Demand for Independent Talent in HR Is up 80%. Here’s Why.

October 13, 2021 Summer Foote

Demand for Independent Talent in HR Is up 80%. Here's Why. - Collage of illustrated professional headshots

The COVID pandemic taught us to think differently about work: which meetings should be replaced with emails, how to collaborate remotely with our colleagues, how to hire and onboard virtually, and how to shift focus and digitize in an instant to meet people where they are—as well as the importance of empathy through it all as we adapted to a new reality together. Perhaps no function has felt the brunt of those challenges more acutely than HR.

A Perfect Storm of HR Challenges and Changes

Today, with the economy on the rebound and business demand returning, HR is facing another round of challenges as the pandemic remains alongside a Great Resignation and a tight labor market.

HR leaders face a convergence of tremendous changes, including:

  • A return to workplaces
  • The adoption of hybrid working models and the ensuing impacts on business culture
  • A changing workforce and myriad “future of work” demands
  • Enhanced commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity (DE&I)
  • The ongoing digital and data revolution
  • The necessity of building a cohesive, constructive, and inclusive culture

It’s no surprise then that Gartner’s top three priorities for HR leaders in 2022 are building critical skills and competencies for the organization, focusing on organizational design and change management, and developing their current and future leadership bench—followed closely by future-of-work needs and DE&I.

All of these priorities must be juggled while navigating a business recovery period and economic cycle that continues to feature surprises, rapid pivots, and an unprecedented need for speed. Agility and flexibility are of the essence. In fact, one recent survey found that 77% of employers say their current talent strategies are more focused on workforce agility than ever before.

Avoiding a Breaking Point by Tapping On-Demand Talent

As HR leaders tackle the list above, especially in the second year of the COVID era, many have realized that they and their teams are at a breaking point. BTG’s internal data shows nearly a doubling of demand YoY in 2021 (+ around 80%) for on-demand talent for special HR projects, to augment HR leadership teams, and to help HR address critical gaps across the business.

These highly skilled independent experts and executives are jumping in to help in several ways:

    1. To undertake or lead special projects to help adapt HR functions and their operations quickly to the immediate challenges. This might include projects like return-to-office policies and systems, adaptations to training and development, reinvention of HR playbooks, or refreshing of comp and benefits.

      Case Study

      A global financial services company was expanding its HR team and already in the process of hiring a head of total rewards when the company’s head of compensation and benefits resigned to pursue other opportunities.

      BTG provided an interim global compensation and benefits lead with extensive experience that included numerous HR leadership positions across the financial services industry.

    2. To add critical but short-term capacity, especially for recruiting surges and temporary-by-design roles.

      Case Study

      The CEO and CHRO of a plastics and packaging company recently found themselves needing just this kind of support in the face of pandemic-related rapid growth and rising product demand.

      An on-demand HR leader helped them tackle two workstreams: rapidly hiring into the flagship plant to keep pace with demand, and piloting and rolling out improved manufacturing recruitment processes across all plants.

    3. To undergo a critical transition or transformation at a time when the company isn’t yet ready for a full-time hire or can’t hire fast enough.

      Case Study

      An ultraviolet radiation startup was growing exponentially and preparing to go public, but the company’s finance and HR functions weren’t ready for the transition; nor were they able to hire full-time C-level leadership fast enough to manage the changes.

      BTG provided two key interim leaders:

      An interim CFO — A PwC alum and former CFO in the renewable energy space to facilitate the NASDAQ audit process, set up public company filling processes, and anticipate financial implications of the transition from a product to a service model.

      An interim CHRO — A seasoned HR executive with experience standing up HR functions to establish the required human capital infrastructure and operational procedures—including all talent management processes, playbooks, and personnel policies

    4. To help business leaders with new roles when they don’t have time to formally define and authorize the positions. With on-demand talent, HR leaders can help the rest of the business incubate and trial new roles before finalizing a true job spec and going out to hire in the full-time market; this is particularly prevalent with respect to new digital roles, for which speed is of the essence, and parameters are continually moving.

      Case Study

      A large financial services organization was looking to expand its retail banking arm and needed help creating a common vision and alignment across the retail business.

      BTG provided a seasoned transformational enterprise technology leader with deep B2B SaaS experience and a proven record delivering sales leadership, product enhancements, and client services for large financial institutions. In the role of interim strategy and transformation leader, he drove a customer-centric and segment-tailored approach to maximizing market opportunities. Furthermore, he created a customer experience improvement plan and coordinated onboarding of retail colleagues on the effective use of CX principles, ensuring consistent application across the business.

These independent experts allow for unparalleled flexibility and efficiency in HR. And when HR moves more efficiently, the entire company feels the lift—enabling the organization to fill gaps quickly and seize opportunities, increase employee satisfaction and retention, and expand a culture of innovation.

Driving Business Impacts Across the Organization

The opportunity to build agility, resilience, and flexibility into the organization has never been more promising or more pressing. Only 30% of hiring managers feel their teams have the skills needed to support the business needs in the next 3–5 years, and 91% of HR leaders are concerned about employee turnover in the coming months. And, more than ever before, experts at the top of their fields are choosing to work independently on projects that inspire them.

By harnessing on-demand talent in this moment of turbulence, HR leaders can first steady their own ships and then support other business leaders around them with urgent needs, such as:

  • Defining critical new roles and deciding where in the organization to place them
  • Pacing important decisions to take immediate action against priorities even if they are not able or ready to hire permanent leadership
  • Tapping digital and data skills that are more urgently needed than ever, in greater volume—and for which traditional full-time talent is scarce

Creating a Future-Focused Gig Economy Strategy

COVID has turned many things upside down in business today. Jamie Kohn, research director in the Gartner HR practice, recently noted, “As the economy continues to recover from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are facing a very different—and extremely competitive—job market than years past. While many are experiencing a record number of open roles, companies are also trying to mitigate pent-up employee turnover.”

Innovative companies are tapping the gig economy at the enterprise level in order to gain speed and control, decrease costs, and improve access to top talent. And in many cases, HR is leading the way in helping their organizations understand how, when, and why to use on-demand talent. As John Winsor of Open Assembly noted, “Acknowledging and endorsing the gig economy as an acceptable tool and creating a formal method to tap it can help an organization lead, rather than chase, what’s happening.”


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