What is a talent strategy? The most common definition is broad: it’s how you source, hire, onboard, engage, and retain talent. But to address the growing shift towards independent employment—and incorporate all the talent your organization needs to stay successful—you’ll need to embrace a new definition of talent strategy that’s a lot more specific. There are cultural shifts to facilitate, relationships to nurture, and networks to build. It’s both a plan and a process, equal parts standardization and evolution. It’s not a definition so much as it is a redefinition.
Flexibility creates agility
The freelance population is growing faster than the rest of the workforce, and for good reason: the jobs are there, and demand is on the rise. Top organizations have already started to recognize the value of independent talent, particularly when it comes to highly skilled roles.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that organizations tend to approach independent talent from one of three angles: as a rarely used resource, as a strategic augmentation, or as a total workforce strategy. The middle angle, strategic augmentation, is the one HBR found to be most popular with top companies. By offering project-specific experience on an as-needed basis, independent consultants provide businesses with greater organizational agility in a rapidly changing global market.
Yet even as companies move toward more modular hiring practices, most still lack a formal talent strategy for managing independent talent. An SAP Fieldglass report found that, of 800 senior executives surveyed, only 10% could be identified as adequately managing external resources―which means only 10% are getting the full benefit of the independent talent they’re hiring.
In order to grow with this trend, you have to be proactive and flexible with your talent strategy. If you wait too long or design a process that can’t handle a curveball, you risk draining your talent pool before it’s fully stocked.
Here are seven steps to get you started:
1. Shift the internal mindset
Communication is key when bringing in outside resources. Independent talent has long been perceived as disposable or temporary, which can make internal acceptance and effective integration difficult. Full-time employees, in particular, can feel threatened.
The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) emphasizes the importance of treating independent consultants as an extension of the workforce. To successfully shift your enterprise toward this mindset, you have to consistently demonstrate and reinforce the value of independent talent. Address any employee concerns while actively socializing the concept of external resources as enhancements, not replacements.
2. Identify skills gaps
Aligning your talent management strategy with the business’ overall strategy helps ensure you’re creating jobs that add direct value. Start by assessing business goals and project roadmaps to determine what skills are critical right now, and which ones you’ll need in the future. Though you can’t predict market disruptions or specific innovations, building flexibility into your strategy will help you adapt to new needs as they emerge.
3. Draw from within
Identify retired or former employees who have specialized skills that are―or will be―in demand for future projects. After all, the relationship is already there, and many times, people in their positions are looking for a side gig. They already know your processes, understand your mission, and have worked with your teams. It’s the easiest placement you’ll ever get.
Plus, corporate alumni may also be able to refer you to other professionals in their networks for projects outside their area of expertise. And voilà: you have the foundation for an external talent network.
4. Use AI to streamline your process
At this point, artificial intelligence (AI) is so embedded in our daily lives that we don’t even realize how much we rely on it. Yet it’s hardly ever found in one place where it could make a critical difference: HR.
This is surprising, because AI can be a game-changer for recruiters. It can automate screening and searching, send job postings to potential candidates and handle other rote tasks. The more you use it, the more accurate it becomes. This frees up HR professionals to focus on relationship building, while bringing greater efficiency and speed to the hiring process.
5. Support them from the start
Though independent consultants aren’t permanent hires, they still need to know how to get into the building, access necessary files, and report to the right person. Make them feel welcomed and valued by providing essential tools such as facilities maps, passwords, and org charts on day one.
It’s also important to define clear roles, milestones, schedules, and goals for independent talent. They can’t do their job if they don’t know what it is. Be available for feedback and questions, and make it a point to formally introduce them to the people they’ll be working closely with. Research shows that freelancers prefer to work for companies that help them feel like part of the team.
6. Keep them engaged
By staying connected with successful talent and nurturing your relationship with them, you can better grow and curate your talent network. The resulting pool of independent talent becomes a reliable resource you can draw from as needed, reducing your administrative burden while making you more agile.
Although a formal review isn’t necessary, most freelancers appreciate feedback on their performance. Check in with them throughout the project and provide support as needed. Solicit feedback, too, so you can address any issues and smooth things out for future projects.
7. Measure your effectiveness
The goal of developing an agile talent strategy is to better support your business’ evolving needs. Track both poor fits and successes so you can identify areas where the process or approach could be improved.
It can also be helpful to ask executives, managers, and team members for feedback on resource effectiveness, as well as the overall hiring strategy and process. Feedback from those affected by freelance hiring decisions offers invaluable insight into the reality of your strategy.
Even if you already have a talent strategy, if it doesn’t address independent resource management, it’s not optimized for current employment trends. Take the time to put the right infrastructure in place before you need it, that way you’ll be ready to grow.
Emily is an award-winning writer who specializes in B2B marketing. She has been helping global brands reach targeted audiences to drive sales and awareness for more than 15 years. As a small business owner herself, she understands what it's like to source a team that can scale with sudden growth.