Too much work, not enough people? Filling the gap through “talent extension”

Apr 2010
Issue 06


Companies today are under great pressure to deliver with fewer resources than they have had in the past. Budgets have been cut and the workforce has been reduced, but the demands for better, cheaper, faster continue unabated.

This is particularly true in the learning and development arena. Many companies have taken advantage of the down economy to step back and evaluate their business strategy, and this has had a significant impact on the learning needs of their people. As strategic changes are made to policies, systems, and processes to gain efficiencies, the things that people need to know and do in order to execute effectively are also changing, which makes it imperative that the learning and development engine be firing on all cylinders.

Attesting to the increased emphasis on learning, the latest ASTD Learning Executives Confidence Index (LXCI), published this month, indicated that “one-third of learning executives foresee the current economic conditions leading to a stronger emphasis on learning in their organization.”1

So, in HR and in learning and development, organizations are feeling the pressure to develop new training and performance interventions to keep pace with changing strategy requirements and leadership expectations. However, with a diminished workforce and constraints on new hiring, responding to the need with internal talent is highly unlikely.

Consequently, leaders in these areas are turning to external organizations and resources to bridge the gap. The same LXCI report indicates that outsourcing or out-tasking appear to be on the rise with “27% of Learning Executives in 2010 Q1 reporting their utilization of external resources would increase” – up almost two percentage points over the fourth quarter of last year. 2

While the term outsourcing can strike fear in employees and organizations, out-tasking arrangements can be attractive, viable solutions to HR and learning organizations when the balance of workload, resources, and timelines is out of synch.

Out-tasking is when a company turns to an external service provider to complement the company’s HR or learning department with professional, skilled individuals who can execute in a just-in-time arrangement. Unlike outsourcing, out-tasking allows the company to maintain control of the training function. In this relationship, the service provider becomes a strategic partner to the business and allows the organization to focus on its core business and strategic initiatives.

At St. Charles, we have coined the term “talent extension” to refer to such out-tasked relationships, because what in effect is happening is that the organization is extending the capabilities of its existing talent pool through contract resources.

The benefits of talent extension include:

  • Cost. There are no overhead costs associated with a contracted resource. The professional is engaged only as long as the project requires and, once the project is complete, the resource does not need to be carried on the books. This saves the company time and money in recruiting, hiring, and training new hires. Additionally, the service provider will take care of all administrative responsibilities and fees associated with identifying and on-boarding the contractors.
  • Scalability. Skilled resources can be engaged within a short period of time and for as long as the project dictates. This provides the organization with a great deal of flexibility of ramping up and scaling down in relation to the demands of the work.
  • Expertise. Talent extension arrangements bring highly-skilled individuals with a wealth of relevant experience, business acumen, and creativity that the organization may not have in-house. In addition, talent extension is an excellent approach when multiple skill sets are required – such as instruction design, elearning production, and program delivery. The blend of skills can be easily right-sized to the need.
  • Fit. The right talent extension service provider will partner with each company to understand the organization, its people, and its products/services, processes, and culture. Talented professionals will be selected and placed based on the particular needs of the organization.

While the financial outlook is looking increasingly brighter, it will likely take the economy a while to come around. Even when it does, many companies will proceed with caution in staffing up to pre-recession levels. By identifying key service providers to bolster their talent pools now, organizations can alleviate future talent gaps in both good times and bad.

For more information on the strategic planning services offered by the St. Charles Consulting Group, contact Laura Oswald, 630-377-5549.

1, 2 ASTD LXCI Q1 2010.

Next month

Thoughts on Process Visibility

Leadership defines strategy, and strategy defines business objectives. In between strategy and business objectives, there are two things that determine the extent to which the strategic goals are met: 1) the ability of people to execute effectively, and 2) the underlying business processes and systems that are in place.
The next issue of the Free-Range Learning News will focus on the process component, and we will share our views on why process visibility and process simplification are such critical factors to business success …