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Ep 463: Fractional Hiring

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With continuing skills shortages and massive disruption to how and where work is done, it is not surprising to see innovation as employers start to think differently about talent. Fractional hiring is rising and has some significant benefits to employers and employees. But what is it, how does it work, and how is it different from traditional interim and contract hiring?

My guest this week is Matt Widdoes, CEO of Mavan. Mavan is a globally dispersed network of specialized former growth leaders at iconic tech brands working fractionally, and Matt has some unique insights to share on this growing trend.

In the interview, we discuss:

• What is fractional hiring?

• Recruiting as the key to growth

• The current state of the talent market

• Specialist talent as a resource that can be turned on and off

• Benefits for organizations and the implications for the career development of individuals

• The mindset shift employers need to make to use fractional working successfully.

• Decentralized talent pools

• The kind of roles that can be fractional

• How is fractional different from interim and contract?

• What does the future of work look like

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Transcription

SHL Solutions (1s):
Support for this podcast is provided by SHL, from talent acquisition to talent management. SHL solutions provide your organization with the power and scale to build your business with a skilled, motivated and energized workforce you need. SHL takes the guesswork out of growing a talented team by helping you match the right people to the right moments with simplicity and speed. They equip recruiters and leaders with people insights at an organization, team, and individual level, accelerating growth, decision-making talent, mobility, and inspiring an inclusive culture.

SHL Solutions (44s):
To build a future where businesses thrive, because their people thrive, visit shl.com to learn more.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 11s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 463 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. With continuing skills shortages and massive disruption to how and where work is done, it is not surprising to see innovation as employers start to think differently about talent. Fractional hiring is rising and has some significant benefits to employers and employees. But what is it? How does it work, and how is it different from traditional interim and contract hiring? My guest this week is Matt Widdoes, CEO of Mavan.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 51s):
Mavan is a globally dispersed network of specialized former growth leaders at iconic tech brands who works fractionally, and Matt has some unique insights to share on this growing trend.

Matt Alder (2m 5s):
Hi, Matt and welcome to the podcast.

Matt Widdoes (2m 8s):
Hi! Thank you for having me.

Matt Alder (2m 9s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Matt Widdoes (2m 17s):
Sure. I’m CEO of Mavan. We’re a network of senior leaders from the fastest-growing companies in tech. And we’ve kind of validate and grow startups from series A to C. Previously, I led all of the marketing operations and media buying for video game company called King, which makes Candy Crush and a bunch of other games. And then prior to that was that Zynga and Intuit, and Red Bull and a bunch of other companies. So happy to be on today.

Matt Alder (2m 41s):
Fantastic stuff. Well, it’s a pleasure to speak to you. And you’ve got kind of really interesting story in terms of what you’ve done and in terms of what you do. Tell us about your sort of involvement with recruiting and the talent market.

Matt Widdoes (2m 58s):
Yeah, I mean, recruiting is core to kind of growth, right. So at the end of the day, when you take a look at a company, they’ve got kind of three key elements. You’ve got the idea, you’ve got the funding, and then you’ve got the people. So, anytime somebody’s trying to raise money, it’s almost always going to the people. And so we kind of take a unique approach to it, where it is important for us to bring in the right level of specialization when needed. And so we bring in a bunch of fractional specialists. So we hire largely probably call it 60 – 70% of our team is fractional, and then the rest is relied on full-time employees. And so that’s a little bit different than traditional companies.

Matt Alder (3m 40s):
Want to sort of in-depth about the fractional part of your business and fractional hiring in general. Before we do, though, give us your sense about what you see happening in the market, as far as talent is concerned at the moment, because it’s a bit of a confusing picture. There’s lots of things going on. What do you what are you seeing with the organizations that you’re working with?

Matt Widdoes (3m 59s):
Yeah, I think it varies. And there’s been a lot of kind of up and down over the last two years. I think what I see most often as kind of the common theme is that the best of the best are still very much in demand and hard to find. I see a lot of companies kind of, we’ve seen some layoffs, but I think a lot of companies are kind of in a holding pattern and many employees are too. So I think there’s less people willing to take a jump right now switching careers because they’re trying to figure out what the next six months old. But I think when you look fractionally the picture is very different.

Matt Alder (4m 35s):
Let’s talk about that. Because there will be people listening who have not heard of or come across fractional hiring before. What is fractional hiring and why is it? Why do you believe it’s needed?

