Posted on 03 December 2013.
By Darren Sprod.
John, Mary, Olaf, Nasir, Tasmina, Rolf and Jorge are all working on an ERP software implementation team. Jorge and John work for the vendor; Mary and Rolf are company employees located on two different continents; Tasmina is an independent contractor who works from her home office; and Nasir works for a BPO provider.
They meet virtually using web-conferencing software, and exchange information fluidly using email, instant messaging, a corporate document repository and the occasional phone call.
They won’t all work on the project for its entire duration, but instead join for as long as their expertise is needed.
They never meet face-to-face, but manage to form effective working relationships and even a few lasting friendships.
The project is completed with the usual challenges and glitches, but overall is considered a significant success.
Is this the workforce of the future? Actually, it’s today’s reality for many organisations and workers.
Dealing with the management challenges presented by the new workforce
While this kind of dispersed and diverse team can allow you to access the skills and experience you need, as and when you need them, it can present some management challenges. How do you keep this mix of workers aligned, engaged and high performing?
While you need to respect labour laws and the different nature of your working relationships, you can still use talent management best practices to ensure smooth operations.
Align everyone to high level goals
When managing any kind of team, it’s important to clearly communicate expectations and align everyone’s efforts. One of the easiest and best ways to do this is to clearly communicate high level goals – be they organisational, divisional/departmental, or project – then ask everyone to create individual goals that in some way support the higher level goal. To do this effectively, everyone’s goals, at every level, need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART).
Then, you, or key managers from each source, need visibility into the full set of supporting goals so you can identify and address any gaps that might hinder goal attainment. You also need to regularly monitor progress on goals, ensure everyone is still aligned, and identify any challenges or roadblocks so they can be addressed early on. If you can share the information with the entire work team, your various labour sources can assess and identify any impact to their work and the overall project, and readjust.
This form of goal alignment/management is one of the best ways to communicate expectations and ensure your entire workforce is working in concert with the same focus.
Maintain the dialogue
If it’s important to maintain an ongoing dialogue about expectations and performance with collocated employees, it’s even more vital with a workforce that’s made up of different classes of workers in disparate locations.
While it may not be appropriate to maintain this dialogue with individual workers from BPO providers, you should at least maintain it with the managers who are your key contacts.
Everyone needs feedback on their performance and the opportunity to discuss goals, priorities, expectations and how work gets done. So engage in a two-way dialogue with all parties, in a mutually acceptable manner.
When you’re managing employees, it’s clear that you have a responsibility to support their development through work assignments, feedback and coaching, and formal development activities.
With outsourced or contract staff, that responsibility may not be as clear. Here again, you may need to work through external management rather than directly with the worker in question. But you certainly can identify knowledge/skill/performance gaps, suggest learning or development activities, and track improvements in performance.
When your organisation is adopting a new tool or approach to work, it can be beneficial to try to sync up training and development activities with your vendors, contractors and BPO providers. While you may not be in a position to “mandate” training for these workers, encouraging their development can still be beneficial to your working relationship and results.
Irrespective of the nature of your formal relationship (employer, customer, partner, etc.) with your workers, it’s always valuable to periodically stop and formally evaluate each individual’s performance.
While you can conduct formal performance evaluations for your employees, you can’t do that with other classes of workers.
But you can still engage in a formal review, outlining your expectations, evaluating work done to date, identifying areas for improvement, and establishing goals for the coming period. You may need to alter who you do the evaluation with – for example, with a BPO worker you may need to conduct the evaluation with their manager – but the evaluation is still important to conduct, both to support the performance of the worker and your relationship with your BPO providers.
Work with your various labour providers to determine the best and most appropriate way to conduct these reviews, as well as their timing.
And don’t forget to solicit feedback from them on your performance so you can improve it.
Recognise and reward performance
Here again, while the way you recognise and reward performance will differ for your employees and your other classes of workers, it’s vitally important that you do. You’ll likely need to negotiate appropriate means with your BPO providers. But nothing ever prevents you from sending a sincere thank you email (copying all appropriate management) or verbally acknowledging contributions to your organisation’s success.
Remembering the fundamentals of talent management
Talent management is fundamentally about creating a high performing workforce. While you need to employ different tactics and techniques with different classes of workers, clearly communicating expectations, providing ongoing feedback, supporting development, evaluating performance, and recognising and rewarding contributions are the key ways you achieve this.
Darren Sprod is a Regional Manager at Halogen Software.