Innovation Can Be Hard. But It Doesn’t Have to Be.

on December 1, 2017

We’ve all heard how the gig economy is upending the way people work: the Uber driver, say, or the Airbnb host. It’s also changing how highly educated white-collar professionals — people with degrees from leading schools and experience at top companies—make their living.

These professionals have joined the freelance workforce in increasingly high numbers. (In fact, the number of hundred-thousand-dollar-plus earners has grown by 45% between 2011 and 2015, according to MBO Partners.) They work with, and not for, businesses on projects that range from pricing to product launch. And if current trends hold steady, their ranks will only grow in the future.

But companies like Pfizer, Google, and Virgin America aren’t sitting idly by while great talent goes untapped. Instead, they are restructuring the way they work to profit from the trend. To learn what helped them restructure the way they work, we spoke with Jody Greenstone Miller, CEO and co-founder of Business Talent Group (BTG).

BTG is the leading provider of on-demand business talent for project-based work. BTG enables companies to work smarter, faster and more flexibly by accessing a network of thousands of the world’s best independent business professionals, curated and vetted for client needs. Founded in 2007, BTG is a pioneer in the high-end on-demand consulting market. Today, BTG is trusted by business unit leaders, general managers, and executives from more than 36% of the Fortune 100 and beyond to scope, select and oversee independent talent on significant projects that fuel growth, innovation and performance improvement.

Not only will Miller share how leading companies are taking advantage of the gig economy, she will share why you, too, should incorporate independent talent into your management strategy.

Increase Agility

Miller says it’s easy to move quickly when you’re a small, nimble startup. When you’re a global corporation with 50,000 employees or more? Not so much.

“On-demand talent can change that calculus,” said Miller. She explained that many big companies are realizing that they can move faster on new opportunities not by structuring people’s jobs around broadly defined roles like marketing or operations, but by thinking in terms of tasks and results — whether evaluating new strategies, launching new products, or transforming IT infrastructure to scale with long-term needs. Then, drawing from both internal resources and high-end independent professionals, they can assemble the best team for the job.

“This type of agility goes way beyond corporate innovation labs,” said Miller. “Instead, it cascades throughout the entire organization. The Head of Corporate Development at an industrial conglomerate, for instance, uses on-demand independent strategists to assess acquisition targets in adjacent industries. These professionals have deep industry knowledge, and they understand the company’s long-term strategic interests. Together, they help the Corporate Development team efficiently prioritize opportunities without hiring a suite of experts for each deal, and they increase its agility in diverse markets.”

Access Hard-To-Hire Skills

According to Miller, digital innovation has transformed nearly every industry. What does that mean for your company? Miller says this complicated, critical question is only made harder to answer by the difficulty of accessing cutting-edge digital talent if your name isn’t Amazon or Google.

“Chances are, the top AI and Internet of Things experts won’t want to work for you permanently,” said Miller. “That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from their expertise. A number of them are available on the independent market and are eager to apply their knowledge to your toughest questions.”

The board of a manufacturing company wanted to explore the innovations that were most likely to disrupt the company’s supply chain in the next 10 years. Miller explains that an 8-week exploration with independent specialists in logistics, transportation, and disruptive innovation gave them exactly what they needed: a detailed map of the top threats and opportunities, along with a prioritized action list of more than 20 transformational concepts.

Do More With Less

Cutting costs can mean compromising on quality. Miller says this is not so with freelance professionals, who often carry the pedigree of top consulting firms and companies without the overhead — or the expectation that a full-time role or a traditional consulting firm engagement is the only way to employ their expertise.

“Whether it’s using a small team of former consultants to do the work big firms once did or augmenting internal teams with on-demand assistance during especially busy moments,” said Miller, “there are more ways than ever to use independent talent to get results for less.”

A CPG company engaged a three-person team of independents to help the company capitalize on a legacy product’s newly proven health benefits. Miller explained that in six months, this all-expert team delivered a detailed global regulatory and clinical roadmap — for the cost of what a big strategy firm would have charged for one month’s worth of work.

The internal consulting group at a multinational life sciences giant rounds out its team with independent project leaders to manage complex transformation initiatives. Projects range from a few months in length to more than a year; this flexible model has allowed the group to outbid and even displace traditional consulting firms.

Putting The Future To Work For Your Company

According to Miller, a manager’s role once largely focused on developing internal talent. Now, that description has expanded. Both inside and outside big companies, the managers who will thrive in the future are those who are innovative enough to make this new workplace work for them. So if agility, innovation, and efficiency are on your corporate agenda, independent talent should be, too.

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