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A brilliant tactical move in the War for Talent: The alternative workforce

The future of work is flexible – and highly experienced executives are leading the way. Motivated by their experiences of the pandemic, they’ve re-evaluated their careers and lifestyles, and many of them are now seeking shorter term roles rather than full time employment.

We call them the Interim Executives, and as our 12th Annual Interim Executive Survey reveals, these leaders of the alternative workforce are driving a big shift in the balance of power from the organisation to the individual.

Please click here to download Watermark's 2022 Annual Interim Executive Survey.

We know the alternative workforce is growing worldwide. In the US, for example, more than half the workers surveyed by freelance platform Upwork in late 2021 said they are likely to freelance in the future. Meanwhile, freelancers contributed US$1.3 trillion in annual earnings to the US economy last year, up US$100 million from 2020. This growth was driven by an increase in the number of highly skilled, remote freelancers that left full time employment for flexible work alternatives.

Our 12th Annual Interim Executive Survey found there are plenty of signs the Great Resignation is happening here too.

In turn, organisations are having to respond to the Great Resignation by looking outside of the traditional channels to source talent. And they’re finding one of the best ways to address skills shortages is to tap into a highly skilled, diverse Interim Executive talent pool that is readily available and adept at dealing with the ambiguity of our current times.

The opportunity organisations face now is to capture and transfer the knowledge held by seasoned Executives and use it to drive their business objectives forward.

3 big motivators for the alternative workforce

1. The pandemic inspired executives to rethink their careers

Most executives we speak with are reconsidering how they wish to work, along with the Why? What? Where? and for Whom?

Rather than exiting the workforce completely, many more executives are now considering an Interim Executive career. We have been busy meeting them and bringing them into our network because we know these executives are at the top of their game. They have many years’ experience and deep subject matter expertise, and they are in the best frame of mind to mentor teams crying out for leadership and direction post-pandemic.

2. Highly experienced executives know their skills are in high demand

Organisations are facing stiff competition for talent caused by multiple factors, including the effects of the Great Resignation, pandemic fatigue, extended leave, lack of solid succession plans, an out-of-date employee value proposition (EVP), longer search processes and counteroffers.

3. Interim Executive roles are attractive – and effective

In a tight labour market organisations need to be open to accessing talent from every available source, so if they are only considering people looking for a permanent role, they are missing out on a large pool of talented employees who can serve effectively for the interim.

The good news for businesses is the Interim Executive cohort grows the available talent to deliver on their objectives. Historically, interim roles have often been seen as a crisis management or gap-fill solution. Now this model has become mainstream as a part of a much broader hiring mix that acknowledges alternative career choices. Interim Executives are immediately available and ready to embed very quickly to transform organisations effectively. ​

Win the War for Talent by opening your mind to new hiring models

The War for Talent is not a new problem for Australia, where talent shortage has always been in an issue in certain areas, but the pandemic certainly exacerbated it.

The growth sectors reflected in our survey – Health, Government and Not-for-profit – need to tap into executives with proven sector experience or be open to fresh ideas by bringing in leaders from other sectors.

Though with a limited pool of people looking for a permanent executive role in Australia, what we are hearing is that organisations need to look beyond just those executives who only want permanent work and consider executives with the right skills and experience who choose to work differently.

In today’s environment the number one theme for organisations is recognising they need to open their minds to new hiring models if they want to win the War for Talent.

We see the Interim Executive pool effectively bringing a whole new cohort of talent to the market.

The old ways of working don’t work anymore

The quest to retain the best people is the next largest theme for organisations identified in our survey.

In fact, 55% of respondents in this year's survey believe that “finding and retaining the best people” will be the number one influencer/disrupter to business strategy in the coming year.

So, sticking to old concepts of work and hoping “things will go back to normal” are unrealistic. Organisations that don’t adapt the new ways of working will simply lose the War for Talent.

Here’s an alternative approach:

  • Close the skills gap with Interim Executives – Executive C-suite leaders have been identified as a top three skills gap for the past three years in this survey, along with cyber security and data analytics. Many executives joined our ranks of immediately available Interim Executives these past 12 months, telling us they have reflected on what's important to them and they want to work differently.

  • Interim Executives are a safe choice – Respondents also commented on the limited but looming mid-term supply issues that will complicate decision making. Businesses are being forced to reassess their operating models and their futures, and they are taking a more cautious approach due to staffing and supply chain issues. Some respondents believe that while some moderate initiatives are being addressed, not all “mission critical” initiatives are being delivered. Other respondents believe it's all dependant on the type/sector the business is in: some have continued with business as usual, while others have seen significant instability.

  • Interim Executives deliver results – Interim Executive as an effective hiring solution has sky-rocketed during the pandemic. It has shifted from an occasional engagement for crisis management, change and transformation, to a mainstream solution, and Interim Executives are now seen as “the alternative workforce”.

Our team passionately advocates for our Interim Executive cohort and we enjoy partnering with organisations looking to access this talent. As always, all of us are ready to answer any questions or help you in any way. Please do not hesitate to contact us.

We look forward to sharing our expertise with you.

Caroline McAuliffe, Senior Partner, Watermark Search