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Paul Glen: Motivating the mercenaries

March 10, 2014 06:30 AM ET

Computerworld - Technology projects have long been staffed with a combination of employees and contractors, but now the balance is shifting toward heavier reliance on hired guns. If you're a manager who's being told to bring on contractors rather than hire full-time staffers, you need to be prepared for the implications of having a team that skews toward the temporary.

Your focus is on getting your projects done, regardless of who is doing the work. To get there, you'll need to motivate your people to perform, no matter where their loyalties lie.

OK, I can hear your objections already: "I pay contractors lots of money to deliver. Their motivation is their own business, not mine."

Sorry, but as much as you would like to think that you're hiring a subservient bag of skills that will respond to your every command, you're not. Contractors are people too, and you don't get out of the responsibility of managing and motivating them if you want to get your money's worth. Some challenges come with the territory:

The traditional tools of motivation aren't available with contractors. They don't look to you for training, promotions, raises, bonuses or public recognition. n Contractors focus on fulfilling their contracted obligations. Driving the entire project toward success is beyond their scope.

They focus on serving you, the customer. That might not sound like an attitude that presents a challenge, but if you want contractors to really contribute to your project's success, you need them to think of themselves as part of the team. You get the most value when they focus their energies on what's most important for the project rather than whatever you, the boss, requested.

So how do you motivate contractors? In some ways, it's the same as motivating employees, but in other ways it's not. Here are a few pointers:

Include them in all the project-related activities that employees in the same role would be included in. Keep them informed about relevant project and business issues. Involve them in the relationship with outside stakeholders.

Explain your expectations of them in terms of the role you want them to fill rather than the deliverables you want them to produce. They will interact with the team very differently when you explain that you want them to serve as the QA lead on the project rather than defining their work as developing and executing a test plan. Then manage to the behavioral expectations rather than only to schedules and budgets.

Acknowledge that you understand their concerns and aspirations as contractors. Let them know that you know that references and referrals are essential to their ongoing well-being. Also, assure them that you understand that predictability is helpful for them; commit to giving them as much notice as you can about when you'll need their services again or when you won't need them anymore.

Your success as a manager depends on your ability to locate, assemble, organize, manage and motivate people to deliver on your needs. As the workforce continues to shift toward contingency arrangements, you'll have to master the art of motivating people regardless of whether they are permanent employees or contract workers. Begin by recognizing that it's now an essential part of your job.

is the co-author of The Geek Leader's Handbook and a principal of Leading Geeks, an education and consulting firm devoted to clarifying the murky world of human emotion for people who gravitate toward concrete thinking. You can contact him at info@leadinggeeks.com.

Read more about Management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.



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