Are executives the new temporary workforce?

We’ve all heard of or even have friends, acquaintances, family members who have resorted to temping or contract work as a result of being laid off while they find the next full time opportunity. And it’s not just blue collar or administrative roles, but includes senior executives and management consultants from the top tier firms. They’ve become Independent Consultants!

While for many this was “forced on them” and consider this is a temporary gig, an interesting trend has started to evolve. Many executives and management consultants voluntarily decided to become Independent Consultants, turning down permanent roles and making a career of independent consulting. Even many of those who were “forced into” it have decided to stay with it.

HBR, Fortune and others have picked up on this trend in the last couple of years. Reviewing these articles and through conversations with a growing number of friends and associates who are pursuing this, it seems the key reasons come down to:

  • Freedom from endless meetings and administrative tasks that distract from the real work;
  • Control over your own destiny;
  • Work on projects that interest you;
  • Flexible work schedule so you can have a life outside work and pursue other interests;
  • Work 8-9 months a year and make close to the money you made working full time.

Companies are coming out of the recession having downsized and being reluctant to hire up in an anemic growth environment. They’ve become used to having lean teams. But, they have a backlog of strategic projects that couldn’t be completed and new projects are cropping up as they pursue growth. But they don’t want to hire ahead of the curve. And, hiring a management consulting firm is out of the question as they watch all discretionary spend. Consulting firms aren’t cheap. Just having a major firm complete a preliminary phase before anything is even accomplished can cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are turning to independent consultants to fill the gap. A McKinsey study from 2011 indicated that 58% of companies are planning to hire more temporary resources going forward.

For the company there are distinct advantages:

  • Significant savings to hiring a consulting firm;
  • Typically get a more experienced resource. Consulting teams are rampant with inexperienced junior staff learning on your dime;
  • Can hire an issue specific resource that has exactly the experience you need to solve;And even if they are looking to hire full time, many companies prefer to “test drive” for high profile positions, hire someone on a contract basis and if there’s a fit then make it permanent. This works both ways. We’ve all worked in places where the job wasn’t quite what we expected, or the culture really isn’t great – you just take on a contract position, “test drive” the company and decide if you really want to be there long term. A win-win for everyone.This is a trend we at IQ Strategy Associates see continuing and growing. We think that we are at the early stages here and we’ll continue to see a fundamental change in how companies hire, how talented, high value individuals want to work and a disruption in management consulting.
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