The 5 keys to getting top value from contractors

By Andrée Ryckman
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/04/2002

The place for contractors in the organizational chart is secure. More than most other positions in a company, a contractor’s role will always be relevant. In times of downsizing, contractors can be brought on to cost-effectively supplement core staff. In times of growth, contingent staff offer a way for companies to quickly expand workforces without the long-term costs of payroll, benefits and training.

Once a contractor is on board, an organization should ensure top value for the money spent. Pay attention to five critical keys:

1. Involve supervisors and project managers when hiring

Contractors are usually hired for a very specific strength, experience or skill set. Their project usually has a short time frame so they must get to work and become effective quickly. For this reason, achieving a good match is critical.

At the same time, there is usually a very short window for making the hire so HR professionals are faced with trying to make a laser accurate match very quickly.

That’s where project managers or the contractor’s would-be supervisor add value. The supervisor will have detailed knowledge of the exact skills and personality required and should therefore play an integral part in the hiring process.

2. Know what you are buying

Know upfront whether the contractor will be responsible for a process or a result. Each approach is different and should be dealt with accordingly.

For example, a typical contract project manager ensures all process elements are identified and completed according to internal standards and the approach agreed to for the project. He queries task managers on their estimates, dependencies and status.

If one project element is running late, he is responsible to understand why and report it. He will not usually get involved in specific problem-solving. This is a contractor responsible for the process.

If a contractor is hired to deliver a result — such as setting up a new organization that performs a certain function — she will choose and manage the processes that are most likely to deliver the result she has committed to.

If something is not working out she will fix it. For employers, the “how” is less relevant than the “what” and thus the relationship with the contractor will be more about achievements than process.

3. Don’t neglect orientation and housekeeping

It’s human nature to overlook the obvious. That’s why many companies fail to perform simple housekeeping tasks that can help a contractor cope with the day-to-day details of a new environment. Taking a few minutes to orient a contractor can help him reach peak productivity faster. Every minute a contractor spends trying to blindly navigate administrative and corporate infrastructure is a minute not spent on the job he was hired for.

Provide orientation on the very first day of a contract or even prior to the contract beginning. Here’s some points to include:

•describe your environment in detail;

•provide building and system access cards, keys and codes, as appropriate;

•provide complete and up-to-date phone lists and organizational charts;

•outline expected norms such as hours of work and dress code;

•discuss timesheet, invoicing, and payroll procedures;

•show him where to find things such as the photocopier, fax machine, office supplies and lunch room; and

•let him know what technical and administrative support is available and how to access it.

4. Lend contractors power

A contractor has no positional power. They have only two sources of power: personal influence, which may be limited due to lack of time to develop relationships, and the power associated with their sponsors.

A sponsoring manager must “lend” power to a contractor even more so than with a staff member. This is because other members of the company know the contractor is there for a short term. They believe there will be no consequences from lack of co-operation and no threat to their long-term relationships for being disloyal.

Further, staffers often perceive contractors as threatening to their positions, and the most common reaction is resistance. A contractor does not have time to build relationships and develop her personal influence so she needs the leverage of her sponsor.

5. Give contractors knowledge

A myriad of political, cultural and strategic issues are at play within an organization. Take the time to share such knowledge with contractors, otherwise you are either paying the contractor to learn on his own (and are therefore not getting full value for your dollar) or the contractor is not learning your environment at all and, as a result, is not as effective as he could be, diminishing productivity and your return-on-investment. Either way you lose, so it pays to share knowledge.

Consider sharing information about:

Political landscape:

Where is the buy-in? Where is the resistance, and why? Who shouldn’t be crossed?

Strategic objectives:

What are both the public and confidential objectives of the project? Of the organization as a whole?

History:

Did the project fail once before? Was he brought in to replace another contractor who failed to meet objectives?

Personalities:

Who are the key team members and what are their working personalities? How might the contractor modify his style to be effective with each person?

An experienced contractor will have a list of questions. Benefit from their hard experience and make yourself available for those questions at the outset and throughout the term of the contract. If you are worried about confidential or sensitive information, have the contractor sign a non-disclosure agreement, but share as much as you can.

Also be open to turning the tables and taking advantage of a contractor’s perspective and advice. Contractors have nothing to lose or gain in your organization so they will likely give you the most neutral observations of anyone around you.

Whether it’s a boom or bust economy, contractors can play an integral role in an organization. The key to success is maximizing their productivity so that human resource dollars are well spent.

Andrée Ryckman is a certified management consultant who helps organizations exploit opportunities presented by emerging technologies and process methods. She can be reached at (416) 274-1586 or andree.ryckman@utoronto.ca.

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