Total Talent: Getting From Promise to Reality

Nowadays, the most pressing question staffing leaders have about deploying freelance knowledge workers isn’t “why”—it’s “how.” Organizations from P&G to Microsoft make bold proclamations about including independent workers in their broader talent strategies, while conference organizers devote panel after panel to the many benefits freelancers offer big companies: cutting-edge skills, agility, speed. Fully 89% of executives say the most successful companies of the future will be adept at managing a mix of traditional and agile talent.

Yet a majority of companies report weakness in handling gig economy resources, according to Deloitte research. As Coupa’s Steve Knapp noted after the 2019 Contingent Workforce Strategies (CWS) Summit, few have any sort of independent contractor or freelancer system in place. Even those that do often struggle to generate enough internal demand to truly drive results.

“If you build it, they will come” is not an effective strategy. Scaling your company’s use of freelancers requires more than big dreams — it requires an accessible, easy-to-use, enterprise-wide program that facilitates access to and awareness of on-demand talent. Without a formal program, companies will struggle to go beyond disaggregated, unplanned, and unstructured “rogue” engagements. They’ll have no way to make sure they’re getting the best talent for each task and at the best price. They’ll have little visibility into what’s working and what isn’t across the enterprise.

So where to start? Here are the few of the best practices we’ve identified in our work with Fortune 1000 companies:

1. Break down organizational silos. High-end on-demand talent fit awkwardly into most companies’ resourcing or labor categories. Their work is defined by a SOW, and they are contracted as freelance professionals. But to view them just as an alternative to contingent labor or traditional consulting firms is to limit their potential for the enterprise. The benefits of adopting an on-demand talent program cross organizational boundaries. So, too, does the responsibility for designing, launching, and scaling the program across the enterprise.

The good news? By embracing this new category and developing a total workforce strategy that delivers the right talent, at the right time, at the right cost, and with the right incentives to perform, HR and procurement teams (and their colleagues in legal and business) can set their companies up for smart resourcing and sustained success.

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2. Understand the landscape. As the on-demand marketplace has grown, so have companies like Business Talent Group (BTG) that help executives make the most of it. Yet it’s important to note that not all talent marketplaces offer the same level of service and protection for the enterprise. They also don’t deliver the same type of talent or value. By understanding these distinctions, enterprise leaders can design a program that best suits the needs of their companies.

As you evaluate prospective partners, think about what sort of clients they serve. Are the bulk of them F1000 companies, or do they typically work with smaller organizations? Then, find out how they serve clients. How are needs communicated? Who selects the talent? What is the role of technology in the matching and selection process? Are most projects carried out on-site or remotely?

Finally, you’ll need to understand how your partners will handle compliance. Do they classify workers themselves or outsource this? Do they guarantee project outcomes? Who provides insurance for talent when they are engaged on a project?

3. Know where to start. To set benchmarks for program performance and help identify necessary process improvements, launch the program in a select number of business areas. In-depth interviews with leaders across the organization will help you identify use cases—and connect with program champions that present the best opportunities to begin rolling out the program. Yet it’s important to think beyond the most easily identifiable use cases, too. Succeeding with high-end independents isn’t about making tweaks to existing workflows, but about rethinking the way you resource against the critical work your organization needs to get done.

Enterprise talent marketplaces may also be able to help you assess where to start. BTG, for example, enables enterprise partners to tap into 10+ years of proprietary data and key insights about on-demand talent usage at the world’s top companies.

4. Define success. To optimize the success of your on-demand talent program, define clear, measurable priorities that constitute a good return on your company’s investment—whether it’s saving money on consulting, ensuring senior leaders have access to the right skills for critical initiatives, or improving on or even defining other KPIs. Be sure to think carefully about how to reflect the true potential of the resource. Metrics like fill rates and cost versus rate cards will be familiar from the longer-established worlds of consulting and contingent labor, but it’s often more appropriate to start with simpler KPIs that leaders across the business can readily see, such as:

  • Usage metrics: How often are on-demand talent sourced through the program? Which departments and business leaders are using them and for what? Tracking these trends can help you identify where persistent skills gaps and adoption hurdles lie.
  • User satisfaction: Are business leaders happy with the value they receive when they engage independent talent through the program? Did the work get done as expected? Was the process easy? These questions can help you identify areas for improvement in both your talent supply and processes.
  • Speed and efficiency: How quickly did the business leader get access to the resources and skills they needed? Were the talent onboarded effectively so that they could have impact quickly? Like user satisfaction, these metrics can point to process improvements that may be needed to further optimize your program.
  • Cost savings and value: How do the program’s costs compare to your traditional talent sources? Were you able to accomplish the same project with a smaller team? Did you receive more targeted expertise? How has the work impacted the KPIs of individual business units and functions? Demonstrating concrete improvements in these areas can help you show the program’s impact on the company’s bottom line and advocate for continued expansion.
  1. Enable, empower, and educate program users

Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen well-intentioned teams build thoughtful on-demand talent programs, set ambitious goals—then wonder why their executives carry on as they always have.

A practical engagement plan is the key to ensuring adoption. That means empowering program users with the information they need to succeed: the breadth and depth of available talent, simple, straightforward engagement policies and procedures, and best practices for maximizing the value of each project.

As you develop your plan, it’s worth remembering that your program’s real value lies in its ability to empower end users to succeed—quickly, compliantly, and cost-effectively—on their own.

So make it easy for hiring managers and consulting buyers to connect directly with program partners to share project needs and review talent. Later on, these partners can help you be more proactive through interactive strategy reviews to help business leaders identify new use cases and plan for upcoming needs.

Total talent should be a commitment, not a catchphrase — to create policies that streamline access to top independent professionals, to educate individual executives about putting that talent to use, and to provide insight and transparency into what’s working and what isn’t across the organization. Only with a sustained, coordinated, and enterprise-wide effort can companies truly realize the benefits that everyone’s talking about.

MORE: The road to total talent starts with consultants

Adam Zellner

Adam Zellner
Adam Zellner is the executive director of new product and corporate development and chief of staff to the CEO at Business Talent Group (BTG).

Adam Zellner

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