Matt Duncan, Managing Director, Business Performance Improvement Leader at Protiviti discusses the on-demand model, its benefits, and how to make the shift. Talent management has never been more critical to business success. As we traverse this period of economic uncertainty amid a tight labour market, many employers are battling to maintain headcount and hire quality talent to mitigate burnout and meet business growth strategies. In my experience, on-demand hiring models stand out as one of the most effective strategies for navigating the slew of challenges facing organisations today. A 'talent on-demand' or flexible hiring strategy leverages relationships with managed solutions providers to scale operations and skills up and down using quality interim, contract, and temp talent. Here's how businesses use the model as part of a more sophisticated hiring strategy and the various talent management approaches that support successful integration, knowledge sharing, and productivity.
Providing a higher purpose  We’ve recently seen a shift in talent expectations—from permanent employees to contract—regarding the desire to work for an employer with a clearly articulated higher purpose. This is particularly true for younger Gen Z talent, who want employers to provide a clear vision of what they hope to achieve in society. Although companies like Unilever have been doing this for quite some time, it’s becoming more prevalent as employers realise the power of having a clear vision around sustainability, DEI, and ESG. Flexibility is vital Hybrid work environments remain an essential lure for all talent types, but flexible working has become a more imperative offering in recent months. Workers are sold on the advantages of flexible working and prioritise opportunities with employers who provide it. Moreover, the desire for flexibility has also spread into remuneration, with demand for flexible benefits programmes increasing in 2024.    
Scalability at speed Scalability is one of the top operational efficiencies you can achieve with a talent on-demand model. Long-term partnerships with managed solution providers grant businesses quick access to pre-vetted, quality talent without them needing to lift a finger. It's about accessing those resources and feeling confident they're appropriate for the job in question.  Long-term business efficiencies Businesses can offer a better customer experience and create more 'moments that matter' by using on-demand talent to address operational inefficiencies. This approach addresses not just the job in hand but also a broader transformational initiative. It allows you to become more efficient and agile while really focusing on experience.     Confident experimentation Businesses are leveraging high-calibre contract staff to test and tweak models or accommodate periods of high growth. Interim hiring offers a reliable way to experiment with a new model or company restructuring before permanent employees are moved into those roles and the changes are finalised.  It’s advisable to keep the lines of communication open and clear between both contract and permanent staff to avoid confusion or animosity. This is best done by explaining the concept and inviting both types of employees to be an integral part of it while also explaining and defining the functions of the roles for better clarity. I think greater transparency with employees around that is a good thing, but it doesn't always happen.
Smooth integration needs transparency Transparency is critical for fostering harmony between permanent and on-demand talent. I always suggest getting your team together and introducing everyone to one another, with a clear remit for roles, expectations, and responsibilities up front. Ultimately, every individual hired has come on board for a reason, and honouring that as part of an uplifting, positive introduction validates all parties while providing vital information at the start of the relationship. It's fairly common for employers to bring in contract talent without an introduction to the team or giving a mandate. When I start consulting jobs, I nearly always ask the client we're working with to send out a note to their teams to introduce new members, say why they're here and what they're doing, and give them a mandate. It makes life so much easier.   Intergenerational inclusivity boosts productivity Preliminary results from our three-year GENERATIONS study in partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE) revealed a link between productivity and age gaps. The global study, led by The Inclusion Initiative at the LSE, revealed a productivity drop in professional relationships where line managers and staff have an age gap of seven years or more. Workers with managers over 12 years their senior are 1.5 times more likely to report low productivity.  The insights we’ve gained on intergenerational inclusivity give organisations a chance to consider designing for productivity and experience. The evidence shows that firms that use intergenerational inclusive work practices (such as allowing every generation to have ‘similar levels of voice’ in collaboration or advancement based on merit rather than age, etc.) have higher productivity in their younger workers.  Read more: GENERATIONS: Unlocking the Productivity potential of a Multigenerational Workforce
There's a perception that on-demand talent is transient; it's 'here today, gone tomorrow'. Employers unfamiliar with the model's benefits are less likely to welcome or onboard the on-demand workforce in the same way they would a permanent employee, thereby denying themselves the synergy and agility the model affords.  I believe workforces are becoming more transient overall, and that's been well researched — people are spending less time in permanent roles than ever before. In my opinion, on-demand can be seen as a higher capability, regardless of the sector or function, because it's composed of people who have chosen to work in that model. They are driven to enter an organisation, fix problems, deal with issues, and provide the impetus to the teams that are often changing and striving for the future. When done with an organisational narrative around it regarding higher purpose, things start to get exciting.  I'm increasingly seeing teams getting experts in — particularly specialists coming in to clear a backlog in the back-office function — and seeing the positive knock-on experience that has for customers or clients. This is the context the on-demand workforce will be seen in.  Misconceptions about the quality of talent available through managed solutions providers will also evolve to be more reflective of reality. We're starting to see leadership-level talent with a legacy of experience opting to swap long-term tenures for contract work due to a preference for the flexibility that the model offers. This is supported by insights gathered for the 2024 Robert Half Salary Guide, which reveal that over 60% of employees would consider leaving a permanent role for a contract one if the nature of the job was a better match for their career goals. The future of work is flexible, and organisations that embrace this adaptability will gain unfettered access to the myriad of benefits it can yield, empowering them to shape their workforce as per their needs and goals.
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Contact Robert Half to learn more about flexible recruitment strategies, explore your contract talent options, or reach out to Protiviti for world-class consulting. Find the preliminary results for the LSE and Protiviti’s GENERATIONS study here.