Michael Edmunds needed top-notch consulting expertise, and he needed it fast. But getting strategy guidance for his startup from one of the big consultancies would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Edmunds is senior vice president for global operations and quality at Witricity, which is developing magnetic resonance electrical charging technology for automobiles, industrial vehicles, and public transit. To create Witricity’s roadmaps for business development, market analysis, and product development, Edmunds needed input from seasoned management consultants.
Despite the seeming impasse, Edmunds had an ace up his sleeve: experience working with Catalant, a provider of a platform for flexible task team staffing, from his previous work at a major audio products company. Less than a week after he sent his requirements to Catalant, the company pulled together a qualified team, Edmunds says.
“We’re getting agility, which is critical for a startup,” says Edmunds. “The Catalant platform enables the immediate connection between business strategy and resources. You don’t have to carry massive overhead of employees. It’s like what you might get from McKinsey, but it’s affordable, and the results will be equal if not better — and faster.”
An engagement with one of the big consulting firms might run $4 million, Edmunds estimates, while a Catalant-assembled team can deliver comparable results for perhaps $400,000, he says.
Business climate favors dynamic talent sourcing
In the current volatile business climate, which includes a possible recession, venture-backed startups such as Witricity aren’t the only ones in need of flexible, affordable staff augmentation. IT organizations are also a fit, and CIOs should be aware not only of the options available to them but how best to leverage each as potential aspects of their staffing mixes.
“Businesses need their tech organizations to be adaptive to changing dynamics, and able to rapidly deploy new or different capabilities in order to meet customer demands,” says Forrester analyst Fiona Mark. The Forrester Business and Technology Services Survey 2022 predicts 44% of leaders expect to increase their use of freelancers in 2023.
According to Mark, there are hundreds of freelance marketplaces covering a wide range of expertise. Some platforms like Catalant are geared to provide management consulting services, while others focus on application development, web design, and other IT domains. Business models can also vary widely. Platforms such as Fiverr bring together task teams for specific projects, in contrast with Germany-based Vicoland, which creates virtual companies to meet client needs. Other platforms such as 365Talents, Fuel50, Gloat, and Starmind create marketplaces for companies’ internal talent — another approach CIOs are taking to fill skills needs in tight talent markets.
Gartner sees the advent of what it calls talent ecosystems, consisting of inventories of both internal and external talent, being used to create a flow of labor when and where it is needed.
“Leaders are finding it challenging to find the talent they need when they need it, and there is a high speed-of-change for skills,” says Gartner analyst Helen Poitevin. By 2027, Gartner predicts 50% of large enterprises will have adopted an ecosystem approach, using platforms to orchestrate the flow of both internal and external talent.
Project management as a service
With a tight budget and minimal staff, the Save Our Children Truth Commission, a nonprofit organization created to file class-action lawsuits on behalf of children placed in foster homes, had made do for too long with a starter website. Executive Director Melody Janelle knew it was time for an upgrade.
“Website design was a drain on my time,” says Jannelle, whose organization seeks to protect children’s rights against such abuses as child trafficking both in the US and internationally. Needed was the ability to securely handle document uploads and financial contributions, along with a unified, cohesive design, Janelle explains.
Having worked with Fiverr on logo design at a previous company, Janelle sought out Fiverr once more. Her first contact was with an onboarding specialist to discuss her needs and budget. The next step was to connect with a project manager, provided via Fiverr’s Project Partner service, who proposed three teams to address the organization’s needs for copywriting, web development, and web design.
“They offered project management. That was very important. They managed a timeline, kept track of tasks, and coordinated meetings,” says Jannelle. As the work progressed, she worked one-on-one with each of the three team leaders as well as the project manager. Fiverr also provided security experts, who were particularly needed since the SOC website had been hacked twice previously, according to Janelle. Twelve weeks from the start of the project in January 2022, the new web site was completed.
Making dynamic talent sourcing work
As flexible staffing enters the mainstream, best practices are emerging. “You need to spell out your goals and have a champion,” says Witricity’s Edmunds. “It’s all about the statement of requirements and the desirable outcomes. Then checking on a daily or weekly basis.”
As work progresses, flexibility is important. Some teams might be hybrid with several internal employees working with freelancers provided through the platform, he says. “Have an open mind. Test and learn — the [subject matter experts] are available to be patched back in if there are questions,” Edmunds advises.
Keeping the lines of communication open between platform provider and customer is vital to both parties because each will evaluate the other at the conclusion of the work.
“You’re rating them and they’re rating you, so it’s important to have a win-win,” Edmunds says. Those ratings are a key tool for prospective customers as they comb through the talent available. Like references for prospective employees, positive evaluations give users a feeling of confidence in what they’re signing up for.
“That’s the good thing about Fiverr. They do have a lot of quality talent. People aren’t lingering on Fiverr without reviews booting them off,” Janelle points out.
Before enlisting a freelance platform, Gartner’s Poitevin recommends that organizations look for talent within. “Companies should look first at internal capabilities, then to freelancers, independent contractors, and partners with whom they already have relationships,” she says. If needs are still unmet, then it’s time to look outside to a freelance marketplace, she advises.
Getting the most out of an internal marketplace has its own challenges, however. Keys are cultural acceptance and commitment, says the analyst. “The biggest thing to watch out for is managers hoarding talent. Employees have to be allowed to work on other projects. Will that be encouraged from a cultural perspective?” asks Poitevin.
“While dynamic labor models are enticing, there are hidden costs in ramping up and down people and there is value in organizational knowledge and relationships,” counsels Mark of Forrester. She stresses the need for governance to ensure not only the quality of work, but expectations about scope and knowledge transfer upon completion of a project. “Ensure that your organization has control over the most valuable, differentiating work,” she says.
Dealing with the feelings of internal employees is important to ensure they don’t feel slighted by the use of outside help, Mark says.
Echoing Poitevin’s advice, Edmunds says the best way to avoid resentment is to maintain both internal and external gig environments. “If people don’t feel vested and invested, you’re in a very difficult position,” says the startup exec.
Because the industry forces that have spurred adoption of talent platforms — economic uncertainty and skills scarcity — aren’t dissipating, it seems likely that use of the platforms will continue to grow, particularly as companies become adept at dealing with them and workers come to enjoy the flexibility in time commitment and location.
“There are some really gifted individuals. You will see the workforce transformed to become an Uber-like experience in which workers might work for a quarter, then take a quarter off,” says Witricity’s Edmunds. “Kids won’t work for a single company [for their entire careers]. They want to be on and then off. Also, the team can be anywhere in the world,” he adds.
With many forces arrayed in their favor, could talent marketplaces become the dominant employment model? Probably not, says Forrester’s Mark. “We will likely see growth in the coming years. However, the relative governance and overall switching costs of ramping up and down will likely create a ceiling on this becoming the dominant model across all organizations,” the analyst predicts.
Even so, Edmunds is a believer. “Speed is paramount in every industry. If you are searching for talent, you’ll search for months and even quarters. It amounts to a boat anchor,” he says. And when it comes to management consulting, he sees a significant momentum shift. “There are many retired execs that can do it at a fraction of the cost. Strategists and consultants are taking business left and right from the big three.”
Hiring, Staff Management
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