Platform Talent

Platform Talent: Investing in the Professionals of Tomorrow

May 5, 2021

The rising importance of digital platforms has required us to reimagine our business models, workplaces, and now, our skills. Successful platforms need skilled people to run them. How do we determine what abilities are needed to build thriving platforms? And how do we grow those competencies in the talent of tomorrow?

Platform Leaders brings together industry experts to consider these questions and share their best practices to foster platform talent.

 

What are platform companies looking for?

Peter C. Evans of the The Platform Strategy Institute is a leading thinker and researcher whose work tracks the continued evolution of platforms and the people who run them. “The rise of digital platforms is really a phenomenon that’s happened in the last 15 years or so. And the significance of platforms in our economies globally has […] given rise to the need for a managerial class,” he explains. “These are people who are hired to actually do the key functions of running, either an entire platform business, or a component of a company’s business that is a platform.” Platform professionals are therefore distinct from platform participants, Peter notes.

Digital platforms’ complex ecosystems require careful management, and skilled professionals are key. “People are going to make or break platform businesses,” says Veena Marr, consultant at recruitment firm Russell Reynolds. “[They are] the number one asset in any organisation because you’re serving communities, you’re not building widgets.”

To better understand what platform companies need, The Platform Strategy Institute compiled a database of over 11,000 global job postings. The data was gathered from startups, established platforms, and incumbent companies that are launching platform initiatives.

This research found that six main roles are in demand for platform businesses:

  • platform strategists
  • platform product managers
  • ecosystem manager (also sometimes titled community organiser or head of community)
  • platform engineers
  • platform data management
  • platform privacy and compliance management

At a rough estimate, Peter thinks there could be as many as 40,000 job openings annually for platform professionals in these various roles. 

The Platform Strategy Institute’s data also shows that platforms based in the United States and Asia have significantly larger market capitalisation than platform companies in Europe. This global disparity has employment implications. “European companies that are interested in growing their platform businesses just have a much smaller talent pool to draw from,” Peter says.

Veena agrees that Europe’s talent pool is narrower but thinks this has a positive effect on talent quality. “If you look at that talent [within Europe], the quality is extremely high for various reasons. You’ve either had to fight to get ownership within a US-headquartered organisation, or you are managing multiple countries, multiple cultures, multiple payment systems,” she says. 

 

The “Digital+ Mindset”

High-quality talent is make-or-break for platform businesses, but what does that really look like? Defining platform talent is difficult to pin down, because, as Veena notes, it is “cross-function, cross-sector, cross-scale, cross-ambition.”

“You have to have all the core ingredients of a digital skill set,” says Olivier van Calster, GM & VP Europe for StockX. Additionally, skills like empathy and managing tension are vital for enabling others to engage and transact. In Olivier’s opinion, platform professionals require: 

  1. an understanding of products and the ability to learn and adapt
  2. the capacity to create trust, safety, and community
  3. a grasp of economics and how to balance supply and demand

All this belongs to what Olivier terms a “Digital+ mindset”. Peter points out that these skills allow professionals to create value outside the boundaries of the firm. It’s about “really deeply understanding network effects,” he says.

Diversity and creativity, such as that of the international talent pool in Europe, is a benefit in Veena’s view. Differences in career path, cultural background, and education make European talent “better able to see around corners,” she thinks. Veena identifies customer empathy, stakeholder management, and curiosity as important aspects of the community management skills that Olivier pointed out. She comments on the ability “to really manage the trade-offs, manage the tensions and think things through holistically” that marks a strong platform professional. “Platforms, by their nature, are evolved by the community,” she also says, “and you need to be there listening to that pulse in order to be successful.”

A further piece of the Digital+ mindset is about managing platforms as they scale. “When a platform takes off, it takes off like a rocket. This sort of ability to handle hyperscale is also a really important aspect of a successful platform leader,” Olivier believes. Strong platform professionals can manage exponential growth curves. They approach multivariate problems with agility and intellectual curiosity, and they are able to handle ambiguity along the way.

 

Building a talent pipeline

Because the talent pool isn’t easily categorised by sector, there is some uncertainty about how to develop dedicated platform competencies. A lack of resourcing in this area can lead to a supply gap, and there is an open question about where the responsibility for talent development lies. 

Annemie Ress, now MD & COO innogy Innovation Hub, PurpleBeach founder, and moderator for this Platform Leaders conversation, has extensive experience recruiting hundreds of talents at eBay, PayPal and Skype. She prompts: “What role should progressive platform companies & employers play in this context?”

Peter sees opportunity here. “Larger companies that are launching platform initiatives can’t rely on just one or two hires. They really need to [hire talent] as a systematic process.” Access to a strong talent pipeline is a necessity for companies. “Being a platform professional is a super exciting career opportunity. […] Universities and the executive recruiting world need to focus on this and provide services that meet the opportunity,” he adds.

Some educational institutions are rising to the challenge. But in the absence of wide-ranging options, Olivier’s advice to platforms – big or small – is “grow your own talent. There’s not going to be a ready factory of plug-and-play platform leaders.” He advises: “Find the high-potential future leaders who show some of those skills in spades. Spot them, coach them, stretch them. That is ultimately the best possible way to scale the organisation.” 

Veena has similar advice to companies looking for platform talent. She summarises:

  1. Focus on competencies and mindsets as much as you focus on experience.
  2. Hire to fill gaps. Add, rather than replicate existing experience.
  3. Be your own school. Develop your people and give them the education as they are working for you.
  4. Make sure you’re hiring to represent the communities you’re serving.

Annemie adds that culture is also important. “Not only do you have to match skillset and experience, but more often than not you have to find that excitement, that real passion, that matchmaking. And sometimes certainly I’ve seen that it’s also an added nuance or layer of complexity that comes into the mix.”

Clearly, the scope of the opportunity for growing platform talent is large. It remains to be seen what resources will spring up to foster that talent and fill this gap.

 

To go further 

This keynote with Annemie Ress, Peter C.Evans PhD, Veena Marr and Olivier Van Caster was part of the Platform Leaders event organised by Launchworks & Co on the 15th of April 2021 (full list of speakers and agenda). To watch the full event, play the video below.

TheOrganisers

The Platform Leaders initiative has been launched by Launchworks & Co to help unlock the power of communities and networks for the benefit of all. All Launchworks & Co experts live and breathe digital platforms and digital ecosystems. Some of their insights have been captured in best-selling book Platform Strategy, available in English, French and Japanese.

LW LOGO &CO
LW LOGO &CO
TheOrganisers

The Platform Leaders initiative has been launched by Launchworks & Co to help unlock the power of communities and networks for the benefit of all. All Launchworks & Co experts live and breathe digital platforms and digital ecosystems. Some of their insights have been captured in best-selling book Platform Strategy, available in English, French and Japanese.