Milestone 8 RATH - Internal Crowdsourcing

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When media hype collides with empirical data generated by the DOL, it is time to take notice that there is and will continue to be a shortage of STEM/technical workers. More than data or hype, this shortfall, if it hasn’t already, will stymie the process of innovation that is critical to commercial and corporate growth in the technical sector. In such a resource constrained environment, in which recruiting and retention practices aimed at ‘waging talent wars’ have proven only marginally successful, how can companies continue to grow and innovate? I would like to suggest that a solution to this age old resource problem follows along a continuum of transformation that has seen companies resort to an evolution of solutions, which in no short order began with Outsourcing, Near Shoring, Vendor/Consultative third party arrangements, culminating with contemporary Crowdsourcing strategies. An extension of the crowdsourcing approach is internal crowdsourcing which refers to the firm extending its problem-solving to a large and diverse group of self-selected contributors beyond the formal internal boundaries of a large firm; across business divisions, bridging geographic locations, levelling hierarchical structures (Modified definition of intra-corporate crowdsourcing, (Villarroel & Reis, 2010)


Since entering the lexicon with Howe’s seminal 2006 article The Rise of Crowdsourcing, crowdsourcing has been a much researched and applied concept. It has matured over the years from concept to tool as platforms such as MTurk and ODesk have served as labor pools; while companies such as AB, Deutsche Telekom, IBM have successfully employed crowdsourcing methodologies and tools to advance corporate strategies. However, deploying crowdsourcing strategies within companies is a recent phenomenon that has not nearly as deep a research or case study base to draw upon. Nevertheless, there are some prevailing themes and tropes that should be surfaced in order to define how internal crowdsourcing stands as a viable organizational model to address the perfect storm of resource deprivation and the unique needs of the modern millennial/information age worker.


“Companies operate on traditional incentives—namely, salary and bonuses—and employees are assigned clearly delineated roles and specific responsibilities, which discourages them from seeking challenges outside their purview.” (HBR, 20xx) Hence, corporations by their nature are risk averse organizations and are not prone to radical changes unless clear, distinct competitive advantages can be articulated. Reconfiguring the way a company conducts its business so as to leverage its entire knowledge base to solve problems, innovate, execute and operate/function one must address the barriers to access (Erickson, Trauth, Petrick). Crowds wreck havoc with organizational hierarchy and managerial control; conditions that stifle creativity and innovation anyway, but are hallmarks of old school companies. Internal crowdsourcing demolishes the status quo and as such poses a threat to levels of management and leadership accustomed to reference points and a particular way of doing business. The value is found in the transformation, the pivot, that positions companies that embrace in various iterations of internal crowdsouring as destination employers.


To discuss internal crowdsourcing is to challenge preconceived notions and to this point very successful organizational dispositions that have been ingrained in corporate America. Internal Crowd solutions are more than a tool for open innovation, though it is ideally suited for that process of ideanation and discovery. If conceptualized properly, internal crowd solutions can be leveraged for operational needs as well. Creating internal talent communities that can address the epic (Innovation) and the ordinary (Operational), positions a company to attract, retain and grow the millennial/modern information worker that craves and is willing and able to participate in all aspects of the organization, “Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.” (Deloitte 2015). For some organizations, internal crowdsourcing is merely reconfiguring cultural dispositions already shaped by cross functional teams, collaboration, Lean practices and/or a commitment to Agile (Strong early adopters). For others, it means burning down the house and starting from scratch….Regardless of where on the spectrum of adoption a company finds itself, the realities of resource allocation are not bending to the current organizational disposition.


Recent surveys by McKinsey and SHRM reveal that 64-66% of companies that are hiring are having trouble filling STEM/Tech roles. There are two sides to the skills gap, education and alignment. The one that captures our attention, alignment, focuses on companies that currently hire employees for “fit” and co-locate them so that they can interact directly, become socialized, and share a culture. Moreover, employees gain specific experience and knowledge in the narrow fields where the company focuses. There is a preoccupation with hiring employees that have done the job before and as such, replicating and bringing into the fold industry biases as opposed to fresh perspective; Experience is favored over experiences. In a crowd, stressing core competencies such as communication skills, problem solving and decision making regardless of the domain, (rather than narrow fields of relevant experience) allow delivery organizations to capitalize on the inertia of intellectual mass. There is strength in numbers.


In an information era in which individuals and organizations have unprecedented access to ideas and information, data and analytics, turning inward is a powerful impulse. Who knows your product, your employees, your strengths and weaknesses better than your own employees? Provided the terms of trust and power have been established, there is no better resource to innovate, scale and provide solutions than an organization that is unfettered by artificial organizational barriers.


As compelling, idyllic and obvious as this all may sound, companies are consistently failing to meet their own objectives in these realms because they have completely missed step one. Company culture is not established in the board room, the innovation center or the company ping-pong table. Company culture is established at conception – Recruiting. The act of producing and publishing a job description speaks to and reinforces the “narrow fields of relevant experience” mentioned above. How can a company expand in a crowd when it has hired individuals? The innovation is in recruiting for a crowd based organizational structure. The recruiting process itself must be revolutionized. Job descriptions to be abandoned for worker character/culture profiles. Subject matter expertise mitigated by genius. Recruiting strategy, process and on-boarding must be as elastic as the business itself.


