Organizational structures and management styles come and go with the times, but some seem to stick around for longer and produce more successful companies. The latest version is the idea of a platform company, which is making waves across industries and changing how companies and employees think about collaboration and sharing ideas.
What is a platform company?
Essentially, a platform company is a partnership between multiple organizations to create the best possible services, products, and processes. Instead of owning 100% of the human capital and workforce like traditional companies, platform companies take advantage of contract and part-time workers to collaborate for the best results. Platform companies share knowledge and best practices to help each other be more successful and to tap into the best possible resources.
Instead of protecting their assets fiercely and not letting anyone else in, platform companies reach out to find the best available resources. This often happens in the research and development area, which many companies have traditionally handled with great secrecy. However, a growing number of platform companies are moving towards partnering with other companies and open sourcing information for their R&D platforms, which opens them up to a variety of new ideas and perspectives.
Why does it work?
The role of employees is changing, and platform companies take advantage of that fact for their own benefit and for the benefit of the employees. In many organizations, HR isn’t actually the department that decides what contractors to hire, which makes it difficult to manage the wide variety of employee types. However, platform companies make contractors a larger part of their organization and share their best practices with others, which allows for more information sharing and an open environment where everyone can contribute.
One example of a platform company is Hourly Nerd, which connects companies large and small with consultants in just a few hours. Staples recently used the service when it needed a short-term marketing consultant with publishing experience. After quick turnaround from Hourly Nerd, Staples was able to interview a few potential contractors and select and hire someone all in the same day. Tapping into a network of experts allows companies to thrive with the peace of mind that they are using a quality employee who can contribute to the organization.
What are the challenges?
Like any great idea, there are always challenges involved. One of the biggest roadblocks for platform companies is simply the issue of trust. If companies are going to share resources and information and encourage employees to move between organizations, they are putting themselves at risk for other companies stealing their ideas or potentially sabotaging their efforts. This was recently put to the test when six companies pooled their HR resources to work together and share their best ideas for the field. In order to truly be successful, the practice required trust from each company that the other participants wouldn’t steal their ideas. However, as more companies move towards platforms at least to some degree, the threat of idea stealing should decrease, allowing other companies to fully jump in to the practice.
How can companies transition?
Many companies are interested in becoming platform companies but don’t know where to start. Régis Mulot, executive vice president of human resources at Staples, recommends considering the objectives of your company and if they are aligned with the strategy of the organization. He also says the culture of the company has to be considered, because platform companies need to embrace innovation and encourage failure to really be successful. Go back to basics and find ways to us platform techniques like temporary employees and collaboration to reach your company’s goals in a certain area. Test the principles in one area before expanding it to the rest of the organization.
Platform companies are growing around the world and are leveraging many of the principles of the future of work to be successful. Sharing information and taking advantage of new forms of employees has allowed these companies to move to the next level.
To learn more listen to the podcast with Régis Mulot here.
My new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, March 2017) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to the newsletter here or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If… and join the discussion.