Episode 3

John Winsor: The future of work, open talent and remote work.

This week's host, Jen Harvey speaks with John Winsor — entrepreneur, thought leader and global authority on the future of work, open talent and remote work.

March 7, 2024

Podcast transcript

Casey [00:00:00:05 - 00:00:25:17]

Welcome to another episode of Workforces 3.0, where we have conversations about workforce innovation with the people who are driving change in the space. This week, host Jen Harvey speaks with entrepreneur, thought leader and global authority on the future of work, open talent and remote work. John Windsor

Jen [00:00:20:05 - 00:00:25:17]

What impact do you think the economic downturn is having on contingent work programs in general?

John Winsor [00:00:25:19 - 00:00:52:18]

I mean, I think that, you know, you have to look at the contingent workforce downturn. Well, the economic downturn in the context about how much hiring increased over, you know, over COVID and say a lot of especially in the tech world, a lot of organizations grew. You know, there's thousands by tens of thousands of people. What we're seeing is the layoffs are just, you know, a mere fraction of that.

And, you know, it's with all the free money that was out there. Low interest rates, government subsidies, people are people over hired to do more work that increases their momentum. And is that's kind of strong like of course, you know when you grow like I think you know what I what I've seen is that the last figures I saw was that, you know, that Microsoft hired 77,000 people during, you know, 20, 21 and 22 and then, you know, laid off like 15,000 people.

So in that context, I think it's how you look at it. And so my sense is, is that, you know, we're going to continue to see the trend go forward that, you know, even though companies are laying off people, but they still have work to get done, and so they're going to look to new ways to do that and moving from kind of, you know, fixed cost solutions to variable cost solutions.

I think one of the most important things for any organization to do in the future is to have a really strong balance sheet and in order to have a strong balance sheet because, you know, other kinds of disruptions like like the pandemic are going to happen again. And so you've got to have a strong balance sheet to survive those and to actually take advantage of those those disruptions and be opportunistic to really grow your organization.

And to do that, you have to have a really strong balance sheet. And so in order to have a strong balance sheet, you've got to take more fixed costs and put them into a variable cost bucket. And so I think you'll see more and more of that. Some talent.

Jen [00:02:20:09 - 00:02:31:26]

Yeah, that makes total sense. So I guess, you know, who do you think in these, you know, big organizations that you're talking about who should really be owning this decision or owning this strategy?

John Winsor [00:02:31:28 - 00:02:50:25]

Yeah, I mean, I think it's you know, it's it's a it first of all, it starts with the mindset, right? Like the mindset of the leaders have to change. Like, I think there's been a long standing mindset that was born out of the industrial age that, you know, that I'm going to own the workers, I own the workplace, and I'm going to own the workers.

And workers have to come to me to do the work. And I think that was that, you know, that was a fallacy, that it took the pandemic to kind of prove that, you know, workers and a place to go, but a thing to do. And now that that's kind of been you know, that's kind of happened, it's it's meant that, you know, as much as leaders want people back in the office they have to think about it's not about owning talent because the best talent doesn't want to go to work for you.

And so if that's the case, the talent now has choice of the power paradigms move from, you know, demand side. Having the power of employment to the supply side, the worker having the power of employment. It means that the mindset of leaders have to change, and that is that they can't still come from that ownership perspective. That's come to assessing talent, right?

Like how do they access to better sound?

Jen [00:03:42:23 - 00:03:49:01]

Yeah, that makes I love that ownership story. The transfer of who's actually in control now.

John Winsor [00:03:49:04 - 00:04:00:09]

Yeah. I mean, one of my favorite quotes lately is that is the, you know, the war for talents over and talent one has.

Jen [00:04:00:11 - 00:04:30:11]

A I love that we're going to use that clip for sure. That's that's really funny. Yeah, I love that. Perfect. Thank you. Okay, so I think we might switch gears a little bit more into just kind of like general insight. Um, I guess, you know, in this move to kind of, you know, talent is in control and they're basically working from, you know, where they want and they're choosing the people they want to work for in the projects that they want to work for.

Um, that means, you know, companies need to be able to hire more immediately and not have to worry about obviously the compliance side of it. And compliance is like not the most fun thing to talk about. Right. But do you think, you know, companies need access to this talent? So even though it's not really a thing people often talk about, like what do you think the role of compliance will be?

