Make Temps Part of Your Team

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Getting the most out of your contract workers.

Many business owners view contract workers as hired guns who don't need hand-holding. These outsiders supposedly motivate themselves. And they certainly don't require the same attention that your permanent work force gets, right?

Wrong. Contract workers love working for a strong yet caring leader. And they want to fit in. Make them feel connected, and they'll work that much harder. They can plug personnel holes and set an example that inspires your in-house team to improve.

In managing these outsiders, you have a choice: You can view them as ships that pass in the night, or you can get to know them, tap their expertise and create long-term allies.

Initiation vs. isolation

Most contract workers want to feel a connection to their employer, despite the short-term nature of their assignment. Capitalize on their enthusiasm, and initiate them into your culture:

  1. Hold a "10-minute handshake." Rather than greeting an outsider with a cursory handshake, allot 10 minutes to break the ice. If you're unavailable, delegate this job to a manager who shares your desire to transform temps into team players. Ensure that every newcomer meets one-on-one with a high-level representative of your company before diving into work. During this meeting, probe the individual's strengths. Ask:
    • What skills/abilities/talents are you most proud of?
    • How would you describe your ideal job?
    • What did you like or dislike about your most recent assignments?
    This helps you build rapport quickly and sends the message that your company values contract workers.
  2. Stress the importance of their work. Show outsiders how their efforts fit into your company's overall growth and advance organizational goals.
  3. Provide quick praise. Because outsiders move from job to job, they rarely get sustained feedback on their performance. By praising their credentials or recognizing their efforts after the first day or two, you bring a human touch to what's traditionally a strict, transactional relationship.

Align your interests

Cultivate contract workers by learning what they hope to achieve by working with your firm. Armed with this knowledge, you can dangle appropriate incentives.

The best way to discover what free-lancers seek from your assignment is to ask questions:

  • How will you measure your level of success after completing this particular project at our company?
  • When you've taken on assignments like this one and they've worked out well, what made them so successful? When they haven't worked out as well, what went wrong?
  • Over the long term, do you want to maintain your current number of clients, grow bigger or take a full-time position within a company?

You'll probably find that free-lancers are driven by one or more objectives:

  1. Full-time employment.
  2. Referrals to others.
  3. Repeat business.

For folks who seek full-time jobs, frame their contractual work as a chance to get a foot in the door. Don't promise regular employment down the line, but alert them of your company's fast growth and possible hiring needs. You can also post examples of recent hires who started as temps. Include their photos along with a summary of why they became part of your permanent team.

If outsiders prefer to stay independent, use mutual gain as your carrot. Emphasize that they can help you by providing a cost-effective service — and you'll spread the word among other CEOs if you're pleased with their work. Ambitious free-lancers appreciate the chance to land bigger opportunities, especially if they see that you'll sell them to other business leaders.

Also consider financial incentives, as long as they're measurable, and reward contractors for truly exceptional work. You might say, "If you get this done more than 72 hours early and under budget by 5% or more, then we'll give you an extra bonus of … " (Check with your attorney to ensure you're on safe legal ground before you offer incentives.)

Prep employees

You want your in-house staff to support free-lancers, not sabotage them. But employees might feel threatened or resentful if you outsource a job that they feel qualified to do.

Encourage teamwork between insiders and outsiders by involving your staff in:

  • Deciding when and how to use contractors.
  • Interviewing contractors and checking references.
  • Choosing the best one.
  • Training them on an informal, one-on-one basis.

Remove any mystery about a free-lancer's role. Discuss with your staff why you're hiring from the outside. Solicit their input. Whether they plead to do the work themselves or breathe of sigh of relief that you're willing to invest in outside expertise, hear them out.

Reinforce admiration for your employees even as you bring in outsiders. Don't get defensive about outsourcing; instead, explain that you're filling gaps by bringing in experts to address specific needs. Above all, hold your employees accountable for working well with outsiders.

Pick their brains

You may be paying contract workers for specific expertise, but bright outsiders might have dozens of valuable observations that transcend the job they were hired to do. Make it easy for them to suggest ideas, such as by conducting exit interviews at the end of their tenure. Some other steps you can take:

  • Distribute suggestion cards. Borrow a technique that hotels and restaurants use to get customer input. Just as they distribute feedback cards to patrons, you can provide free-lancers with a similar form. Design a simple questionnaire that allows respondents to critique your company's operation and provide anonymous input. Make these surveys available to them at any time so that they don't have to wait until their last day on the job to share their impressions.
  • Establish e-feedback. Set up an e-mail account so contract workers can send suggestions to you or one of your senior managers.
  • Pose questions. Take every opportunity to ask outsiders "What do you like or dislike about our company?" and "How can we improve?" Follow up on any general comments to dig for more information or examples.

Writer: Morey Stettner, a management writer and trainer in Portsmouth, N.H., is the author of "Skills for New Managers" (McGraw-Hill, 2000) and "The Art of Winning Conversation" (Prentice-Hall, 1995).

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