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Why all organisations should be resourcing like a startup

Why all organisations should be resourcing like a startup

As more and more organisations shift to using agile working models, the need to be able to quickly scale resources up and down becomes increasingly vital, writes James Fuller of Hnry.

Credit: Hnry

‘Thinking like a startup’ is about using a set of very limited resources wisely in order to test, refine, and deliver your product to your customers

James Fuller, Hnry

As more and more organisations shift to using agile working models, the need to be able to quickly scale resources up and down becomes increasingly vital. 

When it comes to staffing, most organisations aren’t sitting on a pool of extra people, and so when any new resource is required, it tends to have to come from new hires or external service providers.

This is where we’re seeing new staffing models emerge to cater for this demand. In particular, it is becoming more and more common to see organisations adopt a model of regularly supplementing their permanent workforce with a pool of on-demand individual specialists.

Thinking like a startup

If you speak to any senior executive these days, they’re probably being constantly encouraged to ‘think more like a startup’. They’re tasked with taking a traditional organisation and introducing concepts such as Design Thinking and Lean and Agile methodologies to help that organisation change and adapt more rapidly. Thinking ‘like a startup’ means having to make quick decisions - to pivot and change course based on market and customer demands.

To put into context what it means to ‘think like a startup’, imagine you alone started a new business tomorrow. You’ve got very little up-front capital or resources, and your priority is to get a basic version of your product in front of your customers quickly, in order to validate if it is actually worth you investing your time.

Are you going to establish an 18-month waterfall delivery project, with two levels of project governance and weekly status reporting? Are you going to spend time creating your 3 year strategic roadmap for the product? Are you going to employ a full-time team of Strategists, Project Managers, Business Analysts, Engineers and Designers to deliver all this?

No, you’re not going to do any of those things, not just because you can’t afford it, but also because you can’t justify it - it’s complete overkill for what you actually need as a new business. 

Yet larger organisations often do exactly these things - dedicating entire teams of permanent staff to work on product ideas that haven’t yet been validated. ‘Thinking like a startup’ is about using a set of very limited resources wisely in order to test, refine, and deliver your product to your customers. 

Resourcing like a startup

We live in an on-demand economy, where pretty much any service we use in our businesses is either ‘pay-per-use’ or some sort of subscription model. When you start this new business tomorrow morning, you’re not going to have to buy and maintain your own servers, or run your own custom local instance of a software package. You’re going to sign up to Amazon or Google, and all of those things are available to you instantly, for a low subscription cost. We live in a world where the products and services we use can scale with us, and can be dialled up and down based on the current needs of the business. If your new startup idea gets traction, your off-the-shelf SaaS tools can scale with you. If your product idea doesn’t resonate with customers, you can cancel your Google subscription and cut your losses.

When your startup needs a graphic designer, or you need help doing user testing, you’re unlikely to hire a permanent staff member on day one. It’s far more prudent to leverage a short term resource like a contractor or freelancer to help you out. 

You can’t guarantee them a permanent job as you have no idea if your startup idea will take off and, more to the point, you probably don’t even need more than a few weeks’ of their time in the first instance. So instead you pick up specialist expertise on-demand, on short term, flexible contracts - getting experienced external resources to help you where required. This model allows you to test your product, to experiment and be agile, without having the stress of needing to sustain a full-time team. 

In more established organisations, there doesn’t tend to be any sort of ‘on-demand’ resourcing model - everything is fixed for the long term. When there is a need to scale resources, the default response is usually to employ more permanent staff.

These organisations are solving short term problems (such as needing capacity to deliver) with long term solutions - bringing full-time, permanent staff members into the business. More often than not, once the short term problem is solved and the demand subsides, the resources are no longer as in demand as they were previously. These people then get ‘re-purposed’ on to other work, or worse, they get ‘restructured’ out of the business. These experiences are terrible for the individual, and incredibly inefficient for the organisation. This inefficiency is leading more and more organisations to think more ‘like a startup’ when it comes to their resourcing models. 

The value of on-demand resources

A startup will most likely have a core team of permanent staff (the founders), who retain the core internal job functions, continuity of vision and culture, and they’ll supplement this using a pool of trusted specialists engaged in an on-demand or retainer basis. 

Rather than taking value and knowledge out of the organisation, on-demand resources bring huge amounts into the organisation.

James Fuller, Hnry

These specialists might not even be full-time freelancers or contractors. They may instead have a permanent job somewhere, have many other clients, or work in another industry entirely. They are independent earners who want to work flexibly, and they are perfect for short-term assignments.

A common misconception about leveraging on-demand resources is that it makes it more difficult to maintain a core company culture, or that somehow your intellectual property would end up sitting with external resources. In reality, where organisations get their workforce mix right, the result tends to be quite the opposite. 

Rather than taking value and knowledge out of the organisation, on-demand resources bring huge amounts into the organisation. 

On-demand resources will most likely work across a number of clients and jobs concurrently, and therefore bring a massive diversity of skills and experience into your organisation with them. Your organisation also gets the benefit of the individuals’ experience in working with a diverse portfolio of clients, and your permanent core staff get the extra benefit of getting first-hand exposure to new skills and external thinking.

Having a regular set of on-demand resources to choose from also helps to maintain consistency, and only serves to strengthen company culture. If these on-demand resources are embedded in the company culture and values, and feel included in the organisation, they will continue to work for you over the longer term as and when required. They will champion the company culture, and become external advocates for you, even if they may only be working for you on a part time or flexible basis.

These days, organisations have to work hard to attract the best on-demand resources into their resource pool. These resources aren’t just a generic commodity to fill a gap, they are valuable contingent staff who can add real value to an organisation. Usually the reason these individuals are out in the market working independently is because they are highly experienced and good at what they do. They are in-demand enough to be able to sustain themselves as an independent contractor, and organisations need to be aware that there may be competition for their time.

Retaining the best on-demand resources

On-demand workers have a choice of where they work and who they work for, and if treated badly they will take their business elsewhere. Organisations that successfully employ a model of leveraging on-demand resources (such as Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, for example) are able to attract and retain top independent industry talent by treating their on-demand workforce with the same terms and respect that they afford to their permanent staff. This might take the form of offering benefits and incentives, including them in company events and even offering them development opportunities. By treating their on-demand workers fairly and equitably, these organisations ensure that they retain those individuals in their resource pool, and therefore continue to reap the benefits of having them close to the organisation. 

In the beginning, all businesses are created equal - whether it’s the hypothetical startup you’re going to create tomorrow morning, or businesses like Weta Digital when they first started. 

One of the things they all have in common is the ability to use an evolved and modernised resource model, leveraging on-demand resources to help supplement a permanent core. Organisations of every size should be ‘resourcing like a startup’ - using limited resources wisely to test, refine, and deliver their product to their customers.

Credit: Dreamstime

James Fuller is the co-founder and CEO of Hnry - a financial services business based in Wellington.

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