Do you think it'll change?

John Winsor [00:04:54:27 - 00:05:22:04]

Well, I think it's going to be baked into anything. It's everything, right? It's like we don't you know, like we we don't think about, you know, consumers of like automobiles. We don't think about the compliance nature of, you know, like how how car, you know, like follows the at least in the U.S., you know, the the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and the EPA rules and things like that, we just assume that's going to happen.

And I think there's not you know, there's been too much emphasis on, you know, when you when you have an organization that's very top down that's built out of, you know, the militaristic mindset of industrial age, like, you know, moving these cheap assets to do the work you need to do, It's compliance is a part of that kind of control.

When you realize that you don't have control, that that the assets or the people in this case have choice, then that know in some ways like, you know, compliance is just a fallacy and trying to hold up an old system. But but I think it's one of those transitional things, right? It's like everybody has a rules and you're going to have a new system fit in.

When you realize that you don't have control, that that the assets or the people in this case have choice, then that know in some ways like, you know, compliance is just a fallacy and trying to hold up an old system. But but I think it's one of those transitional things, right? It's like everybody has a rules and you're going to have a new system fit in.

You got to you know, you got to walk for Iran and there's got to be new ways. There's got to they've got to the old rules have to evolve and not be a revolution. So.

Jen [00:06:23:05 - 00:06:37:18]

Yeah, that makes that makes a lot of sense. You talked to some of the biggest, you know, company leaders, I think, out there. Who do you think right now is getting it right as far as their approach to talent?

John Winsor [00:06:37:20 - 00:07:18:28]

Yeah, I mean, I think I think that there are a lot of people that are experimenting. I think we're seeing that in an experimental phase. I would say that the issue is, is like there's both in bottom up movement. I think you see in the freelance platforms that, you know, one of the things that I find so interesting statistically that or at least, you know, some research we've done it at the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard shows that, you know, while freelance only has ten enterprise clients with Fortune 500 companies, there are active emails from 70% of those Fortune five hundreds that work on the freelance platform on a monthly basis.

And so there's this whole kind of bottom up secret source. Like if you're, you know, if you're a marketing manager and you have a incredibly big marketing research project, Anita Deck built your say at a Deloitte and you go to their, you know, graphic design department and your meetings next week and your graphic design department says, sorry, can't do anything for three weeks.

We were all booked out and you're freaking out. So you got to you go to Google and look online and you say, oh, there's you know, there are these platforms that could do the deck for me. And, and like, you know, you do you maybe hire somebody on Fiverr and they do a great job and it's really reasonably priced and all of a sudden you slay it in your, you know, in your, in your big meeting, you're going to create a whole team of people like that that's low cost that you can get done work when you need to get it done, not when the company mandates that it can fit into a schedule.

And so so there's that bottom up movement that's going to put pressure on the system. But there's also a top down movement, as we talked about, like this move from ownership, the mindset leadership movement, right? This movement from ownership to access to to access just means that, you know, I mean, it no longer is not doing the work an excuse, right?

Like breakout apartments for a long time. It's just easy to say, well, I can't hire a data scientist or, you know, for months because we just can't hire, you know, like we've tried and tried and tried like, well, why don't you just task ify the work, put those out on platform and get the work done? It's not about like, I think it's interesting, right?

It's like I think one of the things that is stuck is that like, like I wrote this article recently and it in the context of, you know, gender today i josh bersin is a really well known h.r. You know, consultant. His point was isn't, you know, gender. I awesome. Because i get to take all this friction out to hire an engineer to fill a role inside your company.

And my perspective was reading that was like, why do you need to hire an engineer for a role? Like, why don't you, like, use generative AI to test by the work, to hire engineers to do specific things? It shouldn't be. It's like getting the work done. And part of the mindset shift is that the old way of working is we have to hire somebody to fill a role who can write a job description and a work order that can get the work done.

Instead of saying, Let's flip this upside down, let's figure out what our goal is, how do we task apply to work? Who are the best people to do the work? Even though that job might be 100 people during a year to do that work right and go that much faster. So anyway, that that's so it's both bottom up and top down, but it's really the the kind of the frozen middle that stuck that needs to innovate.

