Building Culture with Contractors

We certainly talk about company “culture” a lot, but how do you define it? If you have contractors on your team, how do you develop it?  Though their relationship to the company might be different than that of a full-time employee, developing a positive team or company culture with contractors benefits both you and them.

There isn’t one single factor that defines an organization’s culture, nor can we perform an easy litmus test to determine a culture; instead it’s a combination of the organization’s vision, values, norms, beliefs and habits.

However, an organization can look at a few key areas to gain insight into the kind of culture they’re developing.  Forbes cites a few of them:

  • Clarity of purpose: your people are not just on the same page – they buy into the vision; that what they do matters and impacts the organization.
  • Engagement: Building on understanding the organization’s purpose, employees who can see the way to fulfill the purpose are engaged.  Those who don’t feel they’ve been empowered to fulfill their roles aren’t.
  • Trust:  Is the organization where you could leave your personal belongings sitting out, or are you wary of your coworkers?
  • Learning and development:  When they can see a path to improve themselves with continued learning, employees see a career within your organization – not just completing tasks.

Contingent staffing is traditionally a decision based on finances or efficiency, so why should organizations care about navel-gazing, indefinable feelings related to perception?

No matter what type of agreement they signed with you, they’re “your people” now.

The quality of your product – and by extension the quality of your organization’s reputation – isn’t defined by solely by your full-time employees.  As Brian Kropp of research firm The Corporate Executive Board notes, wise firms are working on their relationship with their contract staff to improve organizational agility, customer service and productivity.  “Organizations need to rethink their approach,” he writes in Workforce. “If you treat them as ‘hired help,’ then they will behave as ‘hired help.’ ”

How can you build a positive culture to treat your contractors as more than ‘hired help’?

Give them the same welcome, onboarding and orientation as everyone else:  Set a good impression right from the start, which also raises their standards right from the start.

  • Recognize and acknowledge them: Everyone longs to be accepted and valued; a little thing that goes a long way is to recognize and acknowledge their good work as you would a full-time employee.  You’ll motivate