Breaking up is hard to do, but when your contingent workers walk out the door, you could be losing more than people
Over the past few years Australian businesses have increasingly turned to white collar contingent workers (referred to as Independent Professionals or IPros by Entity Solutions) as a way of solving short and medium-term staffing shortages, gaining specific skills/knowledge and support in various projects and assignments.
However, when the project ends and it’s time for these contingent workers to finish up, will permanent staff be ready to take over? Can you be sure they are equipped with the specialist knowledge and insight needed to maintain momentum as the project moves from initiation into an ongoing administrative phase? Will they be able to deal with problems relating to people, processes and equipment? Or is all your expertise about to walk out the door when the contingent worker leaves?
Building knowledge transfer into consulting contracts is a must.
The problem with using IPros as a resident source of knowledge, however, is that IPros are not residents. They move on. Their contracts are usually for defined times and when the engagement concludes, the knowledge that you’ve been relying on is suddenly no longer available. The impact of this varies but may include lack of oversight over a project or application, the loss of critical support and uncertainty about where to turn for help. Often organisations end up paying more to third parties for assistance that should be easily handled in-house. In the worst case scenario lack of experience leads to the project stalling or floundering, putting future development at risk.
Six tips for successful IPro knowledge sharing
Asking an IPro to participate in knowledge sharing requires slight changes in the way an engagement is managed. Simply asking the IPros to impart knowledge is not a detailed enough directive to be useful, so it’s important that both the business and the IPros agree how the relationship should work. Following are six tips to help you structure workable, effective knowledge sharing agreements with your IPros.
1. Specify in writing exactly what skills or knowledge you need the IPro to pass on to staff within your organisation. This should be done after you have defined the scope and required outcomes of a contracting project.
2. Map out who needs to know what so that the IPro doesn’t waste time teaching the wrong staff. At the same time, be flexible. Tap into the IPro’s experience and ask for their opinion regarding who within your team is the most appropriate and best equipped to pick up new skills.
3. Find out how the IPro plans to achieve the knowledge transfer. Does he or she require formal training time, regular meetings or a room in which to sit and discuss the project with other staff? Will knowledge transfer work best if you “apprentice” a staff member to the IPro for sections of the project? Discuss the requirements and agree on an approach that works best for both the IPro and your business.
4. Communicate the knowledge transfer expectations to staff. If you want employees to pay attention and learn certain skills, they need to be aware of them and know that you are serious.
5. Make a time allowance for knowledge transfer when defining the contract period. This process will add to the time the IPro needs to spend with your organisation, even if it is affected purely through casual observation and questioning,
6. Document what you’ve agreed on to avoid confusion and miscommunication. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be part of your formal contract, it should provide clear confirmation of both parties’ knowledge sharing obligations.
By making these steps a standard part of any IPro engagement, contractor appointments will take on new life within your organisation. Rather than just meeting the need to have another set of hands on deck, you’ll find the business benefiting through the introduction of new ideas, new expertise and increased knowledge transfer between permanent and contingent workers.
Matthew Franceschini will be presenting a case study at #CWF2014 on ‘The value of risk management before it hits the fan: Effective management of compliance and risk’. You can register for the event here.
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