And I just, you know, I just think the reality is, is like it's a matter of time. That whole mid-level was going to be replaced by technology anyway, right? It's like that's that's just what's going to happen. I mean, you look across I just find it's always really curious that look across most organizations and they have really serious and awesome digital transformation efforts until they come to h.R.

And it's like, well, you can't really digitize human beings. You can't really digitize work processes. You're like, wow, yeah, you can't, you know, so, yeah.

Jen [00:10:42:14 - 00:10:53:14]

Yeah, that's really interesting. Like you said earlier, it's about the work getting done now It's, it's yeah, it can be in whatever ways. Yeah. Most innovative and beneficial for the company so.

John Winsor [00:10:53:19 - 00:11:23:22]

And aligned with doing the work not hiring somebody that does a plan that you know I mean could you imagine like one of the scenarios I lay out in my upcoming book Open Talent is could you imagine, say, like you, Jennifer just hired a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and you know, one of your visions is like, we've got to figure out the I think, see, spend, you know, six months trying to hire senior VP of A.I. because he went to that you know, you're c hro and, you know, took six months to hire her and then she needs hire teams.

That takes six months to hire a team. And then it takes four months to do a strategy plan. And then it's like 18 months and it's like, you're toast instead. Like, why don't you go to platforms and hire, you know, the top ten people in your field that have, you know, expertise, bring them to a location, do a workshop, figure out the hundred tasks that need to be done to get a to get a strategy, strategic plan together, hire 100 people or 80 people to do that.

And in three weeks you have a plan like it's three weeks or 18 months. It's like you just can't be competitive anymore.

Jen [00:11:57:19 - 00:12:12:00]

I know. And I mean, I feel like so many organizations just aren't comfortable with even that, right? Like moving that quickly, you know, it's almost like moving slowly is a bit of a security blanket room.

Well, could you talk a little bit more to about Lish and what you guys have going on there? I think it's from what I know about it and what I've heard from you, it sounds super interesting.

John Winsor [00:12:21:20 - 00:12:54:15]

Yeah. So listen, it's a laboratory for innovation science at Harvard, and we were really born out of a relationship with now. So because that in 2007 had their, you know, their their budget for the Health and Human Services Division cut by 80%. So they still needed to do big things, but they didn't know how to do it. So we really came in and helped them start thinking about contests like how do you capture the cognitive surplus of the global, you know, of the global workforce to be able to apply towards big scientific problems.

And it was, you know, an amazing success. So now they have $185 million budget and they look at, you know, when they can't crack hard problems, they go out to the crowd. So if you look about if you look at it from a organizational standpoint, you could say like one mindset, right back to mindsets. You could say that NASA's like the most innovative company in the world or organization in the world, with 17,000 employees.

But the way we like to look at it is the things we've built there from lessons like the way we look at NASA's. NASA's is a is a networked organization, right? So it's 17,000 employees with 30,000 contractors that work on a platform called NASA's At Work, which is their internal talent platform. And then through COSI, the center of excellence to collaborate innovation, they actually connect with 40 different platforms with 110 million people that participate in those projects.

So either you can say NASA's an innovation organization with 17 employees or NASA's a network, you know, innovation organization with 110 million, 37,000 or, you know, people that they work with. And I think that's it's a huge mindset shift right, for people?

Jen [00:14:07:02 - 00:14:17:05]

Yeah, absolutely. And especially, you know, in that world, you know, how many people, like you said, want to go and just work for one organization and do that? I mean, these are, you know, brilliant contributors. So.

John Winsor [00:14:17:11 - 00:14:31:29]

Exactly. And most of time, brilliant contributors don't care about your organization. They care about solving really interesting problems. Right? Like, you know, it doesn't matter where they come from, like, wow, that's super cool. I want to I want to try my knowledge on that.

Jen [00:14:32:01 - 00:14:47:16]

Yes. Yes. Speaking of problems, so if we talk about, like what companies are trying to solve for now and what they're looking at kind of in the coming years, but they're trying to prepare, prepare for. Can you talk a little bit about what you're seeing?