Matt Widdoes (4m 48s):
Well, I think in short, all companies would benefit from specialized talent. And not all companies can afford specialized talent or not all companies have a full-time role for specialists. And so they often end up hiring generalists, and they get hit from both sides, or they go and hire a full-time specialist only to find that after the first nine months. They’re kind of not exactly sure what that person is going to work on next. The person is not really sure. And you don’t want to just let these people go. It’s a huge problem both culturally and just long-term for the business. And so you end up, especially at larger companies seeing a lot of specialists that kind of came in for six months to 18 months worth of work, but they’ve been there for five years.

Matt Widdoes (5m 28s):
And they’re kind of plodding along and finding things to work on to be productive. But ultimately, it’s super inefficient use of their time and the company’s resources. And so, fractional hiring allows you to bring in people, for specific projects that have deep expertise in that area. You can think of this, even consultants and stuff like that, or would kind of fall into that camp, and leverage that person or their team for a kind of finite amount of time to deliver against the goals that needed at that time for the company, and then turn off those resources, and maybe turn them back on in a year or maybe leave them off, because you’ve essentially solved what you set out to solve.

Matt Alder (6m 6s):
And I suppose to dive a bit deeper into that, because I’m interested in it from the perspective of the organizations, but also from the perspective of the talent and in terms of people’s careers. Tell us more about why this is good for organizations and how it works?

Matt Widdoes (6m 23s):
Yeah, I mean, it’s great. When you look at it from the kind of the perspective of the organization as well as from the person itself, from the person’s perspective, they can get multiple years’ worth of experience in one year, having worked on similar project at similar companies all at once. So, take any specialist that comes into an organization and is typically hired to do the same thing they’ve done over the last 15 years at a handful of other companies. Their playbook and their kind of approach to solving the same problem typically looks about the same. And so you also see that in the first nine months of somebody being in a role, you’re getting about 80% of the value there.

Matt Widdoes (7m 7s):
And so for the person, what we found is the top half a percent of talent, people who are have deep expertise in their area of specialization, they often are bored at work, they’re often underutilized, they can impact more than one company at a time positively. And so going fractional allows people to spread their kind of impact. And you know, it’s more rewarding for somebody to say, “Hey, I’ve worked, I did the same thing three times three different companies versus one time at one company, and then spent the rest of my time in meetings or kind of filling my time as best as I could, because I want to show that I’m being productive.” And then on the customer side, or on the business side, you get this ability to have really high quality in depth kind of infrastructure built out or have things built in a way that’s best in class that’s been informed by specialists across every function of whatever that project might be, without having to carry that long term overhead of a dozen full-time specialists.

Matt Widdoes (8m 7s):
You can do that fractionally at the cost of maybe two generalists.

Matt Alder (8m 11s):
And when sort of people are working fractionally they’re sort of for the long term. Is that sort of how it how you see it working?

Matt Widdoes (8m 19s):
I think it depends. I think we’re if you’re talking about one-off projects, they just kind of come and go. But I think what we see is this really strong desire for again, that kind of top echelon of talent, that top half a percent of talent, where they are invigorated and excited about being able to impact multiple companies at once. They get to maybe play their hand a little bit in gaming, or in direct-to-consumer or b2b, and they’re getting a better sense of the areas that maybe they’d like to move their career without having to make a full-time commitment. And then on the client side, or at the company level, sometimes you do have somebody who’s kind of in the wings, and you’re able to say, “Hey, great, we are no longer having to carry the cost of that downtime, because we just kind of use this person as needed.

Matt Widdoes (9m 6s):
And that actually ends up being 10 hours every week for the next five years. Or maybe it just comes in these fits and spurts where they’re in for a very specific six month project out while the rest of the company builds the other supporting infrastructure, and then back in for another six months, once the company is caught up, versus the traditional model where for those six months where the company is catching up, that person’s kind of twiddling their thumbs or kind of walking around the machine and seeing minor areas where they can add value.”

Matt Alder (9m 37s):
In terms of making this work. What are the barriers? What kind of mindset shift do organizations need to go through to sort of really fully get the benefit of this way of working?

