MSPs: A Blended Management Approach to a Blended Workforce




  • by Len April February 26, 2016
    February 26, 2016

    tightrope_businessman.jpgAs the modern workforce continues to evolve, once familiar leadership structures are changing. There are countless moving parts, departments and stakeholders — all with their own objectives and strategic visions for the organization. Businesses of all sizes find themselves immersed in a talent culture that’s made up of freelancers, Statement of Work contractors, gig workers, supertemps and independents — skilled people who’ve chosen the freedom of this lifestyle. They are at the heart of a vivid paradigm shift we’ve never encountered before.


    The complexity of today’s technology and business practices deeply impacts the workforce, particularly as it grows more blended and nuanced. Rigid structures can no longer accommodate the elaborate interactions that need to occur between growing numbers of technologies, stakeholders and talent categories in a given enterprise. Not surprisingly, a lot of industry discussions have moved beyond strategies for engaging and recruiting top talent; much of the brainstorming taking place deals with how to tackle the issue of managing this unique population of flexible professionals.


    It’s imperative to our ongoing success that we hire — and manage — talent differently. The question is how? The answer could very well spring from the management approaches championed by MSPs.


    Managing Talent Requires the Finesse and Balance of a Tightrope Walker


    When seismic shifts occur, people can unwittingly run to the extremes of the spectrum. Some leaders believe an unfettered holacracy is the solution. On the other side are those who view the idea as anarchy, and instead favor tighter controls. For MSPs, the issue is more complicated. They can’t let workers manage themselves and they can’t rule with an ironclad grip. And they don’t. MSPs have historically produced optimal results by striking a delicate balance as they walk this tightrope.


    The most visible example of a working holacracy is Zappos. In 2013, Tony Hsieh began developing a model that was half traditional management and half holacracy. Two years later, he famously told his 1,500 employees that management positions would disappear entirely. He called on his workers to embrace this self-directed style or resign. And close to 20 percent of the Zappos workforce did leave. Despite the shakeup, operating profits rose 78 percent. Does holacracy work? In some respects, it’s too early to tell. The more pressing query is whether the complete absence of management could succeed in an enterprise contingent labor solution. It’s a pretty safe bet to assume it wouldn’t.


    Now let’s look at the other side of the debate. The impermanence and unfamiliarity of the growing contingent workforce is stirring a certain sense of insecurity with some organizational leaders. A perceived loss of control drives them to crack down more than they normally would, which leads to micromanagement. And how is this leadership style fairing? Not well, according to Gallup Poll results. In its latest study on employee engagement, Gallup concludes that less than one-third of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs. The figure gets even worse when Millennials are analyzed independently. They represent the least satisfied group, at 28.9 percent. For all disengaged workers, the root cause seems to come from their impression of management.


    As Crystal Spaggins noted in TLNT magazine, there are two primary classes of micromanager, both equally detrimental. Micromanagers, she writes, are those bosses who need to feel in control and obeyed. Then there are the meddlers, those managers who “need to be needed” and believe they hold all the answers to the mysteries of life, business, the universe and everything.


    Regardless of their motivations, both types of control mongers can be problematic: “Both cause their employees to feel redundant, frustrated, and eventually, resentful. Many under their charge will tire of beating their heads against a wall and instead mentally check out before moving on.”


    So what’s the ideal structure? In many ways, it’s the one developed by MSPs and their staffing partners — something you might consider “compassionate delegation with engagement.”


    MSPs Understand the Ins and Outs of Proper Delegation


    Just as with an organic ecosystem, the hiring ecosystem requires symbiotic cooperation. Organisms delegate duties in order to ensure the proper functioning of the entire entity, and so do stakeholders in an enterprise contingent workforce program. When hiring managers make the wise decision to enlist an MSP, they are essentially delegating certain responsibilities intelligently.



    • Hiring managers regain time to focus on their operations, business goals and big-picture plans for new innovations.
    • Because MSPs bring in a more eclectic group of professionals, whose experiences and skills often span different industries, clients are exposed to fresh perspectives that can inspire a productive change in direction.
    • Client hiring managers are presented with the opportunity to “test drive” potential full-time employees — and perhaps future leaders.
    • MSPs provide hiring managers with a sustainable safety net. In the absence of the hiring manager, the program continues to produce without disruption.