John Winsor [00:14:47:18 - 00:15:28:16]

I mean, I think it's back to the themes we talk about, right? I think it's the digital transformation, you know, and then now digital transformation extends into talent. I mean, I'm really interested in and I think what's going to happen because of generative AI is it's kind of we're going to go back to the beginning, you know, like back to the back to the star, back to the future, where, you know, where this whole marketplace started was the idea that, you know, especially in my experience in the early 2000s, it was buying outcomes because the technology, you know, online, the online environment, the Internet didn't allow for very verification of identity and verification of, you

know, roles. And so people were really worried about somebody hiring somebody who consults for my competitor to do this work. And so the consequence that was the contest really ruled the day to say, I don't care who creates the content or that, you know, the outcome, I'm buying that outcome from them and I own the IP. And so that made it really easy.

And now, you know, as freelancing has become a bigger deal to fit into the old way of working, of hiring people for roles to do, to actually do tasks, that's been great. But I think the future is going to be kind of this hybrid model where it's it's freelancers that work with AI tools to produce outcomes. So you'll see companies that go to a freelance platform and say, I need help, you know, with this solve and I'm going to hire, you know, Jennifer.

And Jennifer is going to help me figure out a, you know, a marketing strategy. And you, Jennifer, as a you know, as an independent contractor or a freelancer, it's going to go to a generative AI machine, let's call it, you know, GPT for right now. And you're going to say you're going to be really, really, really good at prompt engineering and you're going to get exactly what you need and then you're going to curate that and create the marketing plan.

And the day instead of in three weeks, you're going to produce this, you know, really amazing platform or this really amazing strategy and you're going to be paid more per hour, but you're going to work on a lot less. So it's going to be this hybrid hybrid thing, and I think that's going to be the future, right? Like I think the reality because of Generative Bay, I like no longer I mean, you know, companies survive by people doing C-plus plus work, right?

That's just that's that's just the the great mass of work that gets done. And so it's going to end with generative AI and human ingenuity. It's going to be like the bottom is going to be b plus, right? Like everybody is going to expect a lot more out of the work because it's going to be a lot faster to solve problems.

Jen [00:17:30:18 - 00:17:40:22]

Mm hmm. Yeah, that's that's so, so interesting to think about. Is this is this something you'll cover in your book? Do you want to talk about your book a little bit?

John Winsor [00:17:40:28 - 00:18:00:28]

Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, obviously we've been working on a book for three years and the goal of of Open Talent is the name of the book that comes out this fall. It's it's out of the lab. So Jim Pike myself wrote it and Karim Lakhani wrote the foreword. And it's really trying to create a, you know, a framework for the industry.

And one of the things we've noticed is when when industries accelerate, there's a common language and common process. And so, you know, we we don't have that in our industry right? Like you go to the 630 platforms, everybody calls it something different. Everybody has a different work process. And so one of our goals is to create that framework.

The common language, the common process. And then, you know, we're kind of taking a look at the future a little bit, kind of what does it mean in this world of generative AI, but it's more kind of trying to get everybody level set. You know, if you look at things like cloud computing, one of the things that accelerated that is is this, you know, Google and Amazon and and Microsoft all came together and agreed on what is it called, How do how does it work?

What are some basic protocols so people could trust in that. Right. It wasn't a bunch of people, a cacophony of voices, kind of a Tower of Babylon. That's really hard to understand. And from my perspective, that's what's been happening in the past. So, you know, it's like it's just it's kind of Tower of Babylon that nobody can get through.

So so that's been the biggest goal of the book, create common language, common process, and hopefully it serves the market and, you know, it helps us all get aligned around a starting point for that.

Jen [00:19:15:27 - 00:19:31:23]

Me, for one, will be very happy that you come out with this because like you said, it's been all over the place and everyone has a different term and a different thing they're talking about. So common language will be greatly appreciated that much. Marketers working in the fields.

John Winsor [00:19:31:28 - 00:19:34:16]

Exactly. Thanks.

Jen [00:19:34:18 - 00:19:50:24]

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Workforses 3.0. It works and podcast. Thanks to John and John for today's episode. For more on workforce innovation, check out our latest episode featuring long time agency veteran Dan Dillard and hear about the new agency workforce model.

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