Managing contingent knowledge workers: agility counts

Managing contingent knowledge workers: agility counts

Many larger organizations today are looking to capitalize on the trend toward managing contingent knowledge workers as part of agile, project-based employee teams. They're looking for maximum talent leverage, subject matter expertise or team leadership roles to drive innovation and maintain their competitive edge.

The growing contingent workforce is here to stay

There's been a growing contingent workforce among enterprise level businesses for many years, primarily focused on workers with specialized skills such as IT, accounting, or database architecture. Whether it is part-time clerical and administrative support, seasonal accounting help or episodic IT workers, companies have discovered significant value in a number of skills categories. They can use external resources as a way to plug expertise gaps at the enterprise that, when filled, return significant value and impact back to the business.

Hiring contractors vs employees for these jobs has increased versatility and reduced costs of personnel management one way or another for much of the Fortune 500. The practice is so widespread that it has generated a whole secondary industry of staffing and software support, including Managed Service Providers (MSP) and Vendor Management Systems (VMS), to organize and systematize how companies engage with this flexible workforce.

This now well-established practice has accelerated as technology has made it easier to work remotely, find and hire contingent workers (who could be anywhere), and manage remote teams. Despite the progress enterprises and their MSP and VMS partners have made in building and managing processes for engaging on-demand skilled workers, it has done less to address the administrative and organizational challenges of managing contingent knowledge workers. It's one thing to hire a large consulting firm - there's already a process for that. It's another thing altogether when you're looking for a freelancer.

Skills Workers vs Knowledge Workers

Contingent does not just mean skills-based labor anymore. Whereas you may have some established processes for securing clerical workers from a temp agency, or contracting with an IT firm to upgrade your networks, it's a different story when you need to hire someone on a temporary basis to lead a market expansion effort, take over as a temporary CFO or manage the merge with another firm.

The proliferation of freelancing professionals who are hired for their overall knowledge, experience and business acumen in specific subject matters is changing organizational charts throughout the Fortune 500 as more and more white-collar professionals, from investment bankers to lawyers to marketing directors, are joining the on-demand workforce.

Then the question becomes, who hires these professionals? Who manages the outcomes, approves the  contracts and payment schedules, arranges for security and access privileges, secures the NDA's, and sees to all the other necessities of working for the company even when you're not an employee?

Keeping HR, Legal and Procurement in alignment: the key to success

Finding, engaging and managing this type of talent is usually left to functional stakeholders scattered across the business. Agility comes from being able to hire professionals faster for gigs because it requires fewer approvals from various internal managers and HR. It is often a decision made quickly and without posting as a traditional job might be advertised.

At the very least, some support systems need to be in place for it all to work smoothly. Some companies are finding a rough working model that seems to address the main concerns. In these organizations, Procurement and HR work together to bring Legal along so that contracts, insurance requirements and other protocols are calibrated to match the realities of an independent, white-collar workforce. Having internal processes and administrative flexibility for hiring and managing contingent knowledge workers is behind the still-developing field of Total Talent Management (TTM).

TTM calls for implementing a statement-of-work program or technology, and developing a human cloud strategy. New technologies and changing consumer preferences have compelled today's business enterprises to access talent in ways that only a decade ago were unrecognizable. Companies must now focus less on the fixed supply of in-house people and more on the capabilities they need to get work done. Those that are able to easily access and manage contingent knowledge workers will be able to unleash fresh energy and thinking inside their organizations.

Graphite's growing talent pool of elite, highly vetted contingent knowledge workers has become a go-to resource for large firms looking to leverage temporary top-line executives. Browse our professionals, or post a project when your business is ready to take that step.

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