Performance reviews ignore many (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/09/2004

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or many organizations the first quarter is performance review time. And while managers and employees are busily completing annual reviews to meet HR deadlines, one group of workers is usually left out of the process — contract staff.

And the size of this “unreviewed” group without professional development plans is growing. The Canadian Policy Research Networks estimates 37 per cent of working Canadians are self-employed or working part-time or temporary jobs.

Employers’ desire to avoid the tangles of employment relationships and the costs of benefits has led to a surge in the number of contingent workers and contract staff. In many cases these people are barely independent. They work with permanent staff, and sometimes are difficult to differentiate from those actually on the payroll. Contingent employees often toil for only one organization, making the term “independent contractor” a misnomer.

So if they are doing the jobs of full-time people (just under another arrangement), why should they be exempt from performance review processes built to improve skills and set goals? Depending on the nature and length of the relationship, developing contract staff is good sense. It improves an individual’s ability to provide value to an organization.

And, as with permanent staff, managers should have an understanding of what a contract position can be expected to contribute to the organization. How is time spent and how are priorities determined? And managers should be able to set goals and determine measures of success. Managers can plan for a growth in responsibilities or a decrease in the amount of overview required.

Another advantage to giving contract workers performance reviews is the potential for filling future labour needs. Contract workers may aspire to other roles, either in-house or on contract. A performance review with a professional development plan gives HR the option of adding contract employees to succession planning.

Yes, an organization should expect independent contractors to take care of their own professional development. But what if they don’t? Are you ready to drop a computer programmer who has worked well with your group for the last two years because his skills need an upgrade that his budget can’t afford? You can drop him, his knowledge of your organization’s processes and his ability to fit into the corporate or team culture. Then you can go looking. Interview other people for the position, use up the time of hiring managers and HR, try new people out and break them into the system. Hopefully, the first pick will be as reliable as the contractor you just dropped, and you won’t have to try out a second or third person. There may be a drop in productivity as the new contractor adjusts to processes and routines, but at least you didn’t spend $1,000 upgrading that last person’s skills to better meet your needs.

Pushback will come from leaders reluctant to add a level of complexity to the employment relationship, something that goes against the flexible, “no ties” setup that employers like about contingent staff. But avoiding the legal and benefit responsibilities that come with contingent staff doesn’t preclude finding value in spending on training and development for contract workers. Some of them are more likely to be around than employees who intern, train and depart.

Overburdened managers, who already find performance reviews a time-consuming form of corporate torture, may not like taking on the additional work of assessing contract workers. Present it as an option. Managers should only review key contract workers they expect to continue indefinitely in roles. Review of contract workers can be separated from the timetable for completion of annual reviews. If permanent staff are reviewed in March, applicable contractors could be done a few months later at the manager’s convenience. A contractor’s connection to goals can be adjusted to the business unit’s changing priorities throughout the year.

If it is worth having someone work for you, it’s worth developing that relationship to its most productive potential.

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