” No Matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for somebody else..”
Bill Joy, Sun Micro Systems
There is an incredible new aspect of the Social Web (2.0) – which is the segmentation of work down to the task level – that then can be matched up, and distributed to different workers. For years, computer scientists have done this (called Distributed Processing Systems) – which is how the supercomputers work. They take an incredibly complex task and then break it into a bunch of really small math problems – and have a whole processor do each problem in parallel (at the same time) – so the math problem is solved very, very fast.
What does this look like for work?
It used to be freelancing, or contingent workers, but now is is truly down to the task. A number of versions of this are out on the internet and follow a couple of models:
1. Individual Task assignment. A new business called Task Bunny does this – this is a “eBay”- like market where you describe what you need done (e.g. pick up my dry cleaning, assemble my Ikea furniture) and people bid on the task. They then complete the task and get paid. The bunnies get certified and then get rankings based on the feedback scores.
2. Crowd Sourcing to solve a task. This is where you put a task out there, and let everyone try to complete the task – and the winner gets some prize money. Kaggle is a community of data scientists that do this and compete for real money. The prizes range from $3,000 to $25,000 – but recently a health care network offered 3 million for someone who could predict future hospital visits.
What does this mean for HR?
Simply put, it means who does the work, can quickly become unpredictable. It could be an employee, a contractor, or some random person who won the prize. Think about how much of HR is focused on attracting, maintaining, and growing direct employees – and this could be a thing of the past? Or at least a much smaller facet in the future!
What is HR’s role in this process? Be the Guide
I am a strong advocate for HR to become the experts and lead this! If we are experts on talent, and cost of talent – then we should be the ones guiding organizations as to when to utilize this new approach, and how to get the most of it! There are definitely a ton of details in figuring out the “How” – from the simple aspect of what does this do to an employee handbook, benefits, compensation, case law, etc.. But the return can be very, very high. The goal should be to figure out when this new “lever” should be pulled and how to successfully do it and minimize the risk for the corporation.
Is this just a fad? Look at Walmart!
Given I still think Paisely shirts and Depeche Mode rock, I am probably not the right guy to judge whether something is a fad or not. But here is an interesting piece of news! Did you read how Walmart is considering using their customers to deliver walmart.com orders? At a basic level, a customer at the store can take the “task” of delivering another customer’s order on their way home and get paid a little bit to do it.
When I heard what Walmart is considering – I must admit – my brain immediately went to the 50 reasons why this could be a really bad idea – liability, brand image, fraud, complexity, etc…!
But here is the one good reason to look at it – if Walmart can figure this out – they could do Same Day Delivery from the stores! So imagine the benefit of online shopping, lower shipping cost, AND get it within hours of placing the order. This could allow Walmart to suddenly provide a value proposition that Amazon.com can’t touch.