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Why You Should be Hiring On-Demand Talent

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August 25, 2021
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7 minutes
Lynn's diverse perspectives on business stem from her extensive experience as a management consultant - her role as a beloved wife, mother and grandmother adds further depth to her insights.

I have been reading a very interesting Harvard Business School / Bain Consulting report on Building the On-Demand Workforce. It brings together the concepts of the future of work and the role of consulting platforms or talent platforms.

Businesses face increasing pressure to digitize, automate, and innovate while controlling their costs and meeting the changing demands of a younger workforce. New approaches to hiring talent are giving rise to a hybrid employment model that combines permanent and freelance staff as a routine part of business strategy.

This article examines some of the pressures and the available alternatives.

Winning The Talent War

The Old Context

As I read the HBS/Bain report, I was struck by how little the meaning of the phrase winning the talent war appears to have changed over the past 20 years.

And yet, it has changed dramatically.

A list of building blocks taken from a report in 2000 identified the following building blocks in the war for talent:

  1. Identifying the core competencies required to keep a competitive edge
  2. Establish the talent needed and the state of the talent pool both inside and outside the company
  3. Deciding on a basic strategy to secure talent
  4. Building policies and practices to attract, grow and retain key talent
  5. Creating a stimulating work environment
  6. Ensuring that talent information is reviewed continuously at the executive level

On the surface, it looks as if nothing has changed. These are still the steps that every organization must take if they want to remain competitive. But the context has changed significantly.

The context in the year 2000 was about attracting the best employees. It was about developing a winning value proposition for your company and tactics to retain talented staff.

The New Context

In 2021, the context is about attracting the best talent, regardless of whether you employ them or not. The goal is to make the best use of the best skills while you have them. It is about finding the core competencies you need to remain competitive from whatever source available.

The most talented people no longer want golden handcuffs. They want the freedom to choose the work they enjoy, balance work with life demands, not report to a boss, and achieve independence. More and more professionals are leaving their jobs to join the gig economy. Many want to try new things, develop adjacent skills, take international assignments, or work with different leaders.

Statista shows nearly 68 million freelancers in the US alone in 2021, projected to grow to 90 million by 2028. This would be more than 50% of the US workforce. The UK and Brazil have seen growths of 59% and 48% respectively in freelancer revenues. Asia is taking the lead for regional growth, particularly in Pakistan, the Philippines, India, and Bangladesh. Ukraine, Russia, and Serbia are other growth points. This is clearly a worldwide phenomenon.

So, points three and four of the list above have become the challenge for companies: deciding on a strategy to secure talent and having the correct policies and practices in place.

This also brings us to point two on the list – with the review of talent outside the company now taking added importance. Talent platforms or consulting platforms have become critical resources for recruiting managers.

“Digital talent platforms allow companies to put the right people in the right place at the right time. But unlocking the greatest value takes rethinking business models for operating in a new reality.” - Bain Consulting

Why Outside Talent?

Aside from this being an indicator of the future of work, there are practical reasons to bring in on-demand talent:

  • You can extend your search from your local geographic area, pretty much to anywhere in the world, depending on the type of work to do.
  • You can find particular, even niche skills that your internal staff may not have. Many freelancers have chosen to be absolute experts within specific domains.
  • Rather than leaving necessary but not urgent projects on the back burner for lack of resources to undertake them, freelancers can accelerate delivery.
  • Similarly, one-off projects may be better delivered by independent outsiders with specific skills and the ability to give them 100% of their attention.
  • There are savings as you use people only when you need them and do not incur typical employment overheads.

However, while all these reasons are valid, they rather miss how crucial external talent is to the future of work.

Many organizations are using online talent platforms extensively, and executives predict that they will use them even more in the future. But they are still using them to fill high skill gaps in a hurry. According to the HBS/Bain report, few organizations have incorporated highly skilled freelancers into their business strategy.

Why would they do so? It would seem that point six of our war for talent list will have to come into play – executives having a clear view of the new contexts for talent and recruitment and adding it to their strategies.

