner; similar concept, but for workforce people only. So you have a workforce business partner as a kind of omnichannel approach to getting work done.

And thirdly, you need an intelligent workforce platform. An intelligent workforce platform is a piece of technology, which again spans the entirety of the workforce. So it has information and data internally and externally about all elements of the workforce and about how successful they've been at getting work done. And it uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to support the decision making of the workforce business partner, and, indeed, the business, to make sure that the best decision is made in terms of achieving that task and getting work done.

So those three core elements, task versus role-based, workforce business partner, intelligent workforce platform; if you have all three of those, you have the Universal Workforce Model. If you have two of them, you don't. You have to have all three of them coming together to make it work. And that's the definition of the Universal Workforce Model.

Bruce: Great. Thank you.

So as you think about that, and obviously there's a lot here to unpack, so I'm just imagining those folks listening into this for the first time, hearing you explain that way, it's like, "Okay, I get it. It makes sense or appears to"; where do I start? How do I get on this journey?"

Because you mentioned earlier that it is a journey, which I totally agree with. I don't think there's any magic switch here to turn on the model. But what's your recommendation? Or how is AGS thinking about, "Where do we start, and what does the journey look like?"

Simon: So the first thing I would say, and it's a very, very good point, Bruce, I don't think that it's something where you say, "Well, we're going to get there, yes, three months, six months." It absolutely is a journey.

If you think about the implications of, for example, just having an omnichannel approach to resourcing, you are breaking down those barriers and silos that exist today, but those barriers and silos are not easy to break down because you've got systems and processes and sign-offs that exist. So I think we need to acknowledge that it's not an overnight switch that you can flick.

In contrast to that, I would say that there are a number of organizations that we are talking to at the moment that have gone, "Okay, let's get this done. Where do we start? What do we need to do?" And there are active organizations that are actively taking those initial steps.

So to answer your question, what are those initial steps? Well, the first one; if I was talking to a client, I'd say, "The first one's on you." Because I don't think it is possible to do this unless you have agreement at the most senior level, at the C-suite that this is something that you want to achieve, that there is a challenge here, a business challenge that you actually want to address and achieve.
Because the scenario that I've painted spans multiple business areas. It spans the whole business in fact. Does the business want this? Do HR agree with this? Do procurement agree that this is the right way forward and it's in the best interest of the organization? Do the finance function think that this is right? What do talent think?

We've had clients actually say, "Oh, can we start looking at this within procurement?", or, "Can we start looking at this within HR, and we'll bring our colleagues over later?" And the honest answer to that is, "No, actually, you really need to get your colleagues on board and get the senior people lined up to this as step one."

So I'll happily talk about other steps as well, but I would say the most important thing is the first step. And the first step is, is there the desire and the need and the recognition at the senior level of the organization that this needs to be addressed and this is the answer and the path that you want to start walking towards?

Bruce: And I know that you've been working on a vehicle to help clients get those people in the room and get them on the same page in the form of a diagnostic. Could you just talk to that for a couple of minutes?

Simon: Yeah, absolutely. So step one would be, again, getting people lined up internally; step two would be the diagnostic.

So we've worked specifically on a tool, which is a questionnaire-based tool. And the idea is to look at the core areas that impact the workforce, have a subsection of pillars of information that we can segment the data into, and then a sort of a list of 64 questions that we have, which are actually statements where we ask the people that we're interviewing across the business to state how important they think that is, and where are they today and how important is it where they get to it in the future?

And you very quickly get to see where the gaps are, what's important to the business, what the different groups and categories and geographies see. And it gives fantastic reference and data points to be able to say, "Well, this is how we apply this thinking to your organization, because this is what your organization is saying to us."

So that diagnostic is a relatively straightforward tool to get really, really terrific data points, which we can then use as a steppingstone. So it's not a one size fits all approach. We're able to say, "We know this is going to work for your organization, because we know this is the desire and the need for your organization."

