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Why internal gigs are critical to your strategy and success

Cheryl Paxton-Hughes

Principal, Thought Leadership and Advisory Services

The book The Inside Gig, written by Edie Goldberg, PhD., states, “It is our fundamental belief that employees have far more capability than their workplace acknowledges and uses.” Organizations have a vast number of skills and potential skills that go untapped because of outdated talent processes and the notion that just because an employee is doing a particular job means they are only skilled for the tasks associated with that job.

Leaders who embrace the ability for employees to take on these "inside gig" assignments will see gains in transferrable skills, employee engagement and a reduction in labor expense. For the past several years, Cornerstone has offered our employees the opportunity to apply for internal gig assignments. They range in various areas from IT projects, translation support, culture and people initiatives and industry research projects.

As part of our desire to better understand the benefits that these projects had on our employees and organization, we conducted post-assignment surveys. We gathered demographic data and sentiments about the employees and their managers who engaged in these gig assignments.

Our key findings boiled down to three major areas of impact — transferable skills, increase in employee engagement and reduction of labor costs.

The average gig assignment lasted about 3-4 months, with an average of 3 hours a week spent on the assignment or a grand total of between 36-48 hours spent learning and applying new skills.

How did we measure the success of the gig itself? These projects all had different scopes and the impact shown in this doc explains how this improved the employee experience. But how did it help Cornerstone outside of saving on consultant fees?

Key survey demographics

  • 60% of the employees identified as having 20+ years of total work experience
  • 60% of the employees identified as being with Cornerstone between 7-10 years
  • An equal split of employees ranging in ages 30-60 that participated in internal gig assignments
  • An equal split of employees identifying as either male or female

Key motivations they reported in applying to internal gig assignments

  • A new challenge
  • Partnering with others in another part of the org to create new tools and processes for clients
  • Learning about a different part of the business
  • Learn new skills and share my skill sets with others
  • Work on projects outside of my area of expertise

The benefits

Transferrable skills to current position

We asked participating employees to share what skills they hoped to learn in their gig assignments. Skills ranged from technical to more professional-based. Participants reported increasing the following skills:

  • Technical troubleshooting
  • Improving product knowledge
  • Project management
  • Data analytics
  • Negotiation
  • Global/cultural awareness
  • Conflict resolution

Every participant reported that they felt the skills they learned were transportable to their current role and helped to round them out as a professional.

In addition to skill attainment, participants also reported that they were able to build new relationships inside the organization that would help them to more quickly address and resolve client requests and develop more innovative and robust solutions for clients — ultimately leading to higher client satisfaction.

Improved employee engagement

Over 60% of participants had 7+ years of experience at Cornerstone. Most participants stated that they were motivated to apply for a Gig assignment because they 1) felt like they needed a different or new challenge in their current role and 2) wanted a chance to work more closely with others in the organization who were not in their normal daily interactions.

In some cases, participants had planned on looking for another role externally but took the gig as an alternative step first before leaving the organization. Participants stated that the gig assignments reinvigorated and reenergized them. In fact, 40% of participants engaged stated that they were so engaged in this type of work, that they would prefer to only do gig assignments as a full-time role.

According to Gallup’s meta-study conducted from 2008-2012 of 49 publicly traded organizations, companies that had a critical mass of engaged employees outperformed in EPS (earnings per share) compared to organizations that did not.

It is our belief, based on these experiences and data points, that gig assignments and projects are one of the ways to keep employees more actively engaged in the organization, especially once they hit longer tenure times in the organization. The alternative is either turnover or, worse, reduced productivity from employees who have become apathetic.

Reduction in labor costs

The gig assignments posted at Cornerstone were intended to fill gaps in backlogged customer work, research and innovation, and internal projects (HR, IT, etc.). This work would have typically been completed by either hiring temporary talent (contractor/consultant), net new headcount or through existing full-time talent within that department/function’s team. For example, four internal gig assignments were completed over four months that initially would have been scoped out to hire a contractor to complete with a bill rate at or around $200/hour, costing the organization around $32,000.

Organizations have an opportunity to rethink their headcount and external consulting budgets by first looking internally to see who has the skills available and would be willing to take on the work to expand their skills and network. Traditionally, organizations have done this through the lens of succession planning programs by tapping into the same high performers or high potentials.

DDI’s 2021 Leadership Development Forecast study highlighted that high potentials are 86% more likely to get burned out and twice as likely to leave their organization compared to their counterparts because they feel like they are constantly being selected for “special projects.”

Providing an opportunity for all employees to access and apply for internal gig assignments allows for equal opportunity for skill development and attainment and reduces high-potential burnout.

Best practices to get started

This sounds great in theory, and you may be thinking, "My organization is light years away from being able to execute this type of program," or "There is no way my managers would go for allowing their employees to work on projects or assignments outside of their day jobs," or perhaps you are unsure of where you would even get started.

To assist you in this, we’ve developed five tips to help you think about how you could get started in your organization.

Tip 1: Identify an ally

Identify a department, leader or influencer that you know would have a vested interest in wanting to get projects staffed and completed without spending more on labor. An ally could also be a natural change leader in the organization who is always seeking ways to do things better and differently than how things have been done in the past.

Tip 2: Bring finance into the discussion

One of the best ways to get started is by looking at how much your organization spends annually on external contractors. Getting a handle on total external consultant and third-party spending is a great way to start assessing where the largest opportunities are for internal gig assignments.

Tip 3: Conduct a skills inventory

You could decide to do an organizational-wide skills inventory and assessment, or you may want to do this by department, function or even role within the organization. Either way, this provides you with the critical information you need to know about what skills your workforce possesses and at what levels of proficiency.

Tip 4: HR leads the way

Start within your own department or team. Identify projects and assignments that have been on the back burner or are perhaps even critical and could be filled by a temporary internal gig assignment.

Tip 5: Survey your workforce

Unsure if this concept could work for your company and in your industry? Conduct some groundwork research and survey your employees and managers to gather their feedback and opinions. If your workforce is survey fatigued, conduct focus groups and 1:1 interviews. Be sure to include both employees and managers in the focus groups as well as the interviews if you select these approaches.

The elephant in the room

Saving the best for last — the elephant in the room. How do you overcome resistance from managers? There is no perfect way to address this issue. It’s a multi-pronged approach that requires strong HR executive advocacy and leadership to change the cultural norm from talent hoarding to talent sharing.

Organizations that have been early adopters of internal mobility platforms and strategies have worked to gain buy-in from managers by including them in key decisions about the process and implementation. In some cases, incentives for managers who regularly participate in the program have been included during the initial phases of implementation to gain traction.

Our own data showed that only 10% of internal gig assignment participants ended up leaving their current full-time role to go work in the gig role full-time. Recognizing that these experiences are great development exercises for their employees as well as beneficial to the overall organization often convinces hesitant managers of the benefits of gigs.

Success stories: Cornerstone gig assignment impact

Cornerstone has continued our rollout of gig assignments and other career development programs by leveraging our talent management platform using AI to make recommendations on gig assignments, skill gaps, and skill development. We have realized labor savings, increased employee engagement, and improvement of cross-functional skill application.

Participants of the Cornerstone gig assignments reported the following:

  • 80% said that they would want to participate in another Gig assignment if afforded the opportunity to do so.
  • 60% felt that the Gig they did gave them a realistic job preview and experience of what they could expect to do in that role. This was important for making decisions about future career aspirations.
  • 60% did not feel that they should have received additional compensation for the role.

If you would like to consult with us on how you can build a similar gig plan for your organization, please reach out to our Thought Leadership & Advisory Services team for further conversations at

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