Matt Widdoes (9m 50s):
Well, I think, first and foremost, it’s transparency with data. I think you see this a lot when companies bring in outside consultants or they bring in particularly with agencies, is you typically hoard a bunch of data you don’t really expose what you’re working on. You very rarely laying out your 18-month blueprints or opening up various elements of data to that person that’s kind of on a need-to-know basis only. And so much of that stuff is important when somebody’s building something where they say, “Oh, well, if I had known you were working towards this end goal, I would have actually built it totally different. But because you hid that from me, I built it with a shorter timeframe or with a totally different perspective in mind.” So, I think first and foremost, an organization’s willingness and ability to share data and context freely is really big.

Matt Widdoes (10m 37s):
And I’m not sure, you know, it’s funny how that happens, because sometimes people say, “Well, this person is not a full time hire, if they were full time, we would expose those things.” Yet, that person might be on for 12 to 18 months. And it’s not uncommon for a full time person to leave after 18 months, themselves. So, you’re never really getting that protection internally, whether you like it or not. And people also talk at cocktail party. So, I can’t count the number of times where I’ve been told about something happening at a company that somebody’s working on, that is meant to be kept internal or secret, because it’s just interesting and that’s how the world works. People do talk. And so you kind of can’t get around that.

Matt Widdoes (11m 17s):
But I think that’s one. And I think if I had to choose a second, it would be this acceptance, that growth within your company happens because a number of different things are happening at the same time, at a high level of quality. And so this kind of shift that growth mindset is really the kind of job or responsibility of everybody within the org versus just a few departments like sales or product or marketing. And so that’s what we typically are looking at on our side are companies that are looking to either continue a period of explosive growth or kick one off.

Matt Alder (11m 59s):
And has the pandemic influence this at all, as it has accelerated the move towards this way of thinking about talent?

Matt Widdoes (12m 7s):
I think it has, I think the decentralization the ability for people to work anywhere, you know, it’s funny pre-pandemic, the idea that your entire company could not come into the office was kind of insane. And I think it works, because everybody’s on a level playing field. And I think if you take a traditional role like sales, you would actually be at a huge disadvantage if your salespeople could not travel to meet with clients and things like that. But when everybody’s on an equal footing, and nobody’s traveling, and you know, it’s kind of a what’s called a red Queen’s race where everything’s moving at the same speed. And so, I think it has. And I think that the willingness and desire I think it’s, it’s shown to the talent market, that you also don’t have to be internal physically in a building to drive value.

Matt Widdoes (12m 50s):
And it seems so obvious looking back and I think many people had that inclination, but it’s hard to get people over that mental hump of why are you know, I’m paying for you to be in the office, why aren’t you in the office? So yeah, I think for sure, this is accelerated by more than 2x?

Matt Alder (13m 6s):
And what type of roles does this work for? Or what type of roles did this not work for I suppose?

Matt Widdoes (13m 15s):
It’s a good question. I think it depends on the person. And I think it depends a little bit on the company. We’ve got people who’ve worked with us full-time for over two years that I’ve never met in person, I’ve never physically been in front of them. And so I think it by and large, really boils down to the individual and the companies. I know, that’s not a super satisfying answer. But my sense is that it could and should work for every role.

Matt Alder (13m 46s):
I suppose how does this helper work from a hiring perspective in terms of people identifying the sort of top echelons of talent and specialists to work with or people who are willing to work this way?

Matt Widdoes (13m 59s):
Well, I think if you want to hire the best people in the world, you have to be willing to hire all over the world. And so not everybody is going to be within a 20-minute commute of your offices in London, or San Francisco, or Tokyo, or insert any city. And so this approach opens up the talent pool to truly be global. It allows people to hire with a focus on quality and less about around geography. And you know, there are nuances where you do have to think about what time zone do we does the company typically operate in, and is that person willing and able to kind of overlap at least with those maybe not complete alignment but having some clear office hours that overlap, because meetings are still necessary in the face to face communication, even if it’s over zoom, it’s still important, but I think it just wildly opens up the pool of candidates when you compare it to looking for somebody just in your major city.

Matt Alder (14m 53s):
Obviously, this is going to vary from person to person and from role to role and organization to organization. But I just want to give people a sense of how this might be different to sort of traditional contracting and those kinds of things in terms of, you know, how many fractional roles do you think it’s realistic for one person to have at any one time in to sort of maintain that Deep Dive into organizations and make that long term difference.

