Overcoming Platform Talent Constraints

Three Ways to Address Leadership Gaps

Hats off to Launchworks for organizing the second Platform Leaders virtual event on April 15th. It was a terrific program covering a range of important platform-related issues. 

It was an honor to join the session focused on platform professional talent.  The session was chaired by Annemie Ress, ex VP HR eBay / PayPal / Skype and now MD & COO at innogy Innovation Hub and Founder Purple Beach.  We were also joined by Veena Marr with Russell Reynolds and Olivier Van Calster with StockX. Together, we explored the challenges associated with the recruitment and training -at scale- of a new breed of platform leaders.

A key part of the discussion focused on how companies can overcome the constraints of platform talent. The panel agreed that Europe stands out as a region with particular platform talent challenges. While Europe is home to many world-class companies, it has substantially fewer companies among the world’s top 100 platform firms.

One consequence of having fewer platform companies is that Europe lags in the number of direct platform employees. Recent data from Ecodynamics, a German-based consultancy, indicates that Europe makes up only 4 percent of the 4.2 million people now employed by the world’s top platforms. This significantly limits the pool of experienced platform talent available to European companies seeking to recruit platform professionals.

Overcoming Platform Talent Constraints

There are a number of measures that companies can take to overcome platform talent constraints. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Poach from others

  • Improve recruitment

  • In-house platform training

Poach companies with platform expertise

One approach is to tap specialized platform talent from other companies. Many of the more successful platforms in Europe have adopted this approach.  For example, Zalando the German e-commerce platform has heavily recruited talent from management consulting firms that have embraced platform business models, such as BCG, McKinsey, and Bain and other US management consulting companies. Zalando has also tapped talent directly from platform companies, such as Amazon, Google, eBay, Farfetch, and Netflix.  While this is not a strategy that can be used to fill gaps across Europe’s platform economy, it can be effective help fill key platform professional positions.  It is a tried and true approach that is, if anything, likely to heat up in Europe as platform talent constraints press up against platform growth. 

Improve recruitment

Most companies rely on recruiters to support the hiring processes. However, recruiters tend to be generalists, and even the ones that offer more specialized services in areas like digital or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) talent, many lack expertise in platforms. Better results can be achieved by assisting recruiters with platform-specific identification and screening capabilities. This is especially true for the more intangible capabilities highlighted in this report, such as platform logic, platform orchestration, and platform governance skills.  For some ideas on how to assist recruiters, see: Platform Strategy Roles: What Should Recruiters Ask Candidates? | LinkedIn

Increase in-house training

All the panel members agreed that European companies with platform ambitions need to increase their internal training programs.  There are a growing number of platform training options available to companies.1 These programs and can supplement existing learning programs that many not focus sufficiently on platform skills. Several universities and companies offer programs that can be tailored to a company’s specialized needs and objectives.

One approach is to partner with universities with platform expertise or edtech companies to deliver this training.  For example, Siemens developed a custom program with the Digital Business Institute at Boston University.2  Bosch IoT Academy provides another example.3 The German multinational engineering and technology company teamed up with Fast Lane, a company specializing in IT training, to offer a course that explores the relationship between the Internet of Things (IoT), platform business models, and innovation. The goal of this course is to provide participants with the ability to identify platform-related IoT applications and business model innovations that can be applied in their organizations.  

In Sum

Whether a company chooses poaching, better recruitment, platform-specific leadership training, or, more likely, some combination of all three, leadership development must be broad enough so that it builds platform competency across the entire leadership team. As I wrote last week:

[Platform] leaders must not only shape the direct organizational mission, strategies, structures, and culture but also the growth of external user bases and their interactions with other users.  Platform leaders need to be able to orchestrate and inspire. They need to engage and lead the whole ecosystem. They must shift their focus from inside the firm to outside, where they can scale faster through partners and where third parties can add ideas and resources that the platform does not own.  These are distinct capabilities that require a different type of leadership.

In the end, the goal for both existing and aspiring platform companies is to develop and sustain a deep bench of platform expertise and leadership. 

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For list of platform training programs see: Platform Professional Learning Navigator