Taking a Comprehensive Approach to Finding the Leadership Talent You Need
Why a fusion of on-demand executive talent and full-time hires is the right fit, right now.

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At Heidrick & Struggles, we are on a transformation journey to offer our clients the next generation of talent and leadership advisory services, which includes broader, more comprehensive solutions to their talent and human capital challenges at the executive level.

While we are well-known for our executive search offering, we also help clients quickly access talent, expertise, and skills to solve for a variety of capability and capacity issues. Increasingly, business leaders are asking how they can get talent faster, bring in a different type of talent, and rapidly pivot resourcing in response to changing business needs, economic conditions, consumer behavior, and technologies. These capabilities are key in a world where attracting, developing, and retaining high-impact talent is more difficult than ever. As the supply of top talent remains tight, we are often finding candidates to be less willing to relocate or change roles. In fact, our recent surveys show that 76 percent of executives are very or entirely willing to move companies in the next three years, and 57 percent of HR executives think their company is more at risk of losing leaders than industry peers.

With human capital—especially at the leadership level—becoming the central differentiator for companies today, on-demand talent is a critical option for securing the skills and expertise that companies need amid high demand for a very limited supply of top talent. Thankfully, the on-demand talent marketplace continues to grow, creating a new well from which to draw and enabling real-time adjustability that can become a strategic competitive advantage. Consequently, organizations that don’t begin to think today about how best to adopt this fast, flexible talent solution risk falling behind as their competitors’ use of on-demand talent continues to grow.

On-demand talent


1.  Highly educated professionals who have chosen an independent career path and who can be onboarded quickly to accomplish a specific task or provide outside skills and tailored expertise.

2.  Experienced management consultants, subject matter experts, project managers, and interim executives brought on to bolster a team or fill a role that is temporary by design.

In this environment, corporate leaders are being forced to strategically rethink traditional leadership-level talent solutions in the face of a cross-current of macro challenges—from economic uncertainty and black-swan events, to an aging workforce and rapid technological developments like generative AI. Forward-thinking companies are responding by integrating experienced, highly skilled independent talent across industries and business functions. These on-demand professionals can help companies augment their leadership capacity in a variety of ways, such as leading operational transformation projects, analyzing new business opportunities, driving profitability improvement programs, and implementing strategy.

Strategically leveraging on-demand talent can often quickly improve bottom-line performance and propel innovation, and as such, should be considered part of a company’s total talent strategy. Tapping into this segment of on-demand executives, management consultants, subject matter experts, and project managers expands the capabilities of your in-house team by adding capacity, closing gaps created during leadership transitions or unexpected personnel events, and providing skilled support for key initiatives and during major events, like a merger or IPO or project workstreams focusing on digital transformation. In other words, full-time hiring and on-demand talent are complimentary, and senior talent available at the speed of today’s business landscape enables a more robust, comprehensive approach to managing skilled human capital.

The benefits are many:

  • Game-changing agility. Outpacing the competition in any environment requires having the right executive talent in place to enable rapid, realtime response to rising challenges and opportunities. On-demand talent can accelerate that ability and, by extension, business growth. Companies can grow patches of innovation and organizational resilience by injecting highly targeted executives only where needed instead of building costly teams. And on-demand talent can be especially helpful during moments of transition and in headcount-constrained environments when companies need to manage through a range of potential scenarios with greater optionality.

    For example, when the US division of a multinational, industrial manufacturing company was underperforming and needed a consultant to accelerate operational excellence, we successfully delivered a Chief Strategy & Communications Officer with more than 20 years of deep manufacturing and supply chain continuous improvement experience for a six-month period, on-site and full time, to design, champion, and lead a multi-dimensional continuous improvement plan across two manufacturing lines under one roof.

  • Access to hard-to-hire talent and skills. More than 20 million people are now working independently, including more than four million at the high end, which is putting more and more skilled executives out of reach as full-time hires. Companies across sectors are desperate for skilled talent, and on-demand talent provide access to pools that might be otherwise difficult to hire for any number of reasons—a geographic mismatch between the talent needed and what’s available in an area, a need for more specific skillsets in extremely low supply, or talent choosing to forego permanent roles in favor of independent work.

    A well-known corporation in the midwest has struggled with these factors, as its location in an older industrial city impedes its ability to attract digital-era talent and leadership into full-time roles. With on-demand talent, the company can rent such talent as needed or while recruiting, with the additional and unexpected benefit of enabling a more agile, project-based approach to the upskilling required in its digital transformation efforts.

    We are seeing the most recent manifestation of this phenomenon with the explosion of demand for strategic, generative AI experts—a new, extraordinarily scarce category of talent featuring a high representation of professionals working as independents on a project-by-project basis. Tapping this on-demand segment is proving to be the perfect way for many clients to begin assessing opportunities and developing strategies for generative AI, before longer-term permanent hiring needs are made clear.

  • Better management of costs and headcount at the senior level. Companies who learn to integrate on-demand talent fully can achieve significant operating efficiencies in multiple ways. These can include reducing the fixed costs that come with adding headcount in favor of variablizing strategically important business functions to flex up or down as needed, experimenting with new roles and avoiding long-term mismatches, using experienced talent to displace some traditional management consulting spend, and adopting a try-before-you-buy approach in some situations.

    One industrials and life sciences holding company has discovered such benefits during our strong partnership spanning more than a decade. The organization taps us in times of especially high deal activity and where specialized industry expertise is key. Over the years, we have supported more than 100 strategic initiatives at various stages—often placing consultants within three business days to tackle the time-sensitive and highly confidential work.

Moving forward, companies need to better understand the inherent opportunity of on-demand talent and elevate their strategy to attain the true competitive advantages of embracing the new playbook. That starts with experimentation. As a leader, start experimenting with on-demand talent if you are not already, and appoint a senior sponsor to develop a strong vision around integrating on-demand talent across the enterprise, track and evaluate usage, and, ultimately, define the primary value your company needs from this broad capability.

You will also need to think more comprehensively, especially around moments of leadership-level hiring, the development of key capabilities in the leadership ranks, the support of key leaders in changing business moments, and other events that require agility and limited skillsets. Push your procurement team to understand and evaluate high-level on-demand talent as a unique new spend category, somewhere between executive search and traditional consulting.

When you do bring in on-demand talent, partner with a trusted advisor with a strong supply of on-demand talent who knows how to help you bring in talent safely and successfully. Working with an experienced advisor can help guide your comprehensive talent framework, integrate on-demand cohesively with full-time executives, and find talent with the right skills and expertise to solve your particular capability and capacity issues. At the end of the day, titles and tradition matter far less than agility and depth of understanding, and those leaders who strategically engage on-demand talent as part of their workforce and leadership teams will unlock true transformation.

Learn how on-demand talent can help you with your most important work.