Making contract work a success: setting expectations from day one
Virginia Williams, Published: November 2, 2020 - Updated: November 30, 2020
As business leaders forge a new path towards economic success, the contingent workforce is being held out as one solution to creating dynamic stability within teams. Contingent work can fill skills gaps for employers while taking the pressure off headcounts in the ebb and flow of managing a lean business. Temporary contract work holds promise for workers too as they aspire to new ways of managing work-life integration. But this arrangement calls for tailored management and clear communication to make it a true win-win scenario.
To help business leaders and contractors successfully navigate temporary work/gig arrangements Embedded Expertise General Manager, Virginia Williams, has offered some helpful insights for the first phase of a new contract based on her years of experience in the contingent technical market. Virginia refers to contractors as ‘experts’ as a reflection of the value Embedded Expertise places on the technical knowledge contract workers bring to their roles.
First up, do nothing
I get it, you’re walking into a new contract thinking “First impressions. You don’t get a second chance.” Stakes feel high and you want to get it right. The immediate impulse is to jump straight into the first task that comes your way and deliver a win. You are itching to turn that to-do list into a ta-da list.
Although this approach may feel necessary to demonstrate your value, it may not be in your best interests, or the best interests of the organisation you’re working for. Contractors can find themselves arriving on the scene when tensions may be elevated and deadlines are looming. Requests often come flying in thick and fast, but the loudest voices are not necessarily the ones that you should be immediately attuned to. Time taken to pause and understand the lay of the land before diving into the new workload will be time well spent. The priorities of the business, rather than those of individuals, may not be immediately clear but well worth getting a handle on.
In reality, the best thing an expert can do is pause and understand what’s actually going on. As soon as they arrive people start throwing everything at them, not knowing everyone is throwing everything at them. So a valuable skill for experts is discernment to be able to understand what the priorities in the business are.
This look-before-you-leap strategy can be hard to stick to. Time is money and the clock is ticking. The salary gap between contractors and permanent staff can create tension and put pressure on contractors to prove they’re worth a potentially higher hourly rate from the moment they arrive. Despite this pressure, a cautious approach to your first task will be a great long term investment, for you and the team you’re working in.
It’s really doing the opposite of what your gut wants you to do, which is get in there and be really busy and show how effective you are. You actually need to take some time to understand what’s going on and what the whole team’s priorities are and where you are being expected to deliver an outcome not just look busy.
How do I say that? I really want to understand who’s who and what’s really going on, what the priorities are and how things have progressed to date.
Dig deeper than the CV
As a first point of contact, CVs have their place. They function as a useful tool for sorting through candidates and getting a sense of career highlights. However, this high-level view is generally where their usefulness ends and more detailed methods of inquiry are needed to fully appreciate the skills and experience of new talent. Technical ability is only part of the skill set required for project success, with soft skills and a human-centric approach often of equal importance, but much harder to decipher from documentation alone.
In the technical world, people just go from CVs and, in my experience, CVs are limited in their ability to give a full picture of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Soft skills are as important as technical skills. They aren’t on a CV and if they are they might not necessarily be accurate. Interpersonal skills and how a worker interacts with team members day-to-day can be difficult to convey in writing.
To gain a clearer picture of a candidate’s skills and workplace behaviour there really is no substitute for an honest chat. A well-prepared discussion, with follow-up questions that delve into the phrases written in a job application, will allow for a better view of how a contractor will fit in with your team.
It’s having really candid conversations with people. Questions that drill down on the specifics of a situation and focus on “how” rather than “what” will help you to form a more accurate picture of how a candidate conducts themselves in the work environment. Time should also be devoted to lessons learned from difficult situations, rather than focusing only on success stories. Ensuring there is a culture and environment of learning and adapting so you get the best out of people. No one can give their best when risk-taking is removed and micromanagement is business as usual. Particularly in the OT space, clients want a different outcome therefore the input and approach must also be different.
The information gathered in this process can be used to develop a skills and experience matrix, or competency map, as a visual tool for planning the best use of an experts skills as they help to serve the peaks of demand on your team.
How do I say that? For example, If the expert/contractor says “I’m really good at negotiating in stressful situations and still getting priorities achieved.” You can ask for more details by saying, “When did you do that? How did you manage that? Was it successful? If it wasn’t, why not? What would you do differently next time?”
Time spent at the beginning of a contract to get a clear understanding of expectations on both sides of the work arrangement will prove a valuable investment for contractors and management. An informed assessment of team priorities and the best skills fit a contractor can add to projects will help to provide the scaffolding for a successful engagement.
In our next blog, Virginia Williams will give some helpful advice for maintaining a clear flow of communication throughout a project and give some insight on the best approach for regular check-ins.
For specific advice on navigating contract work arrangements book a phone chat with the experts at Embedded Expertise today.