Freelance workers are the third leg of a three-legged HR strategy at P&G, along with building talent from within and partnering with large service providers. How do sophisticated technology platforms keep that stool in balance? For answers, EBN spoke to Rich Postler, the company’s VP of HR for global business information technology. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.

Employee Benefit News: Tell me about P&G’s “talent on demand” initiative and the role of technology in facilitating it.

Rich Postler
Rich Postler

Rich Postler: I’ve seen credible predictions that by around 2020, some 50% of the U.S. workforce will be what is loosely called freelancing independent contractors. Until relatively recently, at P&G we developed and kept most of our talent internally. I came to work here right out of school 31 years ago. That’s what we call a “build” talent strategy, but it’s only one of three legs of our talent strategy today.

EBN: And the others?

Postler: Buy and borrow. Buying skills is partnering with agencies, vendors, partners or individuals to acquire capabilities you need. That’s not new. But the emerging trend is this concept of borrowing capability — the freelancers. It’s about getting access, from anywhere in the world, to the capabilities and talents you need, when you need them.

EBN: I understand that P&G’s “talent on demand” initiative got a big push from a visit you took to Silicon Valley. What’s the connection?

Postler: Every year we take some executives to Silicon Valley with the goal of getting ideas on how to accelerate the growth of Procter & Gamble. We visit multiple start-ups. The “gig economy” is going strong in the technology industry there, and it’s spreading. I decided to explore the issue and determine whether there is there a value play for P&G with “on-demand talent,” and where technology fits into the equation.

EBN: For context, what is “the equation”?

Postler: I like to use the metaphor of a shopping mall. Within P&G, the anchor store is our internal talent supply wing, which is a source of our competitive advantage. But there are other wings of the mall — one for external partners. So think of that as Hewlett Packard, IBM, Xerox. And now we’ve built a separate wing of the mall called the on-demand talent wing, and that is about organizations to connect us very quickly capabilities and skills that P&G needs.

EBN: And what is your role in this mall analogy?

Postler: I’m like the landlord of that wing of the mall. We’ve negotiated relationships with four “tenants” for that wing. One is a company we spoke to on a visit to Silicon Valley, called Upwork that connects companies and freelancers. It’s a technology platform. Leveraging this technology gives you access to people and allows you to define value in multiple ways.

EBN: What kind of people are you talking about?

Postler: All kinds — architects, doctors, coders, lawyers, graphic designers, almost anything you can think of. Speed is important, too. The people that get work done faster and get it done better will win. So we measure speed.

EBN: How does the technology of these talent-matching platforms impact the speed of getting your resource needs addressed?

Postler: Most of these are algorithm-driven platforms with predictive analytics. They allow us to describe the type of worker capability we’re looking for. They not only identify the talent for you, but also measure their performance. A good platform identifies these people and their capabilities, and makes sure that they’re legitimate and really exist, and possess the capabilities that they say they have.

EBN: What about the administrative aspects of the relationship between the company and the freelancer?

Postler: They have the technology to capture all of the communications and what’s happened throughout that project to ultimately pay the freelancer. It’s a huge end-to-end system that is proprietary for most of these companies in this space.

EBN: Are the benefits of these gig worker linkage platforms self-evident to the leaders you are working with at P&G?

Postler: We started this on a pilot basis, and in the last few months we’ve begun evangelizing this enterprise-wide. I tell people I’m not selling anything, what I’m giving Procter & Gamble is access to new ways to change the way work gets done, to access skills and capabilities. At the end of the day, the business unit can choose whether they want to embrace it or not.

EBN: What categories of work have you gotten done via gig workers since you embarked on this journey?

Postler: All kinds — management consulting, customer research, web development, creative development, software development, graphic design, data science and analytics, just to name a few. Also things like high-end science and regulatory compliance and language translation, since we’re a global company.

EBN: Don’t you already have a lot of in-house people working in these areas?

Postler: Yes, there’s some overlap because I do want to drive some internal competition for P&G. But some of the gig talent has some very unique points of differentiation.

EBN: When using a talent-matching platform to secure gig workers, what processes are in place to avoid the possibility of excessive duplication with internal resources?

Postler: We have an annual cycle for talent reviews. Every line president and function head will articulate their key capability challenges, and how they think they can solve them. We’re now asking specific questions like, are these capabilities ones you’ll need over the long term, or mid-long term, or short term? Is this a capability you need to buy, or are there gig workers we can get to meet the need on an accelerated basis?

EBN: Is there any resistance to the idea of using borrowed talent, instead of hiring?

Postler: There is a bit of a culture change involved. This requires people to do work differently, for people to get used to communicate with and manage people who might be situated very far away geographically. If my best graphic designer of my brand sits in the UK and I sit in Cincinnati, Ohio, how am I going to interact with that person?

EBN: In the end, gig workers are still people, not merely problem-solving tools. As a long-term HR professional, do you have any concerns about the ultimate impact of this trend and technology solution on the cultural soul of a 180-year-old company like P&G?

Postler: People are going to have to understand what it means to work in a virtual world. An emerging question is how to build capability in our supervision of others that keeps technology in focus, while also keeping people in focus. There’s got to be a balance. But we also need to think of emerging technology as creating opportunities for our people to gain new skills to take advantage of things like robotics, artificial intelligence, repetitive process automation, and so on. At the end of the day, this is usually a good thing for them to do.

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