A Look at How to Retain Top Leaders

Once reserved for temporary backfill or emergency support, on-demand, independent talent are now an essential strategic resource for many of today’s enterprises. A new report from Business Talent Group offers strategies for finding and attracting the right talent—and find out how to tap the power of independent talent in a systematic, effective way for your company.

December 4, 2023 – Today’s independent senior executives have plenty of choice when it comes to selecting their work. In fact, in competitive, cutting-edge fields like innovation, data science, and supply chain strategy, competition for top independent talent is as fierce as it is for full-time hires, according to a recent Business Talent Group (BTG) report. Meanwhile, top professionals are increasingly choosing to work independently—further restricting the full-time labor pool, said BTG, a company that Heidrick & Struggles acquired two years ago. The companies that win are the ones that are willing to court independents, treating them as partners, not vendors. What else can you do to attract top talent?

“Exciting challenges are always going to be more attractive,” the report said. “Identify an interesting, well-defined opportunity and be specific about what you need and how a contractor’s skills would fit in. One of the main reasons that domain experts go independent is to give themselves the freedom to choose which projects they work on. So when you scope and define your project, try to make it as compelling as possible.”

“Independent talent are entrepreneurs in their own right, and the projects they accept are the ones that define their brand,” the BTG report said. “They want work that’s exciting and important; it’s your job to show them why your initiative fits that bill. And make sure you can connect the work you need done with a broader mission that’s important to the business.”

Support Flexible Work Arrangements

As we’ve seen over the past several years, work-from-anywhere works, and most companies are finding that a balance of on-site and remote work offers the best of both worlds. “One of the greatest advantages of employing independent talent is that you’re not limited by geography,” the BTG report said. “When it comes to specialized skills in particular, the closest candidates for the job might not be the best fits you can find. Some independent workers appreciate the opportunity to work closely, in-person, with your team. Others might reside in a completely different time zone but are equally—if not more— effective working remotely. By requiring an on-site presence, you limit both the number of qualified candidates and the appeal of your organization in a highly competitive labor market.”

Keep in mind that a separate BTG report found that 57 percent of independent talent chose this path because they wanted the freedom to work more flexible hours. Rather than letting outdated norms guide expectations, demonstrate trust by asking your independents what arrangement they feel is most effective.

Broaden Your Search

The BTG report explains to focus on what you want to accomplish more than whom you’re looking to hire. Creative thinking can be a powerful advantage in a tight labor market. “Expanding your horizons can help attract the best talent. Independent professionals come from all types of backgrounds, and their experience might put them at a level that’s more senior than the qualifications you were originally seeking for the project,” the report said. “Though they might not match your traditional target profile, on-demand talent providers are skilled in ensuring they match your goals. The hands-on nature of independent talent ensures they’ll be ready to roll up their sleeves, regardless of where they work or which firms populate their CVs. In times like these, it’s to your benefit to consider non-traditional candidates and trust your talent provider to find the right fit.”

Communicate Early, Openly, and Often

To find the perfect fit, the BTG report notes that you have to align expectations with your talent provider at the outset of your search. “Ongoing communication ensures ongoing alignment. Prioritizing project oversight must start before scoping has even begun,” BTG said. “From the beginning of the search through the end of the project, success depends on honest, clear communication. This ensures everyone’s expectations remain aligned and allows an on-demand talent provider such to find right-fit talent and swiftly resolve any issues along the way. Should your scope change, a strong communication and oversight framework will help smooth the way for strategic shifts, too.”

Cultivate an Open Culture

The report also explains to maintain a collaborative environment where new perspectives are valued, not feared or dismissed out of hand. “An outside perspective is often exactly what’s needed to free people from unproductive or insular views,” BTG said. “Internally, dissent can be intimidating, and the pressure to conform often keeps companies from exploring alternative paths. Independents aren’t burdened by that baggage or invested in preconceived ideas about what works and what doesn’t at your company.”

“This enables them to introduce valuable new ideas and new strategies for implementation,” said the study. “Because their domain expertise is broader than a single company, they’re often able to see the big picture—and hidden opportunities—more easily than those who are already part of it. It also opens the door for internal teams to share their own opinions freely. When it comes to pitching new ideas or challenging entrenched mindsets, people are often more comfortable doing so with a third party than with their immediate supervisor.”

Why Search Firms, and Their Clients, are Embracing Interim Talent
Business trend studies come and go, but you can be certain that executive search firm leaders everywhere sat up a bit straighter when they came upon the findings of this spring’s Business Talent Group (BTG) report on “high-end independent talent,” also known as on-demand or interim talent.

Of course, BTG points out that change can be uncomfortable—especially when it’s suggested by someone who doesn’t have to live with the consequences. “That’s why it’s critical to make sure that everyone, from the highest to the lowest levels of your company, is open to new ideas,” the report said. “The best independent talent thrives in dynamic, fast-paced environments. Dismissing their ideas not only diminishes the impact they can have on your business, but discourages them from wanting to work for you in the future.”

The BTG report says to show your contractors that you value their contributions by treating them with the same respect you extend to your full-time employees. Independent talent are business owners in their own right, and as such, you should think of them as partners, rather than an employees. “And while they likely aren’t your company’s biggest partner, they’re smart and talented and have much to offer—that’s why you engaged them,” it says. “Prompt payment is one way to demonstrate your respect and appreciation. Moving fast to secure top talent high-end independent talent are powering a new path to organizational agility and performance for today’s top companies, and the trend itself is not the only thing accelerating—so is the speed with which you need to act when presented with the talent you want.”

Due to their sought-after skills, top talent has a wide array of opportunities available to them right now. BTG notes to keep interviews focused and to a minimum, and screen only for the most important project criteria. You’ll have to move quickly and decisively, or you’ll lose your best candidates to another project. Secure talent now with these proven best practices.

Pre-Scope the Project and Process

The key to making quick decisions is to know ahead of time what—or whom—you’re looking for, and which internal stakeholders need to provide input during the decision-making process, the report said. BTG offers a few more tips on how to get ahead of the game when bringing on independent talent:

• Clarify who will be involved in defining the project requirements and interviewing candidates—and who must simply be kept informed throughout the process.

• Determine what skills most closely align with essential and immediate deliverables.

• Outline as many specific tasks and deliverables as possible—as well as a general timeline and anticipated budget—even if the project isn’t fully fleshed out.

• Ask yourself if your budget is realistic. Keep in mind the scope of the need.

• Take advantage of budget and internal approvals while you have them.

Determine What You Really Need to Get the Job Done

Focus on finding a great candidate who fits your most essential criteria. The BTG report says to be sure to consider these factors:

• Prior project experience: Look for talent who have “been there, done that” in regard to your project needs.

• Working style: Are you looking for someone who can operate solo, or someone who works well with and on a team?

• Location: Do you need them to be on-site, or is a remote candidate acceptable?

• Time of day availability: Do they need to be in the same time zone or region, or are you willing to expand that if they can work and meet during similar hours to you?

• Must-have requirements: List out the top three to five qualifications you are seeking, and then pad those out with some “nice-to-have” qualities.

“Remember to think about the present—the now— when sourcing talent, rather than the more extended considerations associated with traditional hires,” the BTG report said. “And if you’re working with an on-demand talent provider, be sure to communicate your needs early on so that you’re presented with the candidates that best fit your goals.”

To read the full report click here!

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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