What HR directors can learn from Hollywood

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Hollywood is known for its glitz, glamour and as the heart of the multi-billion-dollar global entertainment industry. It is not often seen as a paradigm of HR best practice

While many organisations are arranged using traditional corporate structures, the film industry has always used a more agile, freelance-based organisation model. A production company gets a script, hires a director, producer, team of actors and an entire technical staff to work on the film. Once the movie is made the team disbands and everyone goes on to different projects.

Movie-making thus represents a simple model of an emerging trend among agile organisations looking to address talent crises. Called Flash Organisations – a term originally coined at Stanford University in 2017 – the trend leverages technology and online platforms to deliver specific projects with short-term teams of independent consultants/industry experts.

The scarcity of talent, and the increasing mobility and demand for flexibility among workers, are causing more organisations to consider and apply these flexible approaches. Whether to handle ad-hoc specialist projects, or to manage peaks in core operations such as year-end reporting and seasonal sales spikes, orchestrating teams of experts to focus on goal-driven engagements pays dividends.

The potential of Flash Organisations is driven by interrelated changes to the dynamic of the workforce. There is the trend towards self-employment. The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) states that one in seven of the workforce today is self-employed, a 35% increase over the past decade. What’s more, the fastest-growing segment of this freelance workforce are highly-skilled, highly-experienced, senior professionals. With an average age of 48, this group has grown by 47% since 2008.

Secondly, the globalisation and digitisation of organisations has created an ongoing need for agile responses to increasingly complex challenges. Big data, AI, customer-centricity and ‘always-on’ organisations demand rapid development and constant change. The teams required to work on these challenges need to be multi-disciplinary, diverse and bring a breadth as well as depth of experience. Finding enough people with the skills, experience and capacity to deliver these projects is a huge challenge for most organisations.

Independent consultants/industry experts are themselves harnessing technology to promote, engage and collaborate on projects irrespective of location. This creates a vast global pool of talent experienced in using mobile, cloud and collaboration technologies to solve problems across all types and sizes of organisation.

Flash Organisations bring these three trends together while solving the biggest difficulties faced by HR professionals seeking to find, onboard and contract with freelance resource on a short-term basis. The complexities of managing tax liabilities, protection of data and proprietary information, and health and safety regulations have all been barriers to creating a more flexible workforce. But today online platforms are emerging that provide HR professionals with a ‘one-stop shop’ to find, assess, contract, onboard, manage and pay a freelance workforce. This immediately removes a key barrier to employing Flash Organisation techniques.

Many have also been wary of bringing freelancers into an organisation: fearing a lack of transparency and control over costs, billing rates and understanding of the quality and quantity of work to be delivered. But Hollywood provides a precedent here too. On a film set there is a clear goal and hierarchy, with the director delegating tasks and instructing their staff on what to do. A Flash Organisation is exactly the same – with clear roles and responsibilities assigned for each individual and a definition of exactly what is to be delivered, to what quality, in what timeframe.

Today’s HR directors find themselves under pressure from many angles. Leadership wants to control costs while developing talent and building a workforce fit for the future. Staff want flexibility, challenge and variety in their work. The business environment demands flexibility while organisational structures impose increasingly outdated structures. If it sounds like the plot to a Hollywood thriller then perhaps the solution is to take a leaf from their script and use a Flash Organisation to create a blockbuster project team.

Charlotte Gregson is MD UK&I at COMATCH

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