    Meanwhile, MSPs are delegating certain responsibilities to their staffing partners who, in turn, assign specific tasks to their talent teams. In the end, however, this type of systematic and well-defined delegation fosters transparency as well as independence. A project team mindset arises that empowers talent to exercise greater degrees of initiative, alignment with internal and external customer needs, and assume more personal accountability for their performance.



    • Teams are populated by talent with shared values, work practices, tools, roles and identified strengths or proficiencies.
    • Teams possess disparate skills, experiences, personalities and values to ensure high performance, a robust offering and balance, which fosters consensus.
    • Teams take on aspects of self-management: MSP program managers and engaged staffing partners assume roles similar to project leads; they govern members internally, resolve conflicts, develop sustainable practices and tools, and manage interactions with other teams serving the common mission.

    Ultimately, MSPs help build thriving micro-cultures within the macro-culture of the client’s organization. Every company has a culture, defined at the top for the business. However, different micro-cultures exist at the team level. Finance and customer service are distinct teams with unique drivers, skills and roles. They also have different cultures. To build a stellar team, MSPs collaborate with their staffing partners to hire individuals who mesh well with the ideals and culture of the groups they’ll serve.


    MSPs Manage Through a Balance of Best Practices


    It’s clear that MSPs don’t allow staffing suppliers and their talent to run riot through the client enterprise. Yet they do cultivate productive elements of both holacratic and traditional management styles. And in their compassionate delegation, they also utilize a refined approach to an engaging, non-meddling type of micromanagement.


    Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is known for his sometimes stark management philosophies. His fondness for micromanagement comes as no shock. What’s fascinating is his definition of micromanagement: “Get very close to your people and their work when they need you — that is, when your help matters — and pull back when you’re extraneous.”


    He expounds on the idea further: “Your help matters when you have highly relevant experience that no one else on the team brings, and your presence sets an example of best practices — and prevents costly mistakes… Micromanaging only stinks when bosses do it because they have nothing better to do, or they’re constitutionally unable to trust people, employees included. I’d never support that.”


    So what Welch is really championing is engagement, guidance, mentoring and development — all rich elements of a world-class MSP program.


    MSP Program Management Incorporates the Best of All Worlds


    MSPs have the time, attention, expertise and commitment to focus on the talent population. Their balanced approach to workforce management creates engagement and high performance.



    • MSPs and their staffing partners focus on diversity, cultural fit, relevant skills, attitude and training.
    • Having served countless businesses and industries, they are less likely than internal recruitment teams to have preconceived biases about the “right candidate.” They tend to be more objective in identifying the people best suited to the role.
    • MSPs and their staffing partners have mastered the art of communication, and they have the time to concentrate on it. Through comprehensive onboarding experiences and ongoing support, they ensure that expectations, duties and deadlines are communicated and understood. They set talent up for success, with open and accessible channels for feedback, dialog, support and instruction.
    • An MSP program allows for autonomy and exploration. Contingent talent typically have more latitude to make certain decisions independently. Yet this authority remains within the bounds of the job.
    • MSPs and their staffing partners routinely provide a greater degree of feedback to talent, and more frequently. Today’s talent crave an in-depth measure of where they stand and how they can continuously improve.
    • An MSP program is more conducive to involving talent in influencing innovations, new ideas and decisions related to the performance of the engagement. Promoting opportunities for workers to share and implement their ideas instills a meaningful sense of self-worth and morale.
    • Recognition matters, yet it must be tempered with constructive criticism. MSPs and their staffing partners challenge talent, provide authentic opportunities to take on greater responsibilities, encourage skills development and drive them to grow professionally — they make them co-creators of a productive workforce. They coach talent and critique areas for improvement, while championing the development of perspective-taking and problem-solving behaviors.

    A Blended Workforce Thrives with a Blended Management Approach


    Today’s workforce is a vibrant, colorful and multicultural wonder. With so much variety and potential, it seems unlikely that adopting a black-and-white management stance will produce the best results. In the end, too much freedom or too much oppression can’t ensure engagement or performance. That’s why companies today need an MSP more than ever. In a blended workforce, a blended management style is the key to success.

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