The World of ‘Beyond Employment’

The talent ecosystem increasingly includes unconventional approaches, but that doesn’t mean unconventional tools can’t influence traditional talent practices.

Consider TopCoder, a community of freelance technologists, which awards more than $25,000 in prizes daily for software coders who accomplish notable feats. Its parent, Appirio Inc., used its network of freelancers to consolidate the legacy human resources system for Four Seasons Hotels.

Moreover, within days of Apple’s introduction of its new iOS software system, a TopCoder contest motivated thousands of application developers to learn the system and compete to showcase their skills. 

Then there’s Elance, which boasts more than 95,000 jobs posted in the last 30 days and more than $1 billion earned by its freelancers since its inception.

None of these workers were employees of TopCoder, Appirio or Elance.

Are these examples irrelevant for most talent managers? After all, most work is still structured conventionally — by full- or part-time employees. Talent managers are aware of these new work arrangements, but few talent systems routinely consider them when filling talent gaps, and they are often managed by procurement.

Still, talent leaders should look closely at these “beyond employment” work arrangements and not simply as alternatives to traditional employment.

Savvy talent managers should consider how new platforms could redefine their own talent management systems. 

Performance Assessment

Are some of your workers — the “3x performers” — three times more productive than others? Evidence suggests that 3x performers may be more typical than you think. Can your performance system find them? Most cannot, because traditional performance systems use ratings and annual performance cycles, where performance follows a normal curve distribution.

Talent platforms can detect these star performers more easily by measuring and publishing the speed, accuracy and quality of the work of thousands of projects and workers. They are not limited to an annual performance cycle or the workers inside a single company. Talent platforms offer contests for software coding, ad design and project management. These are often unpaid contests. Why compete for no money? Because the reward is that you get an objective and public measure of your skills.

In the world beyond employment, if you’re the best, people will know it.


If you did find a 3x performer, could you pay them three times what others are paid? Most traditional reward systems cannot because pay structures reflect midpoints that reflect broad market pay levels, pay bands emphasizing structural equity and leaders who are reluctant to differentiate. Yet talent platforms routinely pay star performers three times the average. In the world beyond employment, equity means documented and public performance-based differentiation.


If you did detect your 3x performer and you paid them three times the average, your other workers will want to improve. Can you offer other workers the learning experiences to become a 3x performer? Most traditional systems cannot because such learning experiences are rare inside a single organization, and employees must wait for them to be available. Yet Elance offers a “university” portal to 28,000 online courses, using data to link them directly to the work that is most in demand by clients. In the world beyond employment, learning means modular and targeted experiences connected to results.

Can internal organizational talent systems learn from the world beyond employment? Yes. TopCoder offers a service to conduct coding contests for your own employees. Elance will build a “private talent cloud” giving you visibility and access to both outside freelancers and your own internal employees. 

 Of course, there are good reasons why your internal talent systems shouldn’t simply copy beyond employment systems. Still, beyond employment talent systems not only augment your traditional employment system but also offer you a way to rethink it.