(This post was written by my colleague Bethany Crystal and originally published on the Bolster blog yesterday. While I am still trying to figure out what posts to put on this blog vs. Bolster’s blog since the blogs are pretty similar, I will occasionally run something in both places.)
At Bolster, we believe that 2021 will mark the rise of the on-demand economy for executives. More than ever before, executives are seeking out roles that distinctly aren’t full-time for a variety of reasons – they’re in between full-time roles and want to stay engaged and meet a wide range of potential employers; they’re retired or semi-retired/post-exit and want to keep working, just not full-time; they’re fully employed but are looking for advisory opportunities to help others; or they are committed to the more flexible lifestyle that being an on-demand affords. As business leaders, you might be wondering how to take advantage of this trend and incorporate on-demand talent onto your existing team. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.
Let’s start with a quick primer on the distinct types of on-demand talent. Here are the four most common themes we see among our member network at Bolster:
The Four Types of On-Demand Talent
- Interim: Someone who is partially or fully dedicated to working with your company, but only temporarily (you can think of them as “filling a gap”)
- Fractional: Someone who works part-time (or “fractionally”) with your company on an ongoing basis (they “own” the function on a long-term, part-time basis)
- Advisor or Coach: Someone who supports your existing team by offering external advising, coaching, or mentorship as needed (this might be on a temporary or long-term basis)
- Project-Based: Someone who is brought on to complete a specific project or a fixed span of work (this is the closest to typical consulting work)
Depending on your business needs, the capacity of your existing team, and your resourcing, you might find it useful to have one or more on-demand executives in the mix at any given time. We’ve also found this can be a great way to keep things fresh at the leadership level and make sure new ideas are circulated with some regularity.
Business Opportunities for On-Demand Talent
While every company’s on-demand talent needs will vary, we’ve already seen a few patterns emerge from the 2,000 executives in our member network. Here are a few times to think about bringing on-demand work to your business.
Choose interim work if you need…
- A temporarily placeholder at the exec level
Whether unexpected or planned, transitions at the executive level can come with a high cost: Any week that goes by with an unfilled seat adds more work to the team, contributes to business lag, or both. While full executive searches can take six months (or more!) to get right, many CEOs find it helpful to bring on interim help as a “stopgap” in the meantime. The most obvious benefit of interim on-demand work is to prevent your business from falling behind in areas where you may not have a deep bench below the executive level. And you might also consider that bringing in a seasoned professional as you conduct your full-time search will give your team a proxy to compare against, making that placement process a bit easier. Last – while it’s not a guarantee, there’s always the chance that your interim hire is a great fit for you and wants to stick around for the long term! You then benefit from an on-the-job “interview” or audition.
- Surge capacity staffing
Imagine a situation where your business doesn’t need an executive in a particular function. You’re small, scrappy, and you’re getting along perfectly well with the team you have in place – and you can fill in the bits of executive leadership required for that function yourself from time to time. But then something pops up where you need to be the CEO and can’t afford to ALSO be the CXO. An interim CXO could be the right solution. For example, the 3-5 months run-up to a Series A or B financing could be a good time to bring on an experienced CFO if your only relevant team members are handling AP, AR, and Payroll. Or you could be working on your company’s public launch with a less experienced marketing team and an agency – and an interim CMO could make all the difference between success and sideways.
- Parental leave coverage
With a growing business trend of increased parental leave coverage, CEOs are starting to use interim executives to fill holes that might temporarily exist on the leadership team. Interim work is particularly useful if there isn’t an obvious “second in command” role on that team who might take on a stretch project in their absence. Implemented correctly, bringing on an interim exec can also help to squash any fears of “getting replaced” while someone is away on leave. As an added bonus, bringing in a new face (if only temporarily) can give the remaining team a chance to “try out” a new leadership style and share feedback about what worked and didn’t work during the interim period.
Choose fractional work if you need…
- A seasoned professional’s experience and skillset (but not all the time)
Before every full-time leadership hire, there is the sticky “in between” period of need. That’s the period when some work starts piling up, but not quite enough to fill an entire work week for one person at the executive level – or the period when you know you need a more seasoned leader in a function but just can’t afford one full-time. If you don’t have an experienced executive in the role, you miss opportunities for effectively setting up scalable practices and processes. Often, a lack of senior focus in a functional area means that you miss strategic opportunities, and sometimes it also means that you expose yourself to risk that could be avoided with the right person having ownership of the function. This is the perfect time to introduce fractional work to your business. The most classic example of fractional executive talent is the CFO who oversees the bookkeeping and accounting for several companies at once. But you can find a fractional executive for just about anything. You might consider this type of on-demand executive if you don’t yet have anyone in that functional area, if you have a team of less experienced specialists or even a more junior generalist leader in that functional area, if you want a taste of what it’d be like to dedicate more resources there, or if you need just a few things done right, without having to think about them yourself.
Choose advisory or coaching work if you need…
- Mentorship for your current executives
Sometimes it’s helpful to see what “great” looks like in order to achieve greatness yourself. If you’re looking for a way to give a current leader an added boost to their development plan, consider bringing on someone who can serve as a mentor or advisor on a temporary or long-term basis. Someone who has been in your shoes before and can give advice and guidance based on their experience. This on-demand exec role has two big benefits: The first being that it demonstrates to your executive team that you’re committed to their ongoing success and growth, which boosts morale (and hopefully performance). The second is that you’ll be able to equip your current team with the tools they each need to scale instead of having to bring on a new wave of executives for each business stage. The advisor or coach usually works a few hours per month, once they’ve set up a strong coaching relationship.
- Access to top talent without the full-time price tag
Just as remote work unlocked the potential to find “the best of the best” without geographic constraints, on-demand work does the same at the executive level. More and more, we’re seeing CEOs incorporate advisors to their business as a way to gain exposure to best in class talent (at a fraction of the cost). This can be a great way to introduce subject matter or functional expertise into your organization without committing to a full-time salary.
Choose project work if you need…
- A fixed-scope expert engagement at the executive level
Just as tools like Task Rabbit made it possible to find experts to accomplish tasks on a personal level (such as moving furniture or painting a bedroom), on-demand talent makes it possible to find seasoned executives to complete one-off projects at an expert level. That’s why, on Bolster, we ask each each member to indicate what roles they can take on, and also what projects they can be hired to do. As a CEO, you might consider outsourcing some of the crunchy stuff at the exec level that might take a lot of time, or in cases where you need a quick turnaround to get to an MVP. Common projects we’ve seen to date include building sales commission plan structures, designing a go-to-market launch plan for a new product, running due diligence on an acquisition, overhauling pricing and packaging, working on a strategic plan, TAM analysis, budgeting process, or creating a diversity & inclusion strategy for the company.
- An experimental project that won’t distract the current team
One final area where you might consider on-demand work is for a project that feels more like an addendum to your current business, or an early experiment. At Bolster, we brought on an on-demand executive to help us think through and roll out a brand new product that we’re in the early days of testing right now. We’ve seen other CEOs use project-based work at the exec level for things like evaluating market expansion possibilities or speccing out the MVP of a potential new product.
This is just a short list of some of the possibilities where on-demand talent might support you in your business today. One of our favorite parts about this type of work is just that – the flexibility it offers to you and your team. Whether your business is just getting started or if you’re operating on all cylinders, don’t forget to consider on-demand work as part of your CEO toolkit for this year and beyond.
– Bethany Crystal, February 2, 2021