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Managing IT contractors:

One small change makes a big impact

April 3, 2017 | By Emma Lane

A manager gives performance feedback to a contract worker

If the staffing industry has an Achilles heel, it’s that contractors aren’t always as engaged in a company’s mission and work as full-time employees. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We hear every day from IT consultants that they crave the same feedback as permanent employees. Unfortunately, most employers aren’t giving it to them and most recruiters aren’t doing as much as they could to fill that gap.

After all, people don’t become high achievers by accident. They continually work on improving their skills and performance—and they crave feedback to aid that growth.

IT consultants are no different. I once brought in a high-level project manager to help build a product for a global client. Every time I asked her manager how the consultant was doing, he said, “Oh, great, just great.” After about three months, the consultant told me, “Look, I’m happy I’m meeting expectations, but I know I can’t be perfect. I want feedback on what more I could do.”

What’s harder to measure—but more impactful—is the higher level of engagement, commitment and ultimately, productivity you'll gain.

So I went to her manager and asked deeper questions. He’d observed that she came in at different times every day, sometimes very early and sometimes closer to 9am. While this schedule was allowed, he suggested that if the consultant were able to join a stakeholder’s 8:30am standup meeting every day, it would be a good opportunity to build a relationship with that person, who was kind of a tough customer.

The consultant was happy to do so, and this small change ended up leading to deeper relationships, and allowed her to add even more value in her role.

It’s almost always true that a worker who isn't meeting standards gets feedback, but the high performers fly under the radar. If a manager doesn’t tell them they’re doing a great job, they start to think no one notices their contributions, which can eventually lead to decreased engagement. They also don’t get a chance to hear about the small issues or differences in work style that keep them from delivering their best.

An easier way to deliver performance feedback

I know people managing IT teams and projects are busy, and you’re not always free to have one-on-one meetings to review performance. If you’re too busy—or just don’t enjoy delivering feedback—a staffing partner can take that off your plate. But, unfortunately for the whole industry, many staffing agencies simply place contractors and forget about them.

At TEKsystems, we force ourselves to be intentional about how we gather and deliver feedback. Calling clients to gather feedback is part of our monthly operating rhythm. We ask how our consultant is doing, if there’s anything a manager would like them to improve, and how close their conversion or end date is.

The other half of the equation: What contractors think of you

How can you learn a lot about how workers perceive your company and management style—without the awkwardness of asking directly?

Our recruiters meet with consultants every month to deliver your feedback and gather theirs. It’s geared more toward satisfaction than performance; the recruiter asks if the job aligns well to the consultant’s skills, matches how it was described and generally take a consultant’s temperature. We then share this feedback with the client.

In addition to helping clients better understand their own culture, this kind of continuing engagement is critical to resolving issues before they become problems and identifying any risk for a contractor to leave a project before it’s complete.

Finishing strong

The end of an assignment presents a risk for contractors. They have a lot of questions: Will I be able to get another contract quickly or be out of work? When should I start looking for my next project? Will the company offer me a permanent position?

It’s critical that these concerns be addressed, and staffing agency can do that by confirming the exact end date or conversion progress with a client. That can mitigate a consultant's fears while keeping them fully invested in your project. It can also prevent them from looking at other contracts too early.

Giving performance feedback to contract workers helps you retain them. What’s harder to measure—but more impactful—is the higher level of engagement, commitment and ultimately, productivity you'll gain.

Emma Lane is an account executive with TEKsystems in the Kansas City, Missouri, region. You can connect with Emma on LinkedIn.