What Is The Future Of Work And On-Demand Talent?

We are experiencing significant trends in business. Technological change, demographic shifts, and economic uncertainty are three of them. You will need the right talent, in the right place, and at the right time to meet these challenges. The only way to achieve this is through a flexible work model that gives continuous access to the latest skills and deploys them effectively i.e. on-demand talent. As noted by Bain Consulting, “Unlocking the greatest value takes rethinking business models for operating in a new reality.”

The blended model is a hybrid of permanent and freelance, independent, or contract workers. It allows an organization to expand or contract as needed, bringing in highly skilled workers on demand.

This is possible because of the explosion of consulting and talent platforms. Some of the largest are Upwork, Fiverr, and Toptal, which provide access to millions of highly skilled freelancers and a growing number of enterprises. However, there are hundreds more. The skill is to find one that fits your needs. Some platforms use technology to match job candidates more exactly to job opportunities. They can also find the most suitable internal candidates for internal mobility and internal gig work. These systems are well suited to organizations that have shifted from traditional hierarchical ways of working to adopting more agile approaches.

Phases of Talent Utilization

Companies may be in one of three phases for talent utilization – both internal and external:

  • The first phase is the traditional career management model, with annual development plans and succession planning that seldom meets its goals. Outside resources are brought in to fill short-term gaps.
  • The second phase is a somewhat haphazard approach to mobility, with talented individuals assigned to special projects or roles. On-demand talent is included in a similarly random manner.
  • The third phase requires a deliberate change in thinking and organizational culture. In this model, people move around all the time, working on different projects, often more than one at a time, with other teams and project managers. The organization operates more like a professional service firm rather than being driven by hierarchies of jobs and functions. Using external resources is part of the strategy.

This last phase requires agility from HR and middle managers. New policies and processes are for recruiting, training, performance management, payment systems, and blending permanent and freelance staff. It has largely been forced upon companies by the Covid pandemic, and many are now more comfortable with the technologies and the working realities.

More Reasons To Use Talent-On-Demand

The previous list of reasons to use on-demand talent remains relevant. However, when outsourcing becomes part of a deliberate business strategy, other benefits emerge.

  • The opportunity to experiment with staffing models: Companies can work with different staffing models without committing to one before they know what works for them. Experts can be hired for project work or embedded within teams. Assignments can range from days to years. Companies can hire people to do the work or consultants to give advice.
  • Accelerated speed to market: Companies might have started to use outside resources in an ad hoc way to meet crises, but their use is now more routine and for deeper engagement. Typical areas now include project management, business analytics, and corporate strategy, alongside accounting, marketing, and technology.
  • Innovation and new business models: It’s faster and cheaper to increase your company’s innovation pipeline by tapping into the global talent pool. This gives you an edge in creativity and execution and puts you ahead of your competitors. It also exposes your internal talent to a range of new thinking and techniques across multiple disciplines.

Moreover, Consulting platforms can be classified into two main categories. Some provide top-level talent and niche experts that can be used separately or embedded within your company teams. Others provide freelancers for discrete, task-oriented projects.

However, companies are finding that platforms offer more than just a solution to ad hoc problems. Talent platforms report that companies are moving from one-off engagements, handled mainly by middle managers, to requests for strategic discussions with executives. Platforms are starting to be regarded as business vendors, critical to the delivery of business strategy.

What is The Future Of Work?

Many organizations are being buffeted by rapid technological change, the need for upskilling or reskilling of the workforce, and pressure to be innovative and first to market. Consulting platforms that connect companies and highly skilled independent gig workers offer a solution.

Demographics are shifting. Some countries, such as the US, are facing an increase in the percentage of older people. Mass retirements can cut the supply of experience and talent. At the same time, younger people have different expectations about employment, expecting more flexibility, autonomy, and purpose. As a result, many young people opt to be part of the gig economy and are registering on talent platforms.

Reducing headcount without reducing access to talent is an extremely attractive option for companies struggling to stay competitive.

These are just some of the factors that are changing the future of work and driving the trend towards blended employment models and external expertise.