A breakthrough moment for independent talent solutions
As leaders across industries move from ad hoc solutions put in place during the pandemic toward renewal and recovery initiatives—like right-sizing their on-site and remote workforce resourcing, transforming their businesses to be more digital, and rapidly evaluating emerging strategic opportunities—freelance professionals are proving to be more essential than ever.
In fact, a recent Upwork survey showed that 47% of hiring managers are more likely to engage independent talent in the future due to COVID-19—and for good reason. Why? It’s all about speed and options, creating the ability to pivot quickly against both opportunity and challenge.
As we near the end of 2020, many companies face a seemingly contradictory challenge: On one hand, they have invoked headcount freezes, halted consulting spend, and severely reduced costs to ride out the storm. On the other, they desperately need unique skills and expertise and a faster way to tackle previously uncharted opportunities and atypical business demands. Or if they’re among the very lucky, they simply can’t find and onboard talent quickly enough to rise to the occasion.
On-demand (or freelance) talent, and firms like Business Talent Group, are an essential tool for senior leaders and the entire enterprise to navigate this unprecedented moment, providing just-in-time and right-sized resourcing where and when needed—without adding headcount and without the fully loaded costs of traditional consulting firms.
Here are three ways leading companies are using on-demand talent to tackle their most pressing problems amid the current uncertainty.
#1: RESOURCING FOR SPECIAL PROJECTS OR TEMPORARY ROLES
SCENARIO: “I need real experience, today, to tackle an unexpected challenge or opportunity. I don’t know if this be an ongoing need or what I’ll need tomorrow.”
SOLUTION: An experienced on-demand executive placed on a special project or in a temporary role
Business leaders find themselves in need of expertise they never would have expected at this time last year, and rarely do they have time to work out new job descriptions, reporting relationships, and budgeting processes to add permanent headcount.
Innovative companies have worked with BTG to create special projects quickly—within days—to bring in the resources they need. These special projects demand real hands-on participation as part of a team or function, with roles defined for a specified period of time with real-time tweaks to priorities and substantial operating responsibility from the outset.
- When a plastics manufacturing company experienced a sudden and unexpected uptick in demand related to producing material for COVID testing this spring, leaders found themselves scrambling to revamp HR processes in order to keep plants adequately staffed. Through BTG, the CEO and CHRO created a special project to build immediate capability to remotely recruit and hire plant workers. They brought in an experienced HR executive—nearly a peer to the CHRO but with more recent experience in recruiting innovation—to undertake ramping up the flagship plant’s capacity. And, this learning-while-doing special project spawned a follow-up project to drive these new processes into the rest of the business and all facilities.
Clients have also created formal temporary roles—roles that by design will not be replaced in the future.
- A leading supermarket chain experienced a sudden pain point now familiar to many retail businesses: a dramatic uptick in online demand, for which they were not prepared. The Chief Commercial Officer needed “simply to clone himself” to get him and the company over the hump and to a new level of eCommerce capability to serve newly remote customers. With BTG, the company created—within one week—two temporary roles for experienced eCommerce executives. One had previously built an online grocery business for an F50 drugstore, and the other had led an eCommerce team for an F50 retailer. It was known from the onset that after 6 months, their roles would no longer be needed and, if anything, more junior managers could keep the expanded online business running.
In these special projects and temporary roles, on-demand talent play deeply integrated, hands-on roles at the SVP, VP, or director level as part of the operational leadership of the client.
#2: INTERIM EXECUTIVE RESOURCING
SCENARIO: “I cannot or should not make a permanent FTE hire now, but I really need immediate help.”
SOLUTION: An interim executive at or below the C-suite
The concept of an interim executive is expanding largely because on-demand or freelance talent now exists in abundance and at all levels of experience, and companies like BTG make this marketplace efficient, easy, and safe for major companies to use. Savvy business leaders recognize the downside of making long-term permanent resourcing decisions in many situations right now and prefer instead to effectively borrow a solution well suited to the immediate or short-term situation. This solves the near-term problem and has the added advantage of “buying an option” to have better clarity about the long-term role later.
Traditionally, an interim executive fills a C-suite level leadership gap during a search for a permanent hire, tasked with following in the footsteps of the previous leader to provide a seamless transition. Companies will always experience normal gaps in leadership perfect for an interim resource—for example, when a member of the C-suite leaves the role or goes on parental leave. And on-demand solutions work in these situations quite well.
But in today’s unprecedented business and public health environment, there are many, many more situations where it simply makes good sense for the business not to embark on a search or otherwise make a long-term permanent hire or promotion decision.
Why? Simply, too much uncertainty abounds, both for the business and for the talent. For example:
- Business Uncertainty: Will there be enough budget to attract the level of talent we need? What will the department size really be next year? Are we spinning off or shrinking this business unit? Is there leadership change expected in the level above, making this position tough to hire into until then?
- Talent Uncertainty: Can I imagine uprooting my family to move to a new location during COVID? What other professional options would be available if I wait for more of the shakeout to happen?
These days, business leaders realize that key gaps can—and often should—be filled on an interim basis not only at the C-suite level, but also at the C minus 1, 2, 3, and 4 levels. They are using interim leaders in critical functions often and the corporate level and increasingly at the divisional level, such as heads of finance, HR, or marketing.
