5 Great Tips for Managing Your On-Demand Talent

Hiring on-demand talent continues to be a successful strategy for many of the world’s leading brands and companies, including Apple, Rolls Royce Aerospace, and Procter & Gamble. In fact, if you’ve ever used a Swiffer Duster or a Crest SpinBrush toothbrush, you’ve experienced the end product of on-demand talent.

Procter & Gamble, owner of the Swiffer and Crest brands, has been using on-demand business talent to solve key R&D problems and develop innovative new product ideas in recent years. The Swiffer Duster and SpinBrush are just two of the hundreds of successful products that P&G has developed using outside experts to fill key roles.

Around the world, many other companies are doing the same, using on-demand talent to develop new products, solve their toughest business challenges, and become more agile.

According to Jon Younger, founder of the Agile Talent Collaborative, and Norm Smallwood, co-founder of The RBL Group, a strategic HR and leadership advisory firm, there are three fundamental ways that companies are using and managing on-demand talent:

The Exception

Some organizations are using a mostly traditional workforce of full-time employees but making limited use of “cloud resourcing” to augment their permanent staff.

The Rule: Total Strategy

In some cases, companies are transforming themselves by employing a mostly on-demand strategy. In the case of many startups and fast-growing young companies, they’re establishing and using this model from the outset.

The Middle Path: Augmentation

Many organizations are using on-demand talent as a way to strategically augment their business, particularly to fill specific capabilities and capitalize on fast-emerging opportunities with greater flexibility and agility. Procter & Gamble and its agile, on-demand talent strategy is a perfect example of a company in this category.

Younger and Smallwood’s research on on-demand talent is mostly focused on companies using the augmentation model. But no matter which approach an organization takes, hiring on-demand talent means you need to be prepared to manage that talent and set up your outside experts for success.

Best Practices for Managing On-Demand Talent

To maximize success and the value of your investment, Younger and Smallwood recommend several things managers should do, based on their work with organizations and their workshops with line managers and HR executives. Here are five of the best practices they recommend:

1. Build up your network.

If you’re depending solely on human resources or procurement to find on-demand business, you’re probably missing out on some of the world’s leading experts and many of the top available on-demand workers. Executives and managers should invest their own time and effort in building up and expanding their own network of agile business resources and independent talent, and then sharing those contacts within your organization.

It’s also important to know where to find talent and where independent consultants and subject matter experts are connecting with prospective clients. Many now connect with clients and make new connections through online talent platforms such as ours at Graphite. Using these platforms not only connects you to thousands of potential on-demand experts but makes it easier to interview them, review their past projects and credentials, hire them, and manage onboarding and payments.

2. Set clear goals and expectations.

When you’re hiring on-demand, you still need to create a positive and effective onboarding experience that helps you get the right results from your agile talent. Make sure to set clear goals, expectations and milestones, define an overall schedule and structure for your project or ongoing engagement, and integrate your hires with the rest of your organization.

An on-demand consultant or professional may become a key member of your team, lead an important business initiative, or provide high-level strategic advice or insights for your top executives. Accordingly, you need to make sure there is a clear understanding of the work involved, what’s expected, and make sure your hire has the relationships, access and support to ensure success.

3. Think of your on-demand experts as partners.

Many top independent consultants and business experts have their choice of opportunities. They’ve built up a track record of success, insights and experiences, and they know their value.

On-demand experts are also frequently called upon to provide strategic guidance and subject matter expertise to drive, manage and executive high-value and mission-critical business projects. Thus, it’s best to view them as business partners rather than a contract worker or outside resource.

Establish relationships where your on-demand talent can share in the stakes and success of your business and know that their expertise and contributions are trusted. Treat your engagements like a win-win partnership where both sides should benefit, and you’ll get the most out of your agile talent.

4. Address and minimize employee concerns.

In established organizations with traditional structures and direct employees, bringing in an on-demand resource can cause some employees to worry. They might see the hire as a negative reflection on their value to the company or their capabilities, and they might bristle at the sudden presence of an outsider.

This why it’s important to be open and transparent , communicate with your team, and make it clear why you’re hiring an outside expert and how it’s intended to supplement or augment your team. A failure to do this means you may risk alienating your team.

Instead, introduce your agile talent to your employees, let everyone get to know each other, and reinforce the value and expertise you see in your existing team. Let your employees know why you’re bringing in an additional resource, and emphasize the potential of agile talent to be part of your team and help everyone succeed in their roles and efforts. Your employees may welcome additional help or an opportunity to leverage an outside expert’s expertise, as long as they know it’s designed to help them tackle specific challenges or grow as professionals.

5. Develop the talent you hire.

Just like managing direct employees, executives and managers should coach and invest in developing their external experts. While many on-demand experts and consultants are self-starters who are used to taking the initiative and working independently, leveraging them as long-term assets on your team requires good management. As Younger and Smallwood point out, “Good managers coach their external talent to work effectively within the organization and provide ongoing feedback and respond to calls and emails in a timely manner.”

Younger and Smallwood also suggest that managers should “develop their own internal people by ensuring that top agile talent leaves behind some of their expertise through formal and informal training.” This is a crucially important point because on-demand experts can import and establish new processes, best practices and insights in your organization.

For example, many of our Graphite clients have hired independent consultants to help them create more efficient business processes, put proper financial management and reporting systems in place, implement better cost reduction strategies, and develop better sales and marketing plans.

All of these efforts involve knowledge and processes that can be shared with your employees. You can do this by having your internal team work together with your agile talent and learn from formal or informal training that your outside expert provides. The end result is a win for everyone, with your expert able to provide lasting value from the engagement, and your employees and organization able to get long-term benefits from what may be short-term projects.

Of course, we will undoubtedly see the emergence of more insights and best practices as more companies turn to on-demand talent and organizations expand their use of this strategy. But following these five tips is a great way to get started, ensure your initial success, and maximize the value of hiring independent consultants and other outside experts.

For more tips and advice on hiring and managing on-demand talent, check out our Graphite blog. And if you’re looking to make your next on-demand hire and your firm would benefit from engaging one of the world’s top independent consultants and subject matter experts, visit now at www.graphite.com to start your search.

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Greg Andrade

Greg Andrade handles Graphite's marketing and communication programs. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he worked in corporate marketing for 15 years before turning his focus to virtual marketing consulting for startups and global businesses.

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