Matt Widdoes (15m 19s):
Well, to your point, it does vary based on the organization. But in many ways, it’s not dissimilar to how you would build an internal team. So you still need a project manager, you still need somebody who’s owning that portion of the business. So, if we take a traditional company who maybe has a, let’s take a traditional startup that maybe has a head of marketing, or somebody who’s a really strong generalist, and they also have a head of product, who’s a really strong generalist in product. And we see this all the time, particularly with companies of say, less than a dozen full-time employees. Well, that head of marketing, still has a number of needs that they’re not going to be well suited for, as a generalist. And it depends on that person. But there’s going to be, you know, from all of the creative production and all of the consumer insights stuff down to the user acquisition and ad creation, and the data and analytics tied to user acquisition, to the on-page conversion rate optimization or SEO, or any number of things on the content side and social down to lifecycle.

Matt Widdoes (16m 12s):
So email, push, SMS, all of those things, and the writing out of those, and the scheduling of those and all of the automation workflows that are tied to that down to the data and analytics, and the structural stuff that has to be built, as well as the segmentation. All these other things you can see very quickly when you think about how companies operate at scale, particularly companies that are growing quickly, even just in a department like marketing, there are oftentimes dozens of specialists that are needed at scale, that if you were 100 person, or 200 person company, that you would have those people running in the org in their area of expertise. And how we were built, and what we’re pushing towards is that companies don’t have to wait until they’re 200 full-time employees to drive that.

Matt Widdoes (16m 55s):
So take that same example. And your question being how many you know, people can you bring in in this matter? Well, if you take that head of marketing, and you say, Head of Marketing, meet your head of consumer insights, who’s fractional maybe only a few hours a week, your head of creative user acquisition lifecycle, conversion rate optimization, SEO, the data analytics, here’s your team, they’ve come in and over the course of maybe three weeks, four weeks, like a normal, full-time employee would, they’ve come in and taken a look at the business and they’ve laid out all of the areas that they see is obvious low hanging fruit, as well as some longer-term projects. They’ve presented that to you, you’ve greenlit and earmarked the ones that make most sense.

Matt Widdoes (17m 37s):
Now knowing what you know about the organization internally and what your goals are. And then they get to work. And so you can have a situation where for the cost of one additional generalist, you’ve actually got dozens of specialists working in their discrete areas of specialization and expertise, building infrastructure and initial, you know, essentially building out the initial infrastructure to be built for scale with a high quality of work, because they know exactly what they’re doing in that area versus having your generalists do it, who’s making lots of mistakes across every single area, because they’re not specialists. And so, I think traditionally, companies have seen that as something they have to wait for. And by leveraging fractional talent, if you’re using really high skilled quality performers in each seat, you don’t have to wait for that you can have the same impact early as as much later stage companies have.

Matt Alder (18m 28s):
So that makes perfect sense. And I can see how lots of companies would benefit from that. And it kind of really makes sense as a very sort of flexible way of companies sort of building and scaling. To finish with a slightly more general question. Obviously, everything that’s happened in the last sort of two or three years, has really kind of accelerated change at work. And I think we’re all looking to the future and wondering what work will look like in five years’ time, you know, what kind of mix of types of workers you’ll have in businesses and those kinds of things? What do you think the future of work looks like?

Matt Widdoes (19m 3s):
Operationally, I think it we start to probably shift back more towards people coming in the office. And we’re starting to see that now with a number of companies, and I think better prepared if for some reason people needed to go remote again, than we’ve ever been. So I do think we’ll see a shift back towards interoffice work. I also think that there are some people where the switch has been flipped, and they will no longer be willing to be in the office five days a week. And that’s just something that they’re going to expect. I also think, you know, there’s been a lot of talk around four-day work weeks and shortened work weeks, and whether or not eight hours a day, five days a week, or 10 hours or 12 hours a day, five days a week for that matter, is really the optimal approach and structure.

Matt Widdoes (19m 49s):
And so I do think that we’ll see more and more companies shifting towards maybe not a four-day work week, but a more unique structure and what we’ve traditionally seen to offer their employees flexibility and if nothing else, the ability to get work done on their own time. So back to that previous point of somebody being in a different time zone, we don’t need everybody to be in the exact same time. We do need some overlap so that we can have some non, we can essentially have synchronous communication around certain things, but so much of work happens away from the meeting that I think we’ll just start to see more and more flexibility there generally.

Matt Alder (20m 32s):
Matt, thank you very much talking to me.

Matt Widdoes (20m 36s):
Thank you for having me.

Matt Alder (20m 37s):
My thanks to Matt. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com.

Matt Alder (21m 19s):
On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time, and I hope you’ll join me.

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