Excerpted from The SHRM Blog By Suzanne McAndrew And Lisa Connell

As digitalization and the accompanying democratization of work disrupt traditional business models, organizations are adopting more agile, tech-enabled ways of working. Today, employers are deconstructing jobs and dispersing work around the globe to be completed by diverse pools of talent ranging from free agents to alliance partners to full-time employees.

As organizations and their HR leaders strive to navigate this emerging ecosystem of work, culture is taking center stage. The “job” is no longer the dominant construct connecting workers within organizations. Increasingly, organizational culture is the strongest bond that binds workers together, engaging and connecting diverse talent.

What role do HR executives play in defining and shaping a culture that will attract and engage a fluid, highly distributed workforce? Initial findings from a global joint research initiative between Willis Towers Watson and HR People + Strategy uncover ways in which the role is evolving to accelerate the change agenda needed to grow and develop the next generation HR executives.

Why culture matters in the new work ecosystem

Many HR executives already recognize that culture directly affects a company’s ability to compete for talent in the global marketplace. But the complexity of today’s work ecosystem is putting culture higher on their priority list. Without a cohesive culture to unite a disparate workforce, an organization’s identity can quickly erode, leaving current and prospective workers alike confused about that organization’s purpose and mission.

Culture is crucially important for companies where talent flows freely in and out of the organization as needed. In an organization without traditional boundaries, people may tend to identify more with intangibles. When work gets done virtually, in a flat, nonhierarchical environment, culture is the mechanism that unites talent by aligning workers to a mission, purpose and values that shape mindsets and behaviors.

Culture also matters because HR professionals need to lead this fluid workforce. Absent traditional authority, HR leaders, with the support of their fellow executive leaders, must articulate a vision and create a culture that will inspire a workforce beyond the traditional boundaries of the organization and serve as a type of soft authority.

Three priorities for HR leaders

The following priorities can help HR leaders in shaping a culture that unites, inspires and guides a disparate workforce through a shared sense of purpose.

1. Building an inclusive and collaborative workforce

While there are many dimensions to formal inclusion and diversity programs, according to the 2018 Willis Towers Watson Getting Compensation Right Survey, these programs typically target gender (87 percent), people with disabilities (61 percent), racial and ethnic groups (53 percent), age groups (55 percent) and sexual preference (41 percent).

Collaboration helps to unleash the power of an inclusive and diverse workforce. But collaboration requires a “safe” environment where there is a tolerance for risk taking and workers can freely share ideas without fear of negative repercussions. In such environments, workers feel part of the team and take ownership over their contributions, helping the organization generate new value.

Support for an inclusive, diverse and collaborative workforce starts at the top through effective communication. Senior leaders must serve as storyteller-in-chief, engaging a diverse workforce through an ongoing narrative highlighting how the organization lives its core values. The resulting engagement will help drive collaboration.

2. Defining and supporting a talent experience aligned with customer experience

Research has shown consistently that workers expect to be understood by their employers as well as they are expected to understand their customers. Just as organizations strive to be customer-centric, they must also endeavor to create a talent experience that puts workers at its center. This involves providing all workers with a differentiated and personalized talent experience that allows leaders to meet their talent where they are — as well as where they want to go.

Culture must support the evolving needs and preferences of all talent. In this way, organizations can develop a talent value proposition that will attract and engage talent across the spectrum of relationships. This begins with an inclusive and diverse work environment, and may also include providing more tailored benefits, varied work assignments and reskilling opportunities. When it comes to engaging and rewarding contingent talent, sometimes opportunities to acquire new skills or to work on a high-profile project deliver value beyond a paycheck. HR leaders need to ensure that their organizations reward workers in the currency that they value.

3. Designing a fluid workforce that enables agility throughout the organization

With change ever accelerating, there’s a growing premium placed on organizational agility. But being agile in the new work ecosystem requires that HR executives radically rethink work and talent.

Today, work can be deconstructed into elemental tasks and reconstructed into reinvented jobs. Some of these tasks may be best completed by free agents or talent on a platform as well as full-time employees while others may require the use of automation. As work is deconstructed and reinvented on an ongoing basis, so too must the workforce constantly be reshaped and reinvented using a plurality of means to meet changing requirements.

Culture serves as the foundational element that unites and engages a workforce as it contracts and expands in response to changing conditions. And employers increasingly recognize the importance of engaging all talent including contingent workers.

These priorities will guide HR leaders as they reinvent work and shape a culture that inspires and motivates a fluid workforce, thereby helping power organizational success.