As the world seems to spin faster and the pace of change increases, it can become difficult to staff “permanent” talent for the current and future needs of the organization. Add to that a constricting market for highly skilled workers, and it is apparent that we have no lack of staffing challenges. How do you find the right talent to quickly implement your marketing and operational plans while controlling costs and mitigating risk? Staff augmentation and agile talent may be the answer.
Staff augmentation generally refers to hiring specialized talent on a temporary, project, part-time, or full-time contract basis, usually through an agency that specializes in having an ongoing relationship with a cadre of such workers. Agile talent refers to an overall strategy of an organization staying lean and filling crucial positions with a variety of freelancers, contractors, and consultants with a high-level of specialized knowledge, education, and experiences.
Research conducted by Jon Younger and Norm Smallwood, authors of Agile Talent: How to Source and Manage Outside Experts (2016), indicated that few companies adopted agile talent as a complete workforce strategy, and that most companies use staff augmentation as a strategic option when faced with fast-changing and high-priority needs.
So, why is staff augmentation growing in popularity among all types of organizations? And, what are the costs and benefits of staff augmentation? This article addresses these questions.
Fast-Changing, High-Priority Organizational Objectives
Organizations choose staff augmentation for a variety of scenarios. Have you ever found yourself in one of these situations?
- Full-time staff is already working overtime, and a new project must be implemented. Experienced project management staff is needed to develop a plan, implement it, and create a smooth hand-off to the regular staff within a 6 to 12 month period.
- One or more full-time staff member(s) in critical positions have announced plans for extended leave for several months or up to a year (maternity, illness, sabbatical, etc.).
- A major project requires specialized talent during an accelerated development stage. Full-time staff must be trained to handle project implementation and ongoing management.
- A new product is moving through a final test phase. The product team recommends managing risk by hiring temporary employees until the product test indicates a full “go” on product rollout.
- The organization has been unable to find the right talent, perhaps hiring one or more employees that did not work out.
Let’s explore each of these scenarios in more detail.
Project Planning, Implementation, and Long-term Management
New projects, whether they are new products, services, or operational procedures must be managed carefully to ensure a successful implementation. If existing staff are already operating at full capacity with occasional to frequent overtime, how do you get them excited about another priority initiative? You certainly can’t let customer service falter, and therefore existing customers take priority. Unfortunately, new projects can fail, even when those projects have great potential because of lack of dedicated personnel.
Often, the only way to get traction on new initiatives is to bring in one or more people to give the new project 100% focus. For direct hires, the organization must interview personnel, check backgrounds, onboard new personnel, train on specific job requirements, and help new employees acclimate to the organizational culture. HR can offload some of these tasks, but the workgroup must devote considerable time on some of these new hire requirements.
Temporary Cover for Critical Positions
When an employee announces intentions to take leave for several weeks up to several months, and that employee performs a critical function, the organization must arrange cover for critical tasks or find a temporary replacement. The organization cannot afford to follow the full-time employee recruitment process for a worker needed for a 6 to 12 week time period. It may be that existing personnel can fill in for some administrative tasks, meaning the organization really needs specialized skills that are less than a full-time equivalent (FTE). Wouldn’t it be nice to hire someone for only 20 or 30 hours per week if that is the actual need, rather than a full 40-hour replacement?
Your IT group may be inundated with projects. Then, along comes a project that your Marketing Insights group convinces you needs to be completed yesterday. You have excellent people, including necessary supervision for the new fast track project, but you need extra hands that are tied to creative technical brains. This is an excellent application for staff augmentation. You have no lead time, and an immediate need for coding and design experts. Of course, staff augmentation is not only for IT personnel. Staff augmentation works well for all kinds of highly skilled workers such as marketing managers, press relations specialists, project managers, and graphic artists.
New Product or Service
Often the last phase of new product or service development is a market test. One way to mitigate risks during the market test is to hire temporary workers for key positions. Hiring temporary workers means there is no risk of firing staff if the product does not make it through the market test or if the market test calls for significant re-working and another market test. In fact, the market test has a better chance of success if highly-skilled temporary workers are hired rather than junior-level workers with a need for costly training and closer supervision. Once the market test is completed, and approval is obtained for a full product/service rollout, the temporary workers can be valuable for documenting procedures, training permanent staff, and continuing for a brief period as consultants on as as-needed basis.
Full-time Hiring Challenges
The labor market for highly skilled workers, sometimes referred to as knowledge workers, has been tightening over the last several years. This can lead to months and months of recruiting for a position, going through multiple interview cycles, presenting one or more offers, only to have your candidate accept a competitor’s offer, putting you back at step one in the recruitment process.
Rather than hitting your head on a very hard brick wall, it may be time to consider the advantages of a contract arrangement with a firm having a cadre of specialized talent guaranteed to meet your needs. Service guarantees mean that if the staff augmentation firm doesn’t deliver a group of candidates with the required skills and experience you specified, you don’t pay them. If your selected candidate doesn’t work out, you get a quick replacement. Consider also, that it may be that you don’t need one person, but you need one-third of three different people to ensure you receive the diverse skills sets your project requires.
Additional Costs Offset by Cost Savings and Other Valuable Benefits
Staff augmentation services often come in a bundle of services. Although at first glance staff augmentation may seem to cost more, it often results in lower administrative costs and other valuable benefits. Consider the value of the following:
- You are buying highly skilled and experienced talent with less need for expensive training.
- You enjoy lower risks of staff augmentation talent not fitting your needs.
- You incur lower administrative costs that usually accompany new employees.
- Your interview costs are much more streamlined since you aren’t paying for job listings, and you are reviewing only qualified candidates.
- Your onboarding costs are lower since you don’t need to do any extensive training, orientation, or incurring administrative costs for adding the person to your benefit plans.
- If the staff augmentation talent does not work out, you will have another candidate, or several, within days rather than weeks or months.
- With highly experienced and skilled candidates, your new initiative can move quickly from planning to implementation.
- Your team may benefit from "new blood" -- “outside” specialized talent and the fresh perspective they bring.
- Your team can be more productive with less need to devote to reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, and training junior-level workers.
Staff augmentation can fill a valuable role in your strategic staffing strategy. Like all projects, success relies on a thorough needs analysis, the design of a solution customized to your organization’s needs, and careful implementation and evaluation.
What are your experiences with staff augmentation? Could it be time to learn more about staff augmentation as part of your strategic staffing plan?
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).