Clients also use interim talent at the director and senior director level for functions that have inherent variability in their workflows, such as strategy, data analytics, and business insights teams. Several of our clients use on-demand talent as variable resourcing for their corporate development and transformation teams, as well as for some project management organizations. All of these situations benefit from significant flexibility around the headcount (savings) and—perhaps even more importantly—from better alignment of skill sets for the specific work of the immediate quarter.
- A global pharmaceutical company reached out to BTG because the company’s US pharmacovigilance group lacked critical leadership in the US, with the group’s leadership solely in Asia. The company hadn’t determined the path forward just yet, and they needed an experienced leader senior enough to guide the team, conduct a thorough review of the organizational structure, and recruit top talent. BTG delivered an interim head of pharmacovigilance with extensive experience in corporate and strategic planning and risk management in the life sciences to help the company both tackle urgent product launches and plan for long-term success.
In addition, we are seeing incredible creativity as our clients begin to treat gaps and hiring moments quite innovatively right now, turning the gap into an opportunity to try something new before locking into a firm job description for hiring.
- A major health plan provider used interim professionals in both the CIO role and in three roles beneath the CIO for a new information-based business unit they were standing up. In this case, the timing of the investment and the exact nature of the commercial product were still in development, and the business needed to experiment further before finalizing the org chart and placing people into permanent positions.
- A client backed by private equity was making a major move into the US through acquisition. The investors, CEO, and CFO all knew that several key functions needed dramatic overhauling right away. Long term, they needed a strong cultural fit with the acquiring leadership team and alignment around the company mission, but the critical work to fix what was broken simply could not wait for the recruitment process wheels to turn. So they brought in interim executives specifically to do some of the tough stuff right away, getting the business on solid footing and creating an even more appealing opportunity for a long-term growth executive hire down the road.
#3: RESOURCING WITH TARGETED CONSULTANTS
SCENARIO: “My consulting budget is frozen or cut, but I have even more to figure out, change, improve than I anticipated.”
SOLUTION: Highly expert consultants with skills matched precisely to the problem, delivered at the pace and team size needed
On-demand talent have long been a flexible and cost-effective source of skills for companies in need of problem solving, such as a strategy refresh, a marketing plan, cost reduction, or operational improvements. But in this fast-changing and uncertain environment, business leaders are turning to independent talent to solve problems in a very targeted fashion—precisely matching expertise with niche consulting needs.
The unbundled nature of on-demand consulting means experts can put their knowledge to work for companies in hands-on, low-overhead, low-commitment engagements. In fact, using independent talent saves companies an average of 35–49% on strategy projects and 31–47% on implementation projects over the big firms just by enabling clients to build highly specialized team configurations to solve specific problems. And these days, clients are taking advantage of this resourcing option to stretch budgets, align projects with immediate business needs, and stay nimble in a fluctuating market. We’re seeing clients engage in management consulting in smaller bites than ever before—whether it’s a quick look at acquisition opportunities or a pared-down market access evaluation.
- The head of operations at a global tech company found himself grappling with one such problem when he was faced with the task of merging sales and delivery functions. Concerned about the difficulty of merging the two, he turned to BTG and engaged and experienced independent process mapping expert and marketing executive who provided the hands-on work and objective perspective necessary to re-engineer the global sales process; he did this alone (without a team) and quickly with a pragmatic focus stemming from his real-world executive experience.
- When the head of R&D at a global pharma company was in the midst of a major transformation aimed at using new technologies to drive efficiency throughout the drug development process, she found herself needing assistance to keep up with implementation of top-line strategy from a Big 3 firm. Through BTG, she engaged a dedicated independent life science consultant with big firm training who was able to jump in immediately and assume leadership on a number of workstreams and support critical analytical tasks. The executive was then able to maintain ownership of the broader process.
BTG’s consultants, subject matter experts, operators, and executives hail from Big 3 consulting firms, boutique and specialty firms, and Fortune’s 50 most admired companies, to name a few. They are leaders in their fields with cutting-edge skills and expertise and the ability to jump in and tackle your most demanding problems and critical needs.
IN THE FACE OF UNCERTAINTY, WE’RE CERTAIN ABOUT THIS.
In a recent survey, 69% of respondents agreed that the pandemic will permanently change the nature of work. At BTG, we’ve been at the forefront of thinking about different approaches to resourcing work for over a decade. We couldn’t agree more that the current moment is a watershed one for independent talent and the companies who figure out how to best tap this marketplace specifically to give them a competitive edge in this challenging moment.
The solution space is large and can be adapted to many types of situations: We’ve seen independent professionals tackle complex problems both remotely and on-site, sometimes moving fluidly between the two. We’ve helped companies find niche talent for very focused endeavors as well as teams of consultants to tackle multifaceted projects. Many companies undertaking large initiatives or transformations choose to install PM Flexhub, a stable of project managers installed programmatically to enable custom high-quality, adjustable project management resourcing. Companies that want the greatest level of organizational agility are installing enterprise-wide on-demand talent solutions, which allows teams across business units to seamlessly access talent as needed, with the confidence that comes with experienced scoping, talent curation, and vetting, as well as best-in-class oversight, information security, confidentiality, and compliance.
Now, more than ever before, is the time to engage on-demand talent proactively. The winners are already doing so to navigate an uncertain future nimbly and to embrace recovery opportunities with maximum speed and skill. See what on-demand talent can do for you. Learn more or start a project today!
About the AuthorMore Content by Sandra Pinnavaia