So that's kind of the diagnostic step.

I think there are other steps as well on the path, which are ... What the diagnostic tends to output is you reach an agreement in terms of where you want to get to, but then there are steppingstones.
So I know today, most organizations either have in-house recruitment, or they have RPO, and they might have an MSP provider. They might have statement of work either in-house with procurement or with an external provider, or a combination. But there are steppingstone models where you can start moving towards task-based, start moving towards the technology solution.

And we've got our own solutions to that in terms of the extended workforce model and great talent, which we see as the steppingstones from where organizations are today to something that could be tangibly implemented relatively easily. And then you're also well on the road, on the path to a Universal Workforce Model in the future.

Bruce: Great. Okay. Makes a lot of sense. We're coming up towards our end of time here. So I think this ties in with, as we were just saying, you don't flick a switch.

While I don’t think that this journey will ever end, per say, but could you give a feel of how long you think it would take organizations to get to that point when they can say, "Hey, yeah, we've got those three elements. We have the Universal Workforce Model in place," and follow that up with, at the same time, the crystal ball question, what conversation do you think you will be having in five years time around this subject?

Simon: Yeah, that's a great question. I'm going to say, I think the organizations with the right will and determination could get there in two years, but I think that you could make progress within a few months, because you can get a diagnostic done really quickly. You could implement a steppingstone model within six, nine or 12 months, and then you are well on the way.

So it's not like it's a binary scenario where you suddenly, "Hey, presto, we've got a Universal Workforce Model in place." I think for many organizations though, it's more like a two- to five-year type journey.

Your other question about, what's the conversation going to look like in five years? I think if I pretended that I knew the answer to that, I would definitively not know what I'm talking about.
What I would like to say though, is that what we are really trying to do at the moment is stimulate debate.

We've got a book coming out, Bruce, as I know that you know very well, because you and I have collaborated on it, with John Boudreau, who is the world's leading expert on workforce and issues pertaining to the workforce.

And in that book, we explore all the areas that we've talked about, obviously in much greater depth. We don't talk about, "You've got to do this in-house or you've got to outsource it." We don't talk about, "The only answer you've got here is Allegis and that's the end of the conversation."

We're trying to prompt debate. We're trying to get people to have the conversation from a neutral perspective to say, "Hey, there's an elephant in the room. It's not working as well as we want it to work. There's another way of doing it. What do you think?"

And what I would like to see, if I had an objective, it would be that that does start a level of debate, which we can then take forward. And then who knows where we end up in the future?

Bruce: Great. Well, thanks for that. And I love the fact you didn't do that, because you are paid to run a business, I'm paid to be a futurist, so I have to have predictions. So thanks for that.
So I really enjoyed the conversation today. As you mentioned, we've got that e-book coming out. The preview is available for that now. So when we post this podcast out on the social media, we'll make sure there's a link for that for those folks interested.

But thanks again for your time. I know it's a really, really exciting time in our industry, and look forward to working with you on that.

In the meantime, if people want to get hold of you for any follow up question, Simon, what's the easiest way to do that?

Simon: Well, people can email me, they can contact me wherever they've seen this. It's put out via LinkedIn. Please contact me via that route. I am super excited about having debates and so on with any individual that's keen to talk about it. So if you don't reach out to me via LinkedIn, you can reach out to me via AGS, and I'd be delighted to have the conversation.

Bruce, I just want to say thank you very much for taking the time, and thank you for inviting me on to Subject to Talent. It's been a pleasure.

Bruce: You're very welcome. Thanks, Simon.

Simon: Thank you.

Bruce: To learn more about AGS, please check us out at allegisglobalsolutions.com. You can also send questions from me or our guests. Just tweet us here @allegisglobal with the hashtag #subjecttotalent, or email us at subjecttotalent@allegisglobalsolutions.com.
And if you enjoyed our podcast today, please subscribe, rate us, and leave a review. Until next time, cheers.