Is It Time to Rethink Independent Talent in Your Enterprise?

By MBO Partners | November 8, 2023

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Key Points

There have never been more payroll jobs in the U.S. and there have never been more people working independently.

Independent professionals are firmly embedded in the worker population and enterprises rely on them to fill critical roles.

The future success of the enterprise is connected to how leaders view and engage independent talent.

“There have never been more payroll jobs in the U.S.
There have also never been more people working independently.”

2023 State of Independence Report

Those two statements may seem paradoxical, but they are both true. The U.S. independent talent population has grown steadily year on year—from 2020 to 2023 alone it jumped by 89%. Even in these times of low unemployment, independent professionals are firmly embedded in the worker population, and enterprises rely on them to fill critical roles.

Leaders seek greater workforce agility and flexibility in the face of economic uncertainty, increasingly competitive markets, and skill shortages. Rather than increase headcount, many organizations are turning to independents. And the demand for independent workers continues to increase as companies plan to step up this part of their workforce.

3 Spectrums: Where Is Your Enterprise?

The view of independent workers has been evolving for some time. Business experts have noted this evolution for at least the past decade. However, there are still some enterprises that are lagging in terms of the position that independent talent fills in the organization.

These three spectrums reflect the range of viewpoints enterprises have about independent talent. Where does your organization fall?

Tactical to Strategic

Most companies of yesteryear slotted independent talent into tactical roles focused on specific tasks. It was taken for granted that non-employees would not work in strategic positions, nor would they have any voice in business-critical discussions.

Today, leaders are reexamining the assumption that only employees can be allowed in the “inner sanctum” of the enterprise. Some companies garner significant business value by engaging independent professionals in the core business and strategy-adjacent positions.

Commoditized to Unique

Most companies looked on independent workers as commodities a few years ago. This follows from the tactical viewpoint. When a worker is slotted into a task-oriented role that requires standard skillsets, they can pretty easily be replaced by another worker.

Some enterprises began looking to independent workers in the 2010s to address skill shortages in the employee population. Such shortages have continued to exist. Today, certain skills almost completely reside in the independent worker population. As a result, leaders have generally moved away from a commoditized view, recognizing that independents with high-demand skills are unique.

Temporary to Long Term

The task orientation and commoditization of yesterday’s viewpoint contributed to managers’ assumptions that independent engagements were short-term. Whether hired to participate in a project with a defined end, for a role to respond to seasonal demands, or as a contractor with a defined deliverable, an independent professional was “here today, gone tomorrow.” Leaders did not consider these people part of the company’s workforce.

Even in companies where the needs for independent talent are the same, leaders today recognize that finding ways to keep value contractors connected to the company makes business sense. For example, when your contractors worked short-term in tactical roles and could be interchanged with others, it didn’t matter much if they didn’t fit the organization’s culture. Now, managers realize that engaging contractors who fit well into the organization is important. Further, as organizations move toward optimizing their workforces and launching direct sourcing programs, the need to think of independents as long-term enterprise associates is becoming more critical.

What Will It Take to Move to Today’s Viewpoints?

It is not hyperbole to say that the future success of the enterprise is connected to how leaders view and engage independent talent. Where is your company along each of these three spectrums? What will it take to move the view of independent professionals to “strategic, unique, and long-term?”


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