Contingent workforce programs ultimately exist to deliver talent to engagement managers enterprise-wide, cost-effectively and with reduced risk. But competing business models are emerging to challenge traditional programs, and CW managers must now also work to prove their programs’ competitive value in the marketplace. These competitors include online staffing, direct sourcing, innovative artificial intelligence solutions and other CW buyer organizations, which are competing for the same CW talent in the marketplace.

The bottom line: CW programs must determine whether they are competitively meeting the wants and needs of their clients (engagement managers), partners (staffing firms), contingent talent, key executives and program stakeholders.

Fortunately, visibility into a CW program’s performance is now more readily available via performance scorecards, VMS and MSP reporting capability enhancements, and use of business intelligence tools. Today a program’s CW competitive advantage can be more precisely defined.

So, what are some competitive management best practices to take into account?

Baseline. First, establish a baseline on required performance levels, focusing on what core program constituents really value.

Baselines of operational performance can run from ongoing Net Promoter Scores (NPS)/customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores to transactional metrics such as how quickly a type of CW engagement is sourced and engaged. Some of this is ongoing internal and external program brand value perceptions while other baseline elements are specifically, service-performance delivery. “I like the quality of the service I get from the CW sourcing group and their responsive is fast!”

Competitive measurement elements often are interchangeable with “quality” performance levels, but placed in a competitive perspective when compared to other CW service alternatives. Another important note is a CW program needs to compete for the best talent and the best staffing partners, hence, competitive, ongoing NPS and CSAT levels will need to be solicited/establish for those stakeholders’ baseline perspectives also. Just having a NPS/SAT baseline for the overall program is not sufficient.

Natural selection. A CW program should routinely make sure its core efforts are focused on the most important and valued services that its stakeholder community wants and needs. In order to optimize competitiveness, program leadership must invest in the more highly valued service components and leave the lower-valued, transactional services to partner organizations.

But it goes further. Programs must determine whether they can deliver a quality service solution for all of the highly valued wants and needs competitively. If it cannot meet some of those needs, it could engage a partner to play a role. The end result should be the CW program focusing on the high-valued delivery elements that optimize strategic impact and presence. This operational delivery segmentation is sometimes referred as a business version of traditional “natural selection,” and overall, is a key evolutionary exercise in optimizing CW program management and competitiveness.

Cost and risk. Cost effectiveness and risk mitigation management are critical elements of creating a competitive advantage for a CW program’s stakeholders. Simply, can the program attract CW talent at a price point/budget that delivers required skill sets in a quality manner? Additionally, are the risks associated with this CW engagement managed and mitigated so no additional, unplanned costs/engagement complications will be incurred?

Broad daylight. Program policies cannot be applied in a vacuum. Competitive CW cost effectiveness (including operational costs) and risk mitigation require a careful balancing in their application. In too many circumstances, CW programs overreach on cost savings and/or risk mitigation (e.g., with restrictive tenure policies) and damage the CW program’s service capability and competitiveness in the marketplace. Hence, programs must establish ongoing baselines of service transaction performance and NPS/CSAT score levels to measure their impact when policies are applied in the CW program ecosystem.

For example, establishing ongoing, key baselines of performance can provide important perspective into the ramifications of implementing a net 120-day payment term if you care about engaging leading staffing partners in the marketplace. This will also provide important factual perspective if the policy change is being driven by other company functions that the CW program is dependent and is required to support.

Similar to what level of capability and resources investments are made in a CW program, leadership will need to decide what kind of CW competitive advantage to create for the organization in which it operates. The CW program’s mission will inform program leadership with some of the answers to this question. But CW competitive advantage is based on its policies and processes; the visibility created by management-enabling technologies that are engaged; the prioritized focus on stakeholders’ most important wants and needs; and, the investment level an organization is willing to make in creating sustainable, CW competitive advantage.