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Read time: 3 minutes

The world is changing and your people strategy should be too

By , Co-founder and CEO, Outsized.
17 Apr 2024
Johann van Niekerk, Outsized Co-founder and CEO.
Johann van Niekerk, Outsized Co-founder and CEO.

Business agility has long been on the CEO agenda, but are they missing the most important area - talent agility?

In volatile and unpredictable markets, the ability to adapt to changing conditions is crucial and talent agility allows businesses to do just that. Rather than relying on inflexible corporate organograms, an agile talent model allows a business and its people to shift, upskill, fill gaps and respond to needs as they arise.

Rigid organisations, with fixed capabilities, find it very difficult to pivot or shift in periods of volatility. If a large corporation, for example, had enjoyed a few years of success in a growth market, it’s likely that they would have made plans to expand over the next three to five years. This likely would have included hiring more people. But in the face of a sudden change, like a major economic downturn or a shift in the market which forces it to cut costs, redundancies will be almost unavoidable because it’s operating in a fixed-cost, fixed-capability model.

Coupled with a talent-on-demand strategy however, talent agility presents a number of clear benefits. A more flexible organisation is able to break up work into project-based components that it can deliver quickly, while the market is still behaving the way it was when the project started. It might have a core team of 15 people who are permanently employed in a department and when business ramps up or is in project mode, it brings in another 15 people as independent talent. In a variable-cost, flexible-capability model, the business recognises that it doesn’t need 30 people year round and is able to reap the benefits of being more agile and more resilient to shocks.

It sounds remarkably simple, and C-suite leaders are certainly paying attention to agile models because they can see the benefits. There are, however, some important aspects to bear in mind to ensure your new people strategy has the best chance at success.

1. Decide who is leading the initiative:

There are two ways that businesses think about talent-on-demand - business or HR lead.

A business-led approach is focussed on project delivery and is solutions oriented: there is a gap that needs to be filled and HR is approached to fill it. It’s simple and quick.

An issue arises, however, when no-one is considering the business impact of the process. Has someone considered how independent talent will be paid? What about risk? Has legal even looked at the contracts?

When the process is people or HR lead, those internal or infrastructural issues are taken care of - legal is consulted, contracts are drawn up, procurement boxes are ticked…slowly. In a dynamic market where skills are in high demand, this isn’t ideal either.

The best case scenario is a hybrid of both, where the speed and practicality of the business-led approach, meets the detail oriented approach of the people-led approach.

2. Are you really ready to onboard?

A structured and well-thought through onboarding is critical to ensure your independent consultant or contractor is set up for success.

The issues mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg and need to all be solved before saying yes to an independent hire. Contracts, non-compete clauses, non-disclosure agreements, payroll and how procurement processes will be managed all need to be considered. It’s easy to think of the person as a new hire, but in reality, they’re a contractor or a vendor which comes with a different set of requirements.

The relationship with an independent hire can be jeopardised if you don’t have all the working parts in place, so you need to be sure you’re ready to onboard them well ahead of starting talent-on-demand hiring processes to have the best chance at success.

3. Testing testing:

No matter how many talent models you design on paper, issues will crop up in the execution. This is where piloting comes in. Piloting gives you an opportunity to run real world tests, on a reduced scale.

Testing a talent-on-demand model with one person in one department will likely show you exactly where the processes are falling flat without causing major productivity issues. Testing, learning from that test and then quickly applying those lessons before scaling is always the way to go.

Done right, agile talent models have the potential to transform businesses growth and profitability. A lot of executives are currently in the testing and learning phases - it won’t be long before more businesses start to make the shift.

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