The companies that have grown up to serve this new ecosystem, Business Talent Group included, often point to things like cost-efficiency when making a case for on-demand talent. Freelance knowledge workers carry the pedigree of top consulting firms without the overhead, goes this argument. It stands to reason they can take on the same work for substantially less money.
But the biggest benefit to on-demand talent isn’t cost containment, in my view. It’s capturing scarce talent, moving more nimbly, and positioning your company for growth in fast-changing markets.
Human capital procurement has traditionally focused on two things. One is selecting the best vendors for recruiting permanent hires and driving headcount efficiencies. The other is managing the staffing companies that deliver contingent labor, strategically outsourcing certain tasks to drive operational efficiencies.
On-demand knowledge workers fit awkwardly into this scheme, more skilled than traditional contingent labor and more complicated, from a contractual and managerial standpoint, than permanent hires. They can’t be sourced through MSPs. Instead, their work is defined by a SOW, and they are contracted as freelance professionals. But to view them as an alternative to traditional consulting firms is to limit their potential to the enterprise. Why? Because managing this category at the enterprise level enables companies to control their own destiny and take sustained, strategic advantage of benefits like:
- Moving quickly on new opportunities. It’s hard for big companies to stay nimble, especially when they’re running as leanly as most teams try to these days. Using on-demand talent to bridge gaps and surge capacity helps alleviate this problem. In fact, the more forward-thinking teams have begun to incorporate on-demand talent into their budget and plans. This starts by thinking not in terms of broad roles, but in terms of tasks and results—whether evaluating new strategies, launching new products, or transforming IT infrastructure to scale with long-term needs. Then, drawing from both internal resources and high-end independent professionals, they can assemble the best team for the job.
- Trying before you buy. Launching new ventures and transforming key business processes is a critical way to get ahead of industry disruptions. The trick, of course, is selecting which initiatives to invest in. On-demand talent enables companies to pilot new ideas before building them out for the long-term. A life science company used on-demand talent to explore how big data analytics might be used in different therapeutic areas. A beverage manufacturer used on-demand talent to pilot a new restaurant business. More revealing than a theoretical analysis, and much faster and more adjustable than making perm hires, these pilots enabled each company to quickly trial a new idea, benefit from the experience of talent who’d already completed many similar engagements, and make better informed decisions about the future.
- Accessing hard-to-hire skills. You probably already strive to own the talent that’s most critical to your company’s operations. But what if that talent can’t be bought? Increasingly, in super-skilled niches like innovation and Artificial Intelligence, the best talent is independent. And it may even be easier for your organization to absorb their insights on a project basis, anyway, where they can help you structure and establish new programs, then leave them to existing teams to manage in the future.
- Lowering risk. Most big companies have a shadow labor force that runs counter to procurement goals of transparency and quality control. One contract worker might be an ex-employee who’s hired back for specific occasions. Another is an executive’s best friend’s relative who happens to knows something about an area your company is investigating. Or a business school alum. These work arrangements arise out of convenience, and there’s no way for your organization to know that it’s getting the best possible people. By creating a formal program for accessing and managing on-demand talent, however, you create structures for ensuring transparency and accountability.
The skills that today’s business teams need often change before they’ve produced a single deliverable. The key to growth, then, is an agility that’s hard to achieve with the traditional temp/perm talent divide. Procurement has an unparalleled view across the needs of the enterprise. By maintaining tight ties to Human Resource colleagues, who can help with talent planning, and business executives, who know what skills and expertise their teams need to be successful, it can take strategic control of one of the most powerful opportunities available to position the organization for growth and success.
This article was first published at Spend Matters.
Sandra Pinnavaia is BTG's EVP and Chief Innovation Officer. She brings over 25 years of experience as a business leader, management consultant, and trusted advisor, and she drives the development of the company’s enterprise relationships with top clients.