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From disruption to disruptors: Are our core values ready?

We work with legacy technology, so it’s onerous to focus on innovation until we have the foundational issues dealt with
Human resources
Within the structure of AI-powered talent platforms, the talent available may be termed as “disruptors” as they do not work within the traditional parameters of employment. Shutterstock

By Suanne Nielsen

Virtually everything has been disrupted. Even HR. The use of talent platforms is a disruptor in HR, the inclusion of AI is a disruptor to the HR role.

From a business perspective, we always consider this paramount question - what is the unique value we can provide that makes us essential to our customers? HR must think about its role in the same way. What is the unique value HR can provide that makes it essential to the internal customers who use HR services?

It’s not going to be in the old places. In my previous blog, I wrote about the necessity of training and development, where a leadership/development coach is engaged to conduct a needs analysis and determine if training is required. Now, that can be done through AI which brings in new value in new ways.

When considering disruption, we can a) be a fast follower and copy the unique disruptive offering, b) diagnose where the elements of disruption are occurring and strategically work towards merging with those organizations – an approach at Foresters - and c) create a climate of disruption within our own organization through ideation and collaboration processes that will stimulate innovation. Most organizations are no different.

All these options can be applied to the HR function, when evaluating disruption in the field.

The challenge, however, within both a business and HR scenario is that it’s problematic to focus on innovation until an organization’s core offering has been established and properly defined.
A business hurdle for us at Foresters, for example, is that we work with legacy technology, so it’s onerous to focus on innovation until we have the foundational issues dealt with.

The same is occurring within HR. At Foresters, we have a human capital management system that is working, but we haven’t deployed it across all our various businesses – we have subsidiaries in different countries – until we solve that, it’s ill-advised to move ahead with innovation and disruption. The most likely scenario is to partner with another organization, or to acquire disruptive software. Sometimes, the best option is simply just to test and learn - as we did with talent platforms.

Within the structure of AI-powered talent platforms, the talent available may be termed as “disruptors” as they do not work within the traditional parameters of employment. They dictate their own terms, time and value.

But here too, the complexity arises when talent comes in various forms, as it does nowadays. In our company, we have employees that look and feel like traditional employees (part-time or full-time), we have independent contractors to whom we outsource our technology operations work and are affiliated to an external company such as CGI, then we have other independent contractors who work with us as certified project managers for specific projects and move from company to company, and finally, we have contract employees who may be in career transition but are able to provide the services we need. While such contractors are on a payroll system, they’re not included in our benefits and bonus programs.

In addition, there is another form of independent contractor coming in from talent platforms who has specialised capabilities and may be otherwise too expensive for us to include as staff. So, we bring them in on a need basis.

The challenge for HR then, is that one size doesn’t fit all. To attract this broad spectrum, we can’t assume that these various forms of talent will sign up to universal contracts that work for traditional independent contractors.

In terms of employee engagement, we only measure engagement of our traditional employees. This works if that’s 95 per cent of the workforce. But increasingly, this percentage is decreasing. If 20 per cent of your workers are independent contractors, outsourced entities, contract employees, and other “giggers,” that’s where your top talents or “disruptors” reside. So, engaging them becomes priority.

Foresters recently evaluated its employee value proposition after in-depth internal and external research. We identified the three core elements that attract and retain our employees:

  • Our purpose:  We enhance the wellbeing of our members, their families and communities they live in, even though we don’t have shareholders.
  • We foster a collegial atmosphere where colleagues care for each other, and have direct access to all levels in the organizational hierarchy.
  • Despite being a mid-sized company, we work in three different countries. This presents unique complexities, growth, and meaningful work opportunities.

Since, we tested these three core values on our traditional employees, we’re not certain if these values will apply to talent working in the gig economy. This creates another dimension in our understanding of disruptive talent.

To my point, Michelle Moore, senior vice-president of global product development at LHH Knightsbridge, says that “not all disruptors are created equally.”

She further shares that as business leaders, to consider disruption and to leverage it effectively, we need to “find the right type of disruptors, engage disruptive talent in a way that aligns to their organizational commitment and readiness, and invest sufficient energy and effort to maximize the engagement and success of disruptive talent.”

Moore will be presenting detailed insights on how disruptors can be leveraged at SCNetwork’s November event, Leveraging Disruptive Talent.

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Suanne Nielsen

Suanne Nielsen is president of the Strategic Capability Network and global chief administration officer at Foresters Financial in Toronto. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Suanne and do not necessarily reflect the official position(s) or opinion(s) of SCNetwork members or Foresters. For more information about the SCNetwork, visit
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