Former private equity partner-turned-CEO. Helping business leaders connect and work with elite third parties. Founder and CEO of BluWave.
As Covid-19 continues to debilitate the world economy, just about every company is trying to figure out how to navigate the hazy path ahead. The pandemic won’t last forever, and companies have to be thinking about how to best position themselves to not only maintain their operations during current uncertainty, but also to seize opportunities. In this environment, businesses will need to be agile, getting the right people with the right skills at the right time. The alternative workforce will play an increasing role in providing on-demand expertise to businesses in need.
Our economy is more dependent on expertise than ever before — a fact that’s even clearer amid this unprecedented crisis. During calmer times, a 2019 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 83% of hiring managers “had trouble recruiting suitable candidates,” 75% of whom attributed this problem to a skills shortage in the workforce. This challenge is even more difficult today.
But what kinds of proficiency should be counted as expertise? How do you find the right kind of expertise? How do you effectively access and manage the alternative workforce to create value? These are all questions we’ll explore below.
What is expertise, anyway?
In his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell famously claimed that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in just about any field. The best practitioners often spend years honing their skills, but subsequent research has revealed that the 10,000-hour rule isn’t as consistent as Gladwell thought. While hours of experience are no doubt valuable, practice alone is not enough.
In high school, I spent countless hours trying to dunk a basketball. It was never going to happen, but I eventually became good enough honing other skills to be a first-off-the-bench role player during games. Still, I quickly realized my time was better spent in the library. Workers need to have the right kind of practice in the right environment for the specific needs of each job. But this experience must also be coupled with natural aptitude and an ability to learn and course correct, particularly in today’s fluid workforce.
The right kind of expertise is scarce. Experts are always in high demand, even more so when companies begin rebuilding after a shock like Covid-19. Companies have little margin for error, and they’re taking a hard look at their processes and personnel. That’s why we’ll most likely see a spike in the need for on-demand expertise across a wide range of disciplines.
How do you source experts?
Finding experts who can quickly create value for your company isn’t impossible if you know where to look. For starters, businesses need to take the time to thoughtfully define what they need. For each role, systematically build scorecards outlining what expertise is required for each initiative. Each scorecard should measure functional experience, industry experience, budget, values, and the ability to learn and change. For example, if a food manufacturing company is hiring an interim CFO, a candidate with years of manufacturing experience is not enough. The company should look for a candidate who has worked specifically in the food industry at a similar-sized company and who has a track record of successfully managing through crises and other fluid situations.
To find experts like this, you can start by canvassing your personal and professional networks with a specific ask. Be specific about your key criteria, time frame and budget. These constraints will help to determine which kind of expert you’re looking for. In some cases, you want someone who can mobilize teams rapidly or manage a fast-moving crisis. In others (some forms of product development, for instance), you want someone who’s more deliberate and meticulous.
Throughout my nearly 20 years in the private equity industry, my team has had to source hundreds of experts each year, and there is often a lot of money at stake. We used our personal network and even search engines over and over again, but the process supplied inconsistent results and was extremely time intensive. This is one of the reasons I started my company.
Intelligent expertise networks are only going to become more important in the coming years as the need for on-demand skills jumps, availability becomes scarce and margins for error decline. Naturally, firms with deep industry relationships, proprietary datasets and pre-vetted networks of resources will yield faster, more optimal results. But the process begins with you knowing what you need.
How do you get the most out of expert engagement?
According to a 2019 report from Deloitte, companies are leveraging alternative workers to address their expertise needs across a wide array of positions. Traditionally, most companies use the alternative workforce for highly specialized technical needs such as IT. However, the employment of alternative workers is rapidly spreading to other areas including sales, marketing, finance and operations.
Despite the surging demand for alternative workers, according to the report, only 8% of companies said that they have “established processes to manage and develop alternative workforce sources.” The alternative workforce offers access to a growing and sophisticated talent pool, but employers need to develop the resources necessary to successfully draw upon this pool.
Companies need to think of the on-demand alternative workforce just like they think about their full-time workforce. Define what is necessary to perform well in each role. Recruit candidates who have the specific expertise you require. Manage these workers just like you would full-time employees. Hold alternative workers and their managers accountable for results. At the end of the contract, both the employer and the alternative worker should evaluate whether a longer-term, full-time relationship would be mutually beneficial.
The economy is only becoming more digitized, interconnected and complex, which makes expertise vital. That’s why companies have to understand what expertise actually means to them, where it can be found, and how to use their knowledge and talent as effectively as possible.