How to Get Ahead in the Hiring Waiting Game

Companies are looking new ways to get ahead of the talent game. One of the keys many organizations are finding success with is harnessing the power of on-demand talent. A new report from Business Talent Group lays out five ways that leading companies are using on-demand talent to keep moving forward on critical priorities.

June 3, 2024 – When teams are stretched thin and leadership vacancies slow momentum, it’s easy to get bogged down. But you can keep advancing the ball down the field—and doing more with less—by harnessing the speed and flexibility of on-demand talent, according to a report from by Kelsey O’Neal, an executive director with Business Talent Group (BTG), a Heidrick & Struggles company. “Innovative companies are not only placing traditional interim leadership roles, but also boosting capacity up and down the org chart with interim and temporary engagements at the leadership level,” the report said.

Business Talent Group offers a look at some of the ways that leading companies are using on-demand talent to keep moving forward on critical priorities:

1. Start Building Capabilities Ahead of a Full-Time Hire.

“You might have a critical role open, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait until that position is filled to move on key priorities,” the BTG report said. “In fact, getting a jump start on critical work ahead of time is a great way to set your future permanent hire up for success.”

The report points to a multi-billion-dollar grocery chain that was in the midst of optimizing its ecommerce fulfillment network, but an open chief data officer role was slowing progress on the project. By engaging an interim data science leader, the team secured much-needed expertise and leadership right away, which not only enabled the company to stay competitive during a boom in online purchasing, but also helped ensure the eventual new CDO could hit the ground running.

2. Take Two Smaller Steps Instead of One Big One.

When companies are looking to set up or to step up new business lines, new functions, or new capabilities, they often approach leadership needs with a strong vision of the future state they are building toward, according to the Business Talent Group report. “Not surprisingly, key roles for these new areas are critical to ultimately fill with strong permanent hires—but the desire to move quickly from today to the future can lead to overly ambitious and nearly impossible-to-fill job descriptions,” it said. “For example, the need for a permanent CFO and finance team with public company experience is paramount for organizations looking forward to an IPO. But does having experience as a public company CFO in the steady state equip a leader with the same skills required to build the finance systems, policies, and team necessary for the IPO preparation and execution?”

Further, BTG explains that sometimes the sequence is just out of order, or the big picture and key reporting relationships are not settled enough to recruit confidently and successfully for the long-term. Distinguishing near-term versus long-term key activities and skill requirements—and then using on-demand talent solutions to fill those near-term needs—can unlock some of the logjams that can arise around major hires in significantly new moments.

Robust Investment Niche Emerges as Interim Recruiting Gains Traction

For at least a decade, organizations have increasingly recognized the value of integrating highly skilled on-demand talent – independent consultants, executives, project managers, and subject matter experts – into their workforce. “With some 72 million American workers (43 percent of the American labor force) and countless other professionals worldwide choosing to work independently on a project-by-project basis or in interim leadership engagements, businesses have been slowly shifting their hiring models to accommodate these workers,” said Cody Crook, managing director of Hunt Scanlon Ventures.

The Business Talent Group points to a large healthcare organization that was standing up a subsidiary. While the CHRO knew that a permanent CIO hire would make sense down the road, she recognized that she had an opportunity to hire an interim CIO with a different skillset—namely, experience building the function from the ground up. She turned to BTG for both an interim CIO and a skilled IT architect, who could work together to build necessary infrastructure, products, and tech teams to set the stage for an eventual permanent CIO hire.

3. Provide Relief for Leadership Teams with Temporary Project-Based Support.

On-demand talent can support permanent leaders in powerful ways, extending their reach and impact during crunch periods—even as recruiting for permanent team build-out continues, the BTG report explained. The study notes that sometimes this takes the form of on-demand talent in interim VP- or senior director-level roles, but more often it looks like temporary-by-design roles that can lend special focus and extra muscle to critical projects and free up leadership capacity to focus on other priorities. This trend is particularly acute in HR, finance, and technology functions within companies that are growing quickly.

Related: The Critical Role of Interim Executives

The Business Talent Group looks at a fast-growing, public, biotech company’s HR leadership team that had an important set of work to do around compensation and benefits but was repeatedly distracted by more pressing work in the people functions. The CHRO said, “If only someone could concentrate on this workstream for a few months and take it off my plate for a little while…” BTG provided a seasoned HR professional who was adept at both hands-on execution and bigger picture strategy work in total rewards, placing her in a “special project role” designed to last for only three months. Having someone who could stretch up and down—completing critical tasks, providing meaningful bandwidth to the HR org, and thinking strategically—freed up desperately needed capacity for the CHRO.

4. Add Leadership-Level Capacity Only When Needed.

“Clients are designing flex into their organizations and learning how to add capacity in a variety of intentional ways by replicating key roles for defined periods of time,” the Business Talent Group report said. “Going through a hiring burst for a new business launch? Running hot against a variety of corporate development opportunities? These are two examples of times when leaders may wish they could clone themselves or high-performing team members to get through the crunch. On-demand resourcing can extend the team for those surge moments and resolve the conundrum around whether to add headcount for the long-term.”

The BTG report looked at one F200 appliance manufacturer that did just that when facing a major hiring challenge related to its digital transformation. The company’s talent acquisition team was simply overloaded, behind schedule, and looking to fill dozens of critical new and open roles at the senior manager and manager levels. The company had engaged recruiters as well, but also simply needed to extend its own talent acquisition team for a six-month period. With the help of an independent talent acquisition executive serving as a twin to the permanent talent acquisition leader, the HR team got the bandwidth it had desperately lacked and was able to push through the crunch.

“While unicorn talent does exist, the reality is that these days, high-level talent are busy and have plenty of options, and engaging them requires moving fast,” the BTG report said. “Instead of looking for a single perfect-fit person who can accomplish your list of goals, break out your objectives into multiple engagements and make progress immediately with on-demand resources.”

Related: Interim Leaders: Proven Experts at a Time of Crisis

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

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