Talent on-demand increasingly is an important component of workforce planning. The speed at which business moves today, coupled with the frequent need for specialized expertise, is leading more executives to pair independent consultants to business-critical tasks. The approach is cost-effective, flexible and allows companies to precisely match talent to specific, well-defined needs.
However, effectively managing on-demand executives brings with it some unique challenges. Independent consultants must be integrated into a company’s culture and operations quickly, without the luxury of a formal onboarding program. They have to develop effective working relationships, again with speed. Even though their tenure will be limited, they must be kept engaged by their work and focused on your immediate needs, despite a natural inclination to take a wider view of the industry and market.
Consultants must integrate quickly, without the luxury of a formal onboarding program.
It helps that independent executives bring years of experience to the table. They recognize the challenges involved in being a team member who’s set somewhat apart, committed to a project’s goals and its successful conclusion. They understand what they need to do to succeed, and know your business well enough to recognize how their work will impact the company after they’ve moved on. Properly managed, they’ll realize your goals, work well with your team, and leave behind practical knowledge you might not otherwise have gained.
A key to successfully managing talent on-demand is communication. There’s a tendency among some executives to assume that consultants don’t need to be “in the loop” on topics related to wider corporate issues. That’s a mistake. Teams function most effectively when they work with a common base of knowledge, and that encompasses topics like longer-term strategies or changes to the org chart. Including consultants in such discussions helps them keep their work in context and operate on the same assumptions as the rest of your team.
Staying on top of a consultant’s work means more than simply tracking their progress.
Obviously, it’s important to keep abreast of the consultant’s work, but that means more than tracking their progress. Stay informed about how they’re meshing both with your own team and those in other departments, and be sure you’re clear on any obstacles they may face.
Weekly status reports won’t give you all the information you need. Regularly sit down with the consultant and ask questions about what’s going well and what’s posing a challenge. In some instances, your deeper knowledge of the company will help them identify solutions. In others, the consultant may be considering a course that is perfectly viable but could run into political resistance for reasons they couldn’t anticipate. While you shouldn’t have to be a micro-manager, you do need to ensure that the consultant is working in a way that fits into the approach of not only the organization, but the people who make it up.
As part of your process, get feedback from other members of your team. Here again, you have to be sensitive to the fact that the consultant isn’t “of the company,” yet remains under pressure to deliver results without a lot of ramp-up time. The observations of others will help you gauge how well the consultant’s fitting in and whether they’re getting the cooperation they need from the rest of the organization.
Finally, plan for contingencies. Projects don’t always proceed the way they’re supposed to, after all. If it turns out the effort needs more time, will you be able to extend the consultant’s contract? If the scope changes, will you be able to redirect their skills in a way that makes sense? While some eventualities will be covered in the consulting agreement you’ve signed, be on the lookout for scenarios you didn’t anticipate and have a plan of action to implement if they become reality.
Using talent on-demand is an efficient, cost-effective way to add specific expertise to your team when you need it. However, even the most experienced independent executives need your guidance as they develop the business solution you’re looking for. By maintaining clear channels of communication, you’ll ensure they deliver an approach that works for the unique needs of your company.