From the Big Screen to the Ballpark to the Board Room

Driving Business Results and Reducing Fixed Costs

Fashions and hairstyles have traditionally been the biggest trends coming out of Hollywood. But, the way people now work there is another trend that businesses should become more familiar with. Years ago, Hollywood moguls controlled everything and employed everyone; an unsustainable model because of its high fixed costs. Hollywood soon saw the development of the talent agent, someone brokering the people and the studios, matching individuals’ talents with studio requirements on an as needed basis.


And then, once that system matured and to more effectively manage the business of moviemaking, Hollywood innovated a new model that uses free agent teams, a talent deployment and utilization strategy that allows the studios to be more flexible, agile, competitive and cost effective. Thomas Malone describes this trend as a shift from “command and control thinking to coordinate and cultivate.”  This had a major impact on the way people work. Today, rather than traditionally employing large groups of people, project teams are common in the film industry. A producer, a director, actors, cinematographers and others come together for the purpose of making one movie and then disband and regroup in different combinations to make others. A new team is then put together and people with the required skills are brought together to execute in the most efficient and effective way. 

Another major industry to follow Hollywood’s lead was professional sports. For years, players were owned by the franchises. Slowly but surely, the highly accomplished and most desirable people in sports began to be represented by talent agents. These agents act as brokers between the best athletes and the sports teams that need their talents to fill specific requirements for specific time periods.

Why shouldn’t the corporate world begin to embrace this model as an efficient and effective way to manage businesses?  Agents, such as, can now help companies engage the talent they need to solve specific business problems or accelerate critical initiatives. It is an idea whose time has come to the boardroom for three primary reasons:

•    Businesses can gain access to deep knowledge and expertise-with done it before resources
•    All associated costs are variable rather than fixed -no recruiting, benefits or severance costs
•    Independent professionals and executives are goal oriented and have no political agenda-giving business leaders the objective feedback they need to make great business decisions.

Accomplished professionals and executives in unprecedented numbers are seeking alternatives to traditional employment. The “independently employed” workforce is emerging. These are people who choose to continue to leverage their valuable skills but act as free agents. They are engaging with companies in projects where they can capitalize on their valuable expertise for limited time periods or for specific project needs. Self employed workers increased significantly over the last few years and consulting is the most desirable option for work according to research done by Merrill Lynch.

The days of a company taking care of you and your family are long gone; the 90’s changed all that. As Daniel Pink so articulately states, “It used to be that the bargain between employee and employer was that the employee gave loyalty and the employer gave security…the bargain is now that the individual gives talent and the organization provides opportunities.”  That is a fundamental and significant change in the relationship. This fundamental change is going to create a need for talent agents to represent executives and accomplished professionals with valuable skills in what will be a fiercely competitive marketplace. Peter Cappelli, Director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania says “It’s much more like an open market; you need intermediaries in the middle to help the markets operate. And the intermediaries are the people who can help match workers to jobs.”  According to Linda Stewart, CEO of EPOCH Workforce, this is a model that has been practiced extensively in Europe and Asia for decades. As a result of these economic times, when companies need to continue to drive results but must learn to manage their fixed costs, of which employment is the largest component, it just makes good business sense to engage people in project oriented work rather than employ them.


To take full advantage of the growing independently employed market, companies must learn to trust accomplished free agents with important strategic and tactical assignments. Operationally, they must learn to assemble the right team for each task and then disband it, confident that executive talent will be available for future projects. By engaging accomplished professionals and executives they need for limited time and variable costs, forward thinking companies can increase their business agility, manage risks, reduce costs and drive business results.