Growth is hard.

The high growth technology companies are beset with environmental limitations which restrict growth. One of those key restrictions is access to talent, the right talent, and hardest of all: the right talent at the right time.

It’s true, growing companies need different people at different times. Meaning that resources which are brought on early must be enormously flexible for instance. The Elastic Workforce (EW) has been touted as a solution to the problems of growth. I first came across this idea in Salim Ismail’s excellent “Exponential Organizations” (http://www.exponentialorgs.com/).

But what is an elastic workforce, and how can it be used?

Consider first our approach to modern cloud services. We plug into a service and the service scales with our demand, without really considering. Assuming we have our business model appropriately scaling we never really feel an increase in cost because cost is proportional to scale.

In essence the elastic workforce is a human cloud service. To leverage the cloud you can ask it to do a couple of things.

1) Take away this pain.

You have a particular problem to solve, which might be orthogonal to your business model, so you outsource it. Consider email, I have no interest in running my own email infrastructure. Email is a business expectation, running my own mail server simply adds no value to my business. yet its absolutely necessary to my operations. Ok, I’ll give that to gmail. Sparkgeo takes this approach to book-keeping and accounting. Its not geospatial or software, so we outsource it. This is the most common way of thinking about the elastic workforce – simple task based contracting.

2) Scale my operation.

Another approach to the EW is designed specifically to support growth. Here you have a particular business dependancy where you know you will need talent growth. This could be marketing, or software development, or in our purview, geospatial web development. Typically, this talent gap is closer to the expertise differentiator of your business. It is an area you know you want to grow, but you also know you want just the right people. Thus means that hiring will likely be slow and competitive. In this case it is possible to engage a third party to act as your “Elastic Load Balancer” of talent, to use Amazon Web Service’s parlance. What this means is that you always have the capacity available to grow, because you have done the groundwork to develop a relationship with a third party. You have a negotiated contract for ad-hoc hours likely with a minimum, but potentially with options for “a few months off” to support any seasonality and you have gone through any development on-boarding / orientation. All this means you can now assign resources relatively instantly.

In considering this model, imagine you have a fairly consistent growth expectation:

By leveraging an elastic workforce, you can meet demand whilst ensuring you are not just bringing on bodies for the sake of it. It is easy to break a company culture by bringing on people who are not a good fit because of excessive demand. This way you can pay closer attention to hiring whilst knowing you are not sacrificing your immediate growth potential. Additionally, it is possible to drop resourcing without shedding any hard won full time employees. Layoffs are never fun, this way you can avoid that situation completely.

The Elastic Workforce is a useful tool in the business toolbox of any growing company. Good luck!

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