Staff Wars: The (Work)Force Awakens

Are Managed Service Programs (MSPs) the Evil Empire? Are Vendor-neutral options our only hope? Or is there an opportunity to find a balance within the workforce?

As I sat down to write a typical blog post on the always-controversial topic of MSP vs. VMS, I started thinking about the parallels between this and a certain film series’ recent release and wondered: just like a movie, why can’t the idea of workforce management get a reboot?

In a time not so long ago, in a city not too far away, an idea was created. An idea that was meant to revolutionize the way companies managed their workforce inefficiencies. This was where the Managed Services Program emerged.

It was a beacon of hope, a vision that – through the help of a workforce management partner – a company could relieve the burden of filling their workforce gaps and focus on what they did best: providing valued services to customers.

Just like a certain hero-turned-villain, these managed service programs started out seeking only to improve the lives of their clients and partner agencies. However, the MSP soon began to see how they could leverage their workforce influence to further their own desires, making themselves more powerful while weakening the strength of their allies. It was no longer about doing what was best for the company, but instead what would benefit them. Through this, alliances started to breakdown.

You now had secondary vendors discouraging participation in these programs, stating “It’s a trap!”[1]. Your buddy’s agency was out stealing your employees. You needed a droid[2] who was fluent in several languages to interpret the contracts and job requests. And you had a rogue agency going solo, disobeying the program’s rules and contacting the company directly. All of this led to an uprising, where it became a battle between good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, empire vs. rebel.

But, like our anti-hero, is redemption possible? Can we work together to try and realign these programs, and create a balance in the management of our workforce? Yes, I think it’s possible.

At its core, a managed service program serves a valuable need. It provides a method to organize and streamline the sometimes near-impossible process of staffing. According to the latest US Healthcare Staffing Growth Assessment from Staffing Industry Analysts, 65% of healthcare systems are using some form of MSP or VMS[3]. As demand for healthcare continues to grow, be it through regulatory mandates or consumer-driven need, so will the necessity for effective and efficient workforce management programs. That number is about the same for all North American staffing industry clients, with 66% citing use[4].


Rather than ruling an MSP like an emperor, strategic alliances should be created both within the company being serviced, as well as with the participating vendors. During Staffing Industry Analyst’s 2015 Healthcare Staffing Summit, the message was consistent:

  • As a Program Manager, serve as a mentor to your client and your vendor partners
  • As a participating vendor, understand and respect the program’s policies and goals; conduct due diligence when submitting candidates for jobs (don’t send incomplete or unqualified profiles)

A Managed Service Program should be less like an empire and more like a council of respected staffing masters, each of whom provides valuable skills and resources.

Leanne Oatman, President of RightSourcing, stated that the only way to create true vendor neutrality in programs is to suppress the name of the supplier in the VMS, thereby eliminating any bias. While, fundamentally, she may be right, I feel there is an alternative.

Your workforce is not a group of clones, each of whom are indistinguishable from the other. A successful MSP alliance should recognize those differences and place higher value (in the form of reimbursement rates) and placement priority on those who are aligned with the program’s goals. Why, as a program manager, would I want to risk the health of my relationship with my client (or the safety or satisfaction of their customers) for sake of a few margin points? If we change the way we think about workforce management from a quantity to a quality methodology, we can find a way to still maintain the vision of a managed service program, while providing our strategic partners peace of mind that an even playing field can and does exist.

However, in order to enact these changes, we must first recognize the power of our workforce and “unlearn what you have learned”[5]. Take a step back, press the reset button, collaborate with your fellow staffing experts and create a program that serves the needs of all members, equally.

Do not continue to participate in programs that act like a Master Vader (I mean, Vendor) rather than a Managed Service Provider. Together, we can triumph over the dark side of staffing and promote a balanced and equal republic.

As a very wise teacher once said, “Do or do not. There is no try”[5]. The power of the workforce is strong within each of you. Harness it to enact change within the staffing universe.  And may the future of the workforce be with you.

Are you a Managed Services Provider or Participating vendor? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’re doing to find balance with your workforce programs!

[1] Admiral Ackbar, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, 1983
[2] A droid is a reference to a robot, common in the Star Wars series
[3] Staffing Industry Analysts, US Healthcare Staffing Growth Assessment, Oct. 2015
[4] Staffing Industry Analysts, VMS-MSP Usage, Oct. 2015
[5] Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
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