Economic ups and downs make it tough to match workflow and staffing levels. When business is great you can afford to employ the best and the brightest and keep them challenged. Uncertainty and slowdowns lead to staff cutbacks and reluctance to hire.
A brief spike in sales or new project presents a challenge that your lean staff may not be able to meet. Hiring a contractor or consultant can provide the solution to short term needs while expanding your base of potential talent to respond to future growth. Whether you are in the market for additional help, or may be in the future, an effective search will be based on a clear strategy. A quick decision to bring on the nephew of a colleague is less likely to meet your expectations.
Cara France, Founder of Sage Consulting Associates, a San Francisco based provider of consultants and contractors to businesses, describes 5 tips for managers to leverage this relationship:
- Be Proactive! Identify the answers to a few basic questions about your workforce. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can individuals be reallocated when a sudden change in business occurs? Where is the market and industry heading and how is your team aligned to match this direction?
- Take a Fresh Look! External experts can bring new ideas. The short term nature of a consultant assignment allows you to take advantage of a higher level or unique skill from a big name company that you might not typically attract. Cara France notes, “Consultants bring a fresh perspective to things you have been doing over and over again resulting in new energy for your current team.”
- Network Early and Often! Don’t wait until the need arises to identify hiring sources. Make contacts and meet individuals looking for freelance work and consultants through industry or local business associations. An agency can cut down on the time spent recruiting and improve candidate quality. Sage Consulting takes pride in a rigorous process, 97 percent of their consultants on assignment were selected by the client after meeting only 1-3 candidates. It’s a myth that agencies work only with the largest companies. But every agency may not be the best fit; find those who specialize in your specific positions and geographic area.
- Know the Dough! Pricing structures will be different for strategic versus tactical contractors. France explains that, “More expensive talent may require a higher hourly rate but cost less in the long run with the wealth of knowledge they bring.” They’ll get the job done in a shorter time frame. When working directly with a consultant, or through an agency, tell them your budget. Professionals will respond with the going rate for the work you need.
- Match Temperament Too! Don’t trade experience and skill set for someone who is not a fit for your organization. An arrogant expert will only anger your competent staff. Identify whether the person is used to a more entrepreneurial environment or a large hierarchical structure. This doesn’t mean that someone who has been laid off from a Fortune 100 company would not add value. Just make certain that they understand the resources and structure, have experience managing all the moving parts and will complete the hands on work when necessary.
With the potential for a broader range of talent available it’s a great time to dip a hiring toe into a temporary or project based arrangement. Look for the potential for adding real value or a future employee, not just an expendable resource. As France says, “Consultants are most effective when we put the right person in the right role, matching not just skills and experience but also temperament, personality and style.”