The 4th Option Junto
#92—Elizabeth Altman: Rethinking the Definition of a Workforce in the Modern Era

#92—Elizabeth Altman: Rethinking the Definition of a Workforce in the Modern Era

Dr. Elizabeth J. Altman is an associate professor of management at the Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and guest editor of the MIT Sloan Management Review Future of the Workforce project. Altman served as a visiting assistant professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point in Fall 2018 and has served as a visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School. Altman teaches strategy, organizational theory, and human resources management in undergraduate, MBA, and doctoral programs. Her research focuses on strategy, innovation, platform businesses and ecosystems, leadership in the digital economy, organizational identity, and organizational change.

It used to be, your workforce were your employees. But today, 30-40% of a company’s workforce is made up by contractors! Add to this the increasing amount of work being done by suppliers and partners and you see that what composes your workforce is much different than what it once was. This raises lots of questions.

Elizabeth has spent 19 years in industry. She was a vice president at Motorola in executive and leadership roles in industrial design, product development engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and strategy. Awarded a U.S. Dept. of Commerce and Japanese government fellowship, Altman worked as an engineer for Sony in Japan. She lectures and consults worldwide for multi-national clients on strategy and platform businesses and has served on corporate and non-profit boards.

Her work has been published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), MIT Sloan Management Review, Journal of Management Studies, Marketing Letters, and other internationally recognized management journals and books. Her HBR article with Prof. Andrei Hagiu was selected for inclusion in an edition of the “HBR 10 Must Reads 2019” book and included in “HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Business Model Innovation.” She also co-authored the book, The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work, (Harvard Business Press), as well as the recent Workforce Ecosystems (2023).

In this episode, she shares:

  • The new role of institutions in society, and how workforce employee and stakeholder sentiment play into that

  • The actual definition of a workforce, and how it has even expanded into including questions like: What is a workforce? Who is in the workforce? and how do you think about it from an ecosystem perspective to incorporate technologies as an integral part of them?

  • How to consider goals and incentives for employees given this broader perspective?

  • How do you build culture when your workforce is composed by a large percentage of contractors and suppliers?

  • How AI and machine learning technology can now be considered an official part of the workforce in many cases


Episode Timeline:

00:00—Highlight from today's episode

01:07—Introducing Elizabeth + The topic of today’s episode

2:55—If you really know me, you know that...

4:19—What is your definition of strategy?

6:44—Why do you think the focus in companies has shifted to more than just financial performance in this era?

8:34—Tell us about your journey into researching workforce ecosystems.

11:27—Breaking down the types of employees in a typical organization

12:17—A new definition of a workforce

15:13—How do goals change within an organization that has varying types of employees?

17:20—Could you talk to us about the most important implications or adjustments that need to be made in light of this changing workforce ecosystem?

20:54—What is the role of technologies in our workforce as they become a big part of our production?

23:20—How does organizational culture fit into all of this?

25:32—What are some other big implications in leadership as workforces change?

27:18—How is the structure and processes around workforces changing?

29:56—How can people follow you and connect with you to continue learning from you?


Additional Resources:

Manning School of Business Faculty Page:

Newest Book:



The 4th Option Junto
The Outthinkers podcast is a growth strategy podcast hosted by Kaihan Krippendorff. Each week, Kaihan talks with forward-looking strategists and innovators that are challenging the status quo, leading the future of business, and shaping our world.