This post assumes that the future towards which we are moving is a future where most work will be in the form of projects with the use of independent workers with specialised skills will continue to rise and my prediction is that soon, there will come a time when organisations will have a lot more external consultants working for them than their full time employees.
If you agree with this trend, then you will also agree the following: how organisations identify, hire, retain and work with these highly skilled consultants and integrate them into the projects/programs will increasingly become core strengths of the organisation.
This is not an easy skill to build and will become critical if you do want to use this model for igniting fast track growth.
Some organisations like PwC and Washington Post are already taking the lead and exploring what could work when they have to work with a large pool of specialised skills available only as consultants. As mentioned in the HBR blog post titled – How PwC and The Washington Post Are Finding and Hiring External Talent, both the organisation have taken a similar approach of building a platform for them to make it easier for their teams to identify and engage these consultants with special skills on an ongoing basis.
I see that organisations will need to build special skills inside the organisation in order to be able to make the most of this arrangement:
Recruitment & On-Boarding:
The entire approach to recruitment of these consultants will need to evolve. The current approach of skimming and selecting through resumes will become even more redundant in this world. So, organisations will need to adapt to the changing needs and find new and more effective ways of recruiting talent who will work as consultants. The current approach is that someone knows someone who is considered good and she gets the order.
While this approach has its merits, I think that there is an opportunity for exploration and being creative about how to recruit these consultants. We could learn from the approach that 99Designs.com takes with their designers and create a central portal (there is an opportunity for a player to be the 99designs equivalent) to be the platform where corporations can post their requirements and let the consultants pitch for being part of these projects. This will allow the corporations to judge the consultants not only on the basis of their resume, but also based on their approach to work, their creativity and their ability to convince and convert. Where possible, they can also run contests to get the the best results or solutions instead of running a project internally.
Once you hire a consultant, you don’t have the luxury of time to on-board them to get them to peak productivity. So, organisations will need to learn to optimise their on-boarding process to reach a level where some one once hired can be on-boarded as quickly as possible. This means that each project team will need to know exactly what kind of on-boarding is needed for which kind of consultants.
The operational process of hiring a consultant also needs to evolve from the current model of going through the entire procurement process. Organisations need to think about how can they make it easier, faster and cheaper to complete the operational tasks of hiring an external consultant or even an entire team.
Engagement & Productivity
Organisations today struggle to keep up employee engagement. There are horrible statistics going around the internet as to how dis-engaged the employees are in the corporate world. This is the case when the corporations have complete control of what they want to do with their employees. This can not remain the reality in a world where most of your highly skilled people are working as consultants and not as employees. The way organisations can have an impact on the engagement levels of an employee are inherently different from the way they can build engagement among the consultants. What works and what doesnt is something that each organisation will need to figure out for themselves. The important thing is that they need to be intentional about experimenting on this and systematically understanding what works and continue to do more of what works.
The way you measure an employees performance and the way you measure the consultant’s performance would necessarily need to be different.. Or not? Annual appraisal of employees is losing its importance even in the current knowledge economy. It becomes even more irrelevant in the project based, consultant driven world. The performance or productivity needs to be measured on an ongoing basis, every time a project milestone is achieved (or delayed).
In this world, How you compensate good and bad performance also needs to be thought through.. Traditional means of compensation might not be the best way to compensate. There might be situations where consultants would want to be paid in part based on how well their projects do, taking a bigger share of the profits or lose out if the project doesnt do too well. Corporations will need to be operationally prepared to operationalise these options as well..
The way you manage your full time employees vis-a-vis these consultants would also need to go through a change. Managers will need to be trained to understand the distinction between managing full time employees and the consultants. The way you manage conflicts, the way you build ideas, the amount of information you share among the people, the kind of impact you can have on their careers, how you measure progress, how you go about building and sustaining the kind of culture that as a manager you want in the team… There are many concerns that need to be thought through.
Where can we Learn from:
One industry that has always been ahead on the curve when it comes to using highly skilled consultants for building and releasing a lot of products is the “Film Industry”. There is a lot that we can learn about functioning in a consultant driven world from learning how movies are made, released and monetised.
There is a core team that every large production house relies on and has on their pay-rolls. Then we have a lot of independent writers, producers, directors who pitch story ideas (product/project) ideas to these production houses. They pick and choose the ideas that they want to bet on and then assemble an entire team of highly skilled consultants who come together to bring to life the product. Once the product is released and monetised, all these highly skilled people go back to their pool. The key thing here is that it is possible that these highly skilled consultants can be working on multiple projects at the same time.
Not all production houses have great processes that we can learn from, but I am sure that every production house has something that is worth learning from.