By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman
As more engineering managers leverage external talent on an interim basis, they are realizing that their organizations need a strategy to manage and maximize the contributions of outside experts and contract professionals.
However, as workforce guru Dr. John Sullivan notes: “Some individuals think that an agile talent management strategy is little more than a focus on using contingent labor whenever and wherever possible, but that is much too narrow of a view.”
An agile talent management strategy is about creating a flexible organization whose workers and managers ebb and flow based on business demands and project lifecycles. An effective plan also aligns talent with shifting business needs through the adoption of policies and practices that facilitate the acquisition, assimilation, professional development and output of contract professionals, alumni, interns, consultants and temporary workers.
While most companies are in the early stages of developing a comprehensive strategy, some key concepts and best practices are starting to emerge. Here’s a look at what some pioneering companies are doing (and what experts suggest) to create an agile organization that maximizes the benefits of an agile workforce.
Key Elements of Agile Talent Management
Build a Talent Network
Waiting until a need arises to source an engineering contractor or consultant can put you behind the curve. Savvy managers build relationships and agile talent pools proactively by establishing a network of freelancers, alumni and staffing partners and investing time and effort in forecasting, managing inventory and keeping everyone in the loop.
Assign a Roving Project Manager
This recommendation comes from agile talent management experts, Jon Younger and Rishon Blumberg. The project manager should be a seasoned expert and sherpa whose principal responsibility is to support engineering managers and technical teams in optimizing the planning, onboarding, utilization and management of freelance professionals.
Redeploy Top Performers
A key characteristic of organizational agility is the ability to rapidly shift resources as needed, according to Sullivan. To that end, many firms have adopted the practice of temporarily redeploying top performers and internal staff to high impact projects – and then backfilling their vacated positions with experienced engineering contractors.
Expand the Role of Your Chief Engineer
Managers of agile talent are realizing that they need to coach and invest in the development of their external experts, especially alumni or contactors on long-term assignments. As Younger and Blumberg point out, a chief engineer is usually responsible for technical productivity, innovation and development of internal technical staff. But given their expertise, it would not be a stretch to broaden their role to agile talent as well.
Appointing an external talent manager is another option. For instance, Younger and Blumberg claim that Rio Tinto has considered extending the responsibilities of its chief learning officer to include the building and nurturing of its agile talent network.
Appoint Coaches and Mentors
Providing external workers with clear goals, schedules, milestones and tools from day one boosts their comfort level and productivity. Moreover, many high-tech companies have expanded their onboarding programs by asking technical mentors to adopt a project team and its agile talent.
Having a go-to resource for technical questions, engineering practices and advice not only benefits contractors, it’s a strategic practice that enables the development of future engineering managers and leaders. A coach or mentor can also be instrumental in soliciting feedback and crafting professional development plans for agile professionals.
Create Contingency Plans
Changes in the economy, labor market conditions and competitive pressures can cause project-oriented firms to expand, contract or accelerate project lifecycles. An agile organization anticipates these changes and proactively develops a strategy and plan to add outside talent and expertise, or reduce labor costs quickly, should backlogs or potential projects diminish.
In fact, the key to developing an effective agile talent management strategy is to remain vigilant, and to monitor the environment, so you can respond without hesitation to changing conditions and customer needs.
Other information of potential interest
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