I ran a short course recently for a client on how to engage consultants and contractors. Feedback asked that I expand on how to better manage them once they had been engaged. A good question.

Preparation is always key to success. The better you set up the contract, the better the outcome you are going to get. Things do go wrong: expectations and understandings can be misaligned, requirements change.

Whatever the case or the cause, if you are not satisfied with the delivery, you need to deal with the issue. Avoidance is not a good plan. Issues escalate, and relationships deteriorate. No one wins.

People are at the core

Nobody comes to work wanting to do a bad job: contractor or employee. There is an added incentive for contractors: a good job today might be the key to their next job. If someone is missing the mark, it’s probably not intentional.

Sometimes they can’t hit the mark. I’ve seen plenty of people in the wrong job – but that doesn’t make them bad people.

It’s easy to be dismissive: “You’re being paid to do this; get on with it”. Fees can seem extraordinary compared to salaries. Remember, though, the individual may not be taking it all home, and being paid isn’t a crime. Few of us would come to work if we weren’t.

The current, heightened lack of job security is stressful for many. While it comes with the business, the 180-degree turnaround in the way the Government has been behaving for decades is both sudden and not in their control.

They have families, aspirations, mortgages, and the same worries as you and I. A little empathy and understanding can go a long way. Don’t accommodate poor work or poor behaviour, but you will get more with carrots than sticks.

Embedded staff come with responsibility

If you contract them to work under your direction, using your processes, you are responsible for the work that they do, when they do it, and how they do it. You must manage them like any one of your other staff, and provide similar levels of respect, freedom, and inclusiveness. It’s your job to provide a physically and mentally safe working environment.

Sometimes you do need to keep them at arm’s length, for example, where conflicts of interest might arise. However, you have engaged them because they have something to offer. You engaged them because you wanted to uplift your team’s capability and capacity. Create an environment where you can benefit from what they have to offer – and make sure they offer it. That’s not achievable if you create a two-tone workplace.

However, they are not your staff. While you need to ensure a healthy and safe workplace – mentally and physically – you are not responsible for their personal or professional issues. Don’t take responsibility for managing tardiness, absenteeism, inappropriate behaviour, inadequate work outcomes, or a CV that doesn’t match reality.

It is their employer, the company you contracted, that is responsible for their employee’s performance and quality of service. Hold them to that.

Deliverable contracting is a bit different

The choice of process, the quality of work, the people involved, and the responsibility for a successful outcome lies with the contractor when you contract for a deliverable. Your role is to create the environment for their success: access and information when needed. Don’t get in the way.

It is tempting to be part of the delivery, and to a point that’s reasonable. Be careful. Don’t hamper progress or assume responsibility by inserting yourself into the delivery. Avoid becoming a gatekeeper at checkpoints. If you do, you will become responsible for the outcome, or the excuse for lack of it.

Focus on the outcome. Facilitate progress without taking responsibility for their activity. Observe and advise, but don’t intervene. If you take on responsibility for reviewing draft deliverables, for example, you will become responsible for completeness, accuracy, quality, and any delay.

Participate and contribute, advise, and comment. Don’t control and approve. Getting it right is the contractor’s job. You are engaging them to add value and to ease your mental load. Don’t let them add to it.

Deal with the issues

Avoid avoidance, bad news doesn’t get better with age.

If you have a problem, focus on the problem, not the person. The right place to go with a performance issue is to the company with whom you are contracted. Solving performance and quality issues is their job.

Establish a point of contact outside of the delivery team. This allows difficult conversations to be separated from the working environment. Regular performance meetings, even for the smallest contract, are worthwhile. Regular and honest communication is the oil needed in good working relationships. Equally, don’t create a burden by holding too many meetings. Perhaps every month or two will be enough.

Find a rhythm that makes sense for the tempo and size of your contract. Adjust if it’s not working.

They can’t solve a problem they don’t know about.

We are now running “Contracting Consultants and Contractors” as an open program. You can find details here.

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We are on the lookout for those who can deliver outcomes, not just activity – could that be you? Why don’t you find out?

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Don’t be caught playing it too safe

If past approaches haven’t worked, it might be time to try something new. Talk to us about what we have done, and what we might do for you.

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