Total talent management (TTM) goes by many names: blended workforce management, integrated talent management, total workforce synchronization and workforce mix optimization. If the name is still in such a formative state, it should come as no surprise that so too is the practice it aims to describe.

Its name aside, the implication is a given organization’s workforce is made up of many types of workers and its current state isn’t as good as it could be. It isn’t a new subject. Some of us have been describing versions of this type of approach for more than a decade. What has changed is the level of urgency — that could be is becoming should be.

Most organizations have a good handle on their employee population — who they are, where they are, how much they are compensated, how well they perform, where their career may take them, who might replace them when they go, and how their role fits into the greater strategic mission. However, for the rapidly growingnon-employee portions of their workforce, some can’t answer any of these questions, and nobody can answer all of them.

Accordingly, prior to being able to manage the whole, much is still being learned about the what, why and how of sourcing and managing within the non-employee spectrum. A vestige of last century we should soon outgrow are the notions contingent positions are somehow less important, therefore filled with cheaper, lower-quality candidates. More and more, we see the same candidates presented across all channels. Large-enterprise averages of non-employee utilization range from 20% to 60% and are only expected to increase over the next five to 10 years. Will this happen casually or purposefully within your organization? To what harm or benefit? By answering this question you have taken the first step toward TTM.

The motivations to engage one type of worker versus another vary from company to company, even manager to manager, but one thing seems consistent: these decisions are made with little empirical support or experienced guidance. It seems many arrive at a decision of which type of worker to engage as a reaction to obstacles set in front of them as opposed to a proactive, strategic plan based on a comprehensive, officially sanctioned and rigorous methodology. If nothing else, wouldn’t you want to know the relative cost basis of bringing on the same exact individual as an employee, temporary worker or statement-of-work consultant?

Whether the improvement you seek is to spend less, deploy resources  more rapidly, shed risk or all of the above, the consensus seems to be that while we didn’t arrive at our current fate by design, we must now build a workforce more compatible with the newfound demands of globalization, economic uncertainty and a rapidly evolving technology landscape.

TTM can be difficult to define because it has never been fully accomplished. Like a sci-fi novel, our current sketches of TTM are ideas that feel inevitable, not actual case studies. We practitioners can claim success in achieving important steps toward TTM but there isn’t a Global 2000 company that can claim to have sewn together its talent strategy across all types. The case for TTM is therefore really the case for why the status quo is broken — fragmented, short-sighted, noncompliant, expensive, and disintegrated from the core business planning of the operation. While TTM brings complexity, the primary obstacles we must overcome are departmental fiefdoms who see such a unified approach to be a surrender of turf, which can be interpreted as putting their jobs at risk.

If step one in the journey toward achieving TTM is acknowledging the need for a purposeful approach, then step two is a call for leadership to usher in a new era of competitiveness based on getting the talent mix right. The spoils will go to those who use their competitive advantages in the war on talent as a weapon, while everyone else plays catch-up. Game on.