Tips to Tap an Extended Workforce’s Full Potential

Increasingly, an organization’s competitive success hinges on an unlikely group: workers who aren’t employees at all. This growing number of people may be without a permanent job, but they are not without work — they’re making up an ever-expanding network of freelancers, consultants, outsourcing partners, vendors and other types of nontraditional talent.

This growing contingent of workers now represents about a third of the U.S. workforce, according to the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit advocacy group. As a result, companies must recognize and address the validity and rise of the extended workforce, pushing talent management beyond the confines of the enterprise’s wall to ensure that temporarily workers are just as motivated and high performing as full-time employees.

One of the creative ways that human resource organizations are successfully managing the extended workforce is to take a page from the marketing function. HR can harness the power of analytics to segment this increasingly diverse set of workers into meaningful groups, tapping into the specific needs, desires and preferences to craft highly targeted strategies.

Here are some of the ways to consider segmenting the extended workforce:

By type of work arrangement: An organization may open its knowledge management and learning systems to temporary professional employees, for example, but not to people participating in crowdsourcing competitions.

An organization may also extend learning and career development to individual contractors, but not to employees of an outsourcing provider. In general, whereas many talent management practices can easily be stretched beyond organizational boundaries to include freelancers or contractors, organizations must exercise special care when thinking about those employed by another organization.

To ensure those workers are performing at their best, organizations may need to carefully evaluate their partner organizations’ talent management practices and even write talent management practices into service agreements.

By value: Not all employees are of equal value. Therefore, all employees do not warrant the same level of investment. The same goes for extended workers. Some organizations with a large portion of extended workers in customer-facing roles, for example, may decide to extend on-boarding and training practices to them to ensure they are performing at the top of their game.

By geography: An organization might tailor its ability to hire freelancers in China, for example, based on the fact that this is a region where personal relationships are paramount; therefore, hiring individuals recommended by employees works particularly well.

However, when considering extending informal team performance feedback to workers based in China, organizations would need to take into account that practices like 360-degree performance reviews, which are popular in the U.S., are rarely effective in China.

By generation: To attract highly skilled Generation Y technology freelancers, for instance, an organization could promote a tailored message touting the ability for freelancers to temporarily contribute to a fulfilling mission, quickly build skills and experience and enjoy a flexible schedule.

By type of work: What motivates an extended worker in a manufacturing plant — compensation, for example — will likely differ markedly from what motivates a scientist participating in a crowdsourcing competition to develop a new product — like recognition in the scientific community. As a result, organizations will want to create strategies tuned for workers performing varied types of work.

By skills: Online labor platform Elance enables organizations to search by results of more than 400 validated skills tests that candidates can choose to take. Other organizations are including extended workers in their internal skills databases so they can be more easily matched to projects.

By results and performance: Some online labor platforms are also enabling organizations to segment potential workers based on performance or assessment ratings provided by previous employers or by actual results. Guru, for example, provides recommendations to employers based on a proprietary ranking system, which leverages performance data and enables organizations to see actual samples of work already accomplished.

Moreover, medical supply maker NationsHealth uses a monitoring system that allows it to farm out piecemeal sales calls to thousands of individuals by routing calls to individuals who have proven to have handled similar calls well in the past.

By personality or cultural fit: It may soon be possible to segment potential extended workers based on personality traits or cultural fit. Researchers have found that Facebook profiles, for instance, can be mined to find statistically valid personality traits — like conscientiousness or agreeableness. Therefore, it may only be a matter of time until online freelance labor platforms include the ability for workers to take cultural fit assessments that employers can then use to ensure a better match between worker and organization.

David Gartside is the managing director responsible for HR offerings within the Accenture Talent & Organization practice. Susan M. Cantrell is a research fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance. They can be reached at