Making the best use of contractors often requires integrating them into operations and the corporate culture. Not addressing these challenges risks compromising the overall success of a project's execution. This calls for two-way onboarding.
Even if you're not using contractors today, you will at some point. One-third of the US workforce is made up of freelancers and contractors - over 50 million people. This is increasing with the rise of mobile technologies and retired baby boomers seeking out flexible career-extenders.
The basics of onboarding apply in most cases:
- Get a head start
- Manage the message
- Build the team
What's different with contractors, freelancers and temps is the time frame and investment. As Erickson College's Adam Verity explained to me, "contractors are hired for their expertise". And they should be. But their expertise in doing a task does not translate into an expertise in onboarding. And, if they are coming onboard for a relatively short period of time, the hiring organization doesn't think they need to invest in assimilating them into the team and accelerating their progress. Wrong.
As contractors move across industries and organizations of different sizes and through small, short-term and longer-term assignments they face challenges in switching environments. Verity took me through three main mistakes managers of contractors should try to avoid:
- Hiring for just skills and competencies instead of those plus values, attitudes and the capacity to build new relationships (often quickly).
- Not making sure the team understands what's required of the contractor and what each of them must do to support the contractor.
- Not aligning the contractor and team's behaviors around what must be done and why.
The answer is two-way onboarding across the basics.
Two-Way Head Start
Onboarding is always a shared responsibility. With a temporary contractor this is even more so. It's unreasonable to expect the contractor to be able to figure out enough fast enough to become part of an unwilling team. A two-way head start involves helping the contractor prepare for his or her entry AND helping the team prepare to receive the contractor.
What the contractor can do for the organization is important. It's also important to understand how the contractor can benefit from his or her association with the organization. If the contractor is there purely for financial reward, expect the contractor to do what you pay him or her to do. If you want the contractor to contribute more, make sure the manager and team reinforce the organization's mission, vision and values with the contractor.
The quality of the work you'll get from a man laying bricks is different from that of a man building a wall is different again from a man who thinks he is building cathedral in which to workshop God.
Two-Way Team Building
This goes to clarifying expectations - both ways. Be clear on what's expected of the contractor and what the contractor can expect from the team. As Verity explains, the "lifeblood of any team work is communication". This starts with aligning expectations.
Values At The Core
Verity told me about a manager who was hiring multiple contractors. During one interview he "clicked" with one of the candidates and was ready to offer him a job. Then he realized he had "missed the values conversation". So he asked the contractor what was important to him in this engagement. The contractor replied that he wanted to prove that he could handle the task so he could become a full-time employee. There's nothing wrong with a temp-to-perm arrangement sometimes. Unfortunately, in this case that was not going to happen. The manager, not wanting to have to deal with a disappointed contractor down the road, decided not to hire the contractor.
Whether it's for a full-time position or contracted position, the basics of onboarding apply. The difference is that for temporary or contracted positions, get a two-way head start, manage the message two-ways, and build the team two-ways. But then again, maybe all onboarding should be two-way.