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Sharing Is Daring

Sharing is big business, and talent managers should take note.

July 30, 2013
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If your mama raised you right, then you learned to share with others. Whether it’s playtime or lunchtime, we’re taught from an early age to wait our turn and think of others. Unfortunately, many of us forget that lesson as we get older.

It might be time to relearn. Sharing won’t just make your mama proud, it’s becoming big business, too.
Have an extra room at your house and need some extra cash? Join the growing list of people who are renting out spare rooms to frugal travelers through websites like Airbnb.

Got some time to kill and a full tank of gas? Sign up to become a driver on Lyft, the car-sharing service that turns regular motorists into chauffeurs. As a bonus, you get a fuzzy pink mustache to attach to your bumper and advertise your availability.

Services like Airbnb and Lyft — enabled by technology and infused with a collaborative ethos – are part of a burgeoning set of companies and services that make up what’s being called the “sharing economy.” Fueled by thrifty consumers, ubiquitous mobile devices and sophisticated search technology, this evolving marketplace allows people to share and reuse their excess capacity, whether it’s a car with a full tank of gas, an empty bedroom, or just some spare time you’re willing to use to run errands for people through a service like TaskRabbit.

Sharing for a profit is generating serious economic activity. Since launching in 1998, Airbnb has booked more than 10 million room nights for travelers. It generated an estimated $58 million in economic activity in 2012. Venture capitalists gave Lyft a lift via $60 million in financing earlier this year, citing the economic opportunity generated by the 30,000 rides a month the service enables.

It’s not just in p2p, as the peer-to-peer market is known, where sharing is booming. Many businesses have long rented out resources to consumers. Co-working locations make big-time office resources available to small-time freelance workers and lonely telecommuters. Services like Netflix and Zipcar pioneered the use of Internet technologies for on-demand movies and short-term car rentals.

Hesitant to invest in costly infrastructure or rapidly obsolete technology, businesses have also turned to one another to share services. Increasingly, corporate data are stored on vast server farms in a distant location rather than on site in a dedicated server room. Rather than buying equipment and installing software on premise, many companies are signing up for cloud-based software-as-a-service models. Whether we know it or not, many of us in talent management are already active participants in this sharing economy.

But it’s not just technology where sharing comes into play. While many companies have used shared HR services for years to take advantage of economies of scale across departments and divisions, others are pioneering internal talent marketplaces that pool not just HR services but also talented people with targeted skills. Thanks to cloud technologies and sophisticated analytic tools, all that shared data we’re collecting makes it easier to place people with the skills and competencies we need in the right place at the right time.

Competing companies have even gone so far as to partner and share resources when the goal is a common one, such as working with schools and community groups to increase the number of students with science and math degrees or boost the number of women in leadership positions.

While the opportunities in cost savings and talent development and management are clear, risks remain. Despite advanced security measures, cloud data could be susceptible to a security breach beyond your control. Talent marketplaces run into an age-old problem — goal-oriented managers don’t want to share talented employees lest their departments suffer. Talent managers don’t want to open up the assessment and selection process too much for fear they devalue themselves.

So, in talent management, sharing can still be pretty daring. There are downsides to participating in the sharing economy. But with that risk comes reward, even if it is nothing more than the warm feeling of satisfaction you get from helping another out. Even after all those years, that’s a result that will still make your mama proud.

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