Managing Your Contractors

Managing Your Contractors

The beginning of a new year typically brings an influx of resolutions, self-improvement drives and diets as we use the annual milestone to break old habits and form better ones.

YouGov estimates 63% of Brits plan to take out new year’s resolutions. But perhaps rather soberingly, according to a BusinessInsider, a whopping 80% of these are likely to fail by February.

Forbes Magazine reports that only about 8% of New Year resolutions are successful. Deeper analysis shows the two things that typically create success are:

  1. Keep it Simple
  2. Make it Tangible.

With this in mind, and as the new year begins, it’s the perfect time to take a look again at what can be improved in your team or workplace. As with any lasting improvement or change, it typically starts with self-reflection. With this in mind, a few simple questions.

  • Are you getting the most out of your contractors?
  • What are the common pitfalls managers make when working with contractors and freelancers (as well as a few universal ones!)?
  • How can you avoid these mistakes and embrace a more healthy, productive and symbiotic relationship with non-employed staff?
  • How important is managing contractors anyway, can’t they just manage themselves?

You may well think that with all the things you have to do this year, spending time on staff who may only be with you for a few months is not a good use of your energy.  

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Your contract staff often handle highly specialised work. Research suggests, making sure they feel happy and supported in their job will mean higher productivity, higher standards, and a better outcome overall (Forbes found that happy employees are 20% more productive than unhappy employees).

By their nature, many contractors possess hard to resource skills. A positive impression and a good relationship will mean that you can reach out to them again in the future, as and when you need them.

Finally, learning how to create a positive environment for your temporary staff will have a knock-on effect for permanent staff too.

Employees will care for the company they are working for if they know that they are being looked after. Employees are the best asset of every organisation, and putting effort into employee wellness can encourage better teamwork, increased productivity and reduce sick leave and workplace accidents.” 6Q Blog

So when your staff see you treating contractors fairly, they will have more respect for you, feel more secure in their own jobs, and work better as a team.

The Pitfalls

First, identify your current approach to contractor management. There are many identified management styles, and we’ve identified 4 styles we often see when it comes to managing contractors.

Chances are your style will be a combination of these, with your own unique nuances. But, categorization can be a useful way of identifying ways you can improve.

The “micro” Manager

You likely spend a lot of extra time with your temporary staff. They don’t know the company, have the experience with the project, or have connections with the rest of the team, so they need a helping hand, right?

On the plus side, your contractors will fully understand the brief, know what you expect from them, and feel like they can come to you for advice. However, if you spend too much time micromanaging, they’ll feel as though you underestimate and dont trust them.

Having you breathing down their neck every 5 minutes will make it impossible for them to get the job done, and bringing in an expert is pointless if you’re going to redo all the work yourself.

The “arms length” manager

Contractors are there to do a job and you’re inclined to view them as a commodity. Chances are you don’t spend too much time with them, don’t want to deal with any problems from them, and generally don’t want to be bothered by them in any way.

Although this leaves the contractor with a lot of space to get their work done, it’s unlikely to lead to a good relationship with them, and they may even come out of the contract feeling under appreciated.

It may also take the contractor longer to grasp what’s expected of them, which can lead to mistakes and delays further down the line.

The “all the same” manager

You handle contractors as you would any other member of staff. You’re the manager, they work for you and you set the rules.

By not treating contractors differently, they may find it easier to blend in to the rest of the team, however you must recognise that your relationship with them is different. In most cases, you need the contractor as much as they need you, and if they aren’t happy they can leave and find another contract without a second thought.

They also have different concerns and desires than an ordinary employee. They have to juggle different demands, such as managing their own taxes and benefits, as well as planning for their next contract.

The “laid back” manager

You take the approach that when a contractor comes in, they’re the expert and will make the right choices for your team. You’re unlikely to question their decisions or double check what they’re doing, and you may find yourself relying on them to direct the project.

While this approach can help you get the most benefit from your contractors knowledge and expertise, you may find yourself losing touch with the project and the rest of your team.

While the majority of contractors are incredibly professional, they are still people and mistakes can happen. It’s important to keep an eye on what they’re doing and maintain authority over the project, so that you’re sure the project gets completed to the highest standard.

Make a Change

Once you’ve recognised your management style (or possibly just identified some of your behaviours) you can begin to make small changes. Our top tips can help you improve your relationship with your contractors.

Understand their Motivators

As you’ll already know from managing regular staff, everybody has different motivators that drive them to do well. Contractors are no different, but their motivators often take on a different form.

They are unlikely to be incentivised by traditional motivators such as stability, corporate perks or office atmosphere/ environment. A contractor will find more value in experience, training and financial remuneration.

That’s not to say that other factors aren’t important, but taking the time to get to know your contractor and discover what they care about will make it much easier to motivate them down the line.

Communicate Clearly

A contractor wants to provide a good service, as this is how they build their reputation. Communicating clearly will not only help them deliver what you need, but can also help prevent future frustration and a breakdown in the relationship.

Make sure you have a clear brief ready for when a new contractor starts, and set aside the time to discuss it in detail with them. After that, you should try and schedule in regular time to check in with them. This can be as formal or informal as you like, but it should be regular enough to allow you to pick up any miscommunications early.

Build a relationship

Although you don’t need to invest the same level of time into a contractor as you would a permanent employee, you should still try and get to know them on a personal level, as this can make it easier to reach out to them in the future.

As well as your own relationship, you should invest some time into making sure they build a relationship with the team. Try to avoid singling them out from the rest of the team. This can be as simple as sitting them with everyone else, inviting them to important meetings and allowing them access to the same onsite perks (free breakfast, gym membership etc).

Don’t micromanage, but do give feedback

Finding the right balance here can be tricky, but try thinking back to what you know about a contractor’s motivators. Their choice to be a contractor means they likely crave autonomy, however, they will also be constantly looking to improve themselves to increase their value.

Give them the space they need to do their work, but be direct and honest with them. If the work is taking too long or isn’t up to standard, let them know in a constructive way, and give them the chance to fix it before jumping in.

Pay fairly

While this is most likely arranged long before you get the contractor in the office, the way you pay your contractors can have a big impact on how you manage them.

As we know, remuneration is important for contractors. You get what you pay for, and if you aren’t willing to offer market rates you’ll struggle to find people with the right level of knowledge. You may also find that you get a bad reputation amongst contractors as a stingy employer.

If you value the work someone does for you, make sure their paycheck reflects that.

Track the Impact

There’s no point putting the work into making a change if you can see its benefit.

Remember the two key requirements for any successful change.

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Make it tangible

In order for something to be tangible, it should have a clear end goal. This will differ depending on your own personal or business goals. It may be that you want to increase contractor retention rates, see an increase in productivity, or improve employee satisfaction.

Try and decide on a way to measure progress towards your goal early. It may be as simple as monitoring your average contract length, or it may be more in-depth.

For example, a weekly NPS score for those involved in the project. This simple measurement (skewed 1-10) will give a great litmus test to how people rate the contractor’s progress.

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I’d love to hear how you go about managing contractors within your team, and if you want anymore advice about managing your teams, you can download our free ebook, How to Increase the Value of Any Contractor: Get More for Less.

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