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When building a flexible talent program, many companies mistakenly take the “if you build it, they will come” approach. What they usually experience resembles more like if you build it, they will resist. How do you encourage people to consider different talent options that may result in higher ROI? Approach it from a mindset change, rather than a process change, first.

At Upwork’s Work Without Limits™ Executive Summit, HR executives from Fortune 500s shared three talent mindset changes companies must make. Below are highlights of their tips on building a flexible talent program that sticks and scales.

Change how you replace specialized skills

When you need to replace someone leaving the company, the go-to reaction is to search for someone with the same skills. But when you have someone with specialized skills, finding a replacement may be difficult. Anthony Buffum, vice president of human resources at Stanley Black & Decker, suggests finding a different way to solve for that through freelancing websites like Upwork. Instead of having a specialized skill that’s hard to replace, divide the work into two skill sets that can be done remotely.

Here’s how:

  • Ask what can be automated. How can you use freelancers to streamline processes?
  • Expand the team’s capabilities. What else can they accomplish with access to the freelance talent?
  • Keep people focused on their core skills. For example, instead of having your finance team spend time creating PowerPoint presentations, offer that work to a freelancer. Then the team can spend more time on critical thinking tasks.

Reframe from “we” to “who”

When thinking about work, you probably think “we need to get that done.” Consider who you think of when talking about “we.” For most, we is the enterprise. But what if we also included people outside your organization? What if everyone remembered there are top players outside your company who already do the work you want done, and made it a point to include them?

Here’s how:

Including people outside your immediate sphere also applies to designing your flexible talent program. It shouldn’t be something HR develops in a vacuum, it should be built by a multifunctional team. When people from different functions like legal, procurement and finance are at the table, you have the opportunity to address concerns and questions together so that the program is relevant to everyone, which will make them open to adopting it.


An effective way to overcome resistance is by showcasing success from early adopters. Colleagues are more trusting of how their co-workers utilize contingent workers and the results that came from it. Be sure to show examples that matter to the bottom line and KPIs of the business.

Here’s how:

  • Show ROI. Pull reports that show the business impact of using freelance talent.
  • Share a deck that shows how different teams at the company are leveraging freelancers. Give new employees the deck within their first week at work.
  • Share project experiences. At the close of projects, have someone ask colleagues about their experiences and post it on an internal board for all employees to see.
  • Encourage employees not to focus on cost, but to choose talent based on speed and quality of deliverables.

Mind your plan

Shifting mindsets at scale requires a plan. When one global electronics giant wanted to replace a legacy talent system company wide, they didn’t go at it alone. They partnered with Upwork Enterprise to design and execute an adoption strategy that included hosting special events to address staff concerns. The result: time to contract averaged less than 3 days, compared to 6 weeks on the legacy system. Work quality improved with project outcomes averaging a 98% satisfaction rating.

Creating organizational change is seldom as easy as throwing out a set of new rules and expecting people to follow them. That’s why change should begin with shifting mindsets first. Then the resulting benefits can not only be sustainable, but also greater than expected.

Upwork is a freelancing website where businesses of all sizes can find talented independent professionals across multiple disciplines and categories. Ready to let freelance experts help you get more done? Start today!