Those terms hinge on the following:

  1. Efficiency/Swarming. Solutions no longer belong to a small group of experts or managers. Instead of bringing a scrum team to solve a problem, the entire company can be brought to bear on a solution. Conceivably this leads to well thought out solutions that address root causes and scalability (Vexing and sometimes antithetical impulses that are rare to find in individuals, but in a distributed system, are arrived at ‘naturally’). Can be very nimble and quick. Requires a group of folks to establish and set priorities.
  2. Manage IP. Unlike external crowdsourcing platforms that still haven’t solved the IP question; internal platforms can mitigate these challenges through contracts and incentives
  3. Learning/Innovation. Continual improvement and feedback. Heightened level of engagement. Innovative companies are not afraid of failure, but they also need to remember, catalogue them, not just to prevent repeating them, but the germ of the next big idea may be found in the intellectual wreckage of a long forgotten failure. Embracing Learning as both a Lean concept (remove waste) and personal improvement galvanizes a community and removes the fear of failure that paralizezs individuals and organizations alike. A powerful fulcrum for trust and innovation. See the work of Chesbrough on Open Innovation
  4. Technology. The program of internal crowdsourcing is a culture and a tool, bound by technology.
    1. Connectivity and transparency. What are the problems that need to be solved, the tasks that need to be completed and the work that needs to get done.
    2. Blogs. What are the interests of the individuals in the organization? Allows the interested, the active and the informed to be sought out as easily as it is to find a problem to work on. (See IBM)
    3. Spot matching - Aligning tasks with skills. Effectively manage, govern and collate tasks. The supporting platforms provide
    4. Reputation and skills evaluations, bidding systems (If employing games/crowdfunding to your innovation toolbox), procedures for recourse, monitoring technologies, and
    5. Payments/renumeration. Base salaries are supplemented by either bonuses/cash/vacation time/philanthropic contributions.
    6. Wiki like tool that can capture ideas, iterations as well as failures, forward thoughts and the like…(IP/Ownership)


Even if an organization has the fertile soil of executive by-in to implement and execute an internal sourcing strategy, if the garden is not seeded with the right people by a correspondingly nimble and progressive recruiting practice, the platform can never reach its full potential as a innovative and transformative tool. Current recruiting processes and mechanisms to identify talent do not translate well into supporting crowd based initiatives. The process of recalibrating recruiting and retention to align with and service a crowd based environment is the secret sauce that I am investigating. Further exploration will include the relevance of metric/analytic based, soft skill assessment as well as modified bio-psycho-social techniques as approaches to identify workers best suited for a crowd environment. Resource scarcity and the rise of the information worker collide to create a perfect storm that crowd based companies, if they embrace the correct sustainable human capital strategy, can not only weather but prosper from.


Internal Crowdsourcing:

  1. http://www.wazoku.com/clients/
  2. Insourcing Dissertation: http://publications.lib.chalmers.se/records/fulltext/181969/181969.pdf
  3. IBM Case Study: http://www.crowdsourcing.org/editorial/ibms-internal-crowdfunding-rewards-employee-innovation/28457
  4. Deutsche Telekom: http://www.crowdsourcing.org/editorial/deutsche-telekoms-internal-crowdsourcing/27131
  5. Thomson-Reuters (STAFFING): http://searchcio.techtarget.com/opinion/Thomson-Reuters-flushes-out-internal-engineering-talent-with-crowdsourcing
  6. PWC (Solid Survey Data): https://www.pwc.ch/user_content/editor/files/publ_adv/pwc_harnessing_the_power_11.pdf
  7. GOV (Case Study): http://www.digitalgov.gov/2014/12/19/reaching-out-to-deliver-within-crowdsourcing-internal-agency-projects/
  8. http://www.fastcolabs.com/3039500/uncle-sam-wants-youto-crowdsource-science
  9. Solution/Tool for internal Solutions: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/11/prweb10169345.htm
  10. Abstract: http://www.ispim.org/abstracts/The%20Proceedings%20of%20the%20ISPIM%20Asia%20Pacific%20Innovation%20Forum,%20Singapore%20-%207-10%20December%202014/henttonen_kaisa.html
  11. Forbes Article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2014/12/01/shatter-todays-organizational-myths-by-crowdsourcing-culture/
  12. Interesting Insertion Suggestions: http://mbpiland.com/blog/105-more-gold-less-gravel-internal-crowdsourcing
  13. RESEARCH PAPER: http://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1188&context=icis2012
  14. RESEARCH PAPER2: https://www.google.com/search?q=crowdsourcing&oq=crowdsourcing&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.5740j0j4&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8#q=internal+crowdsourcing&start=70
  15. RESEARCH PAPER3: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/100432462/managing-internal-crowdsourcing-best-practices-four-large-organisations
  16. THESIS (PRINT): http://gradworks.umi.com/35/73/3573731.html
  17. Deloitte University WhitePaper
  18. https://hbr.org/2013/04/using-the-crowd-as-an-innovation-partner/


OpenSource Resources

  1. http://www.unterstein.net/su/docs/CathBaz.pdf
  2. Open Source Governance Model: http://oss-watch.ac.uk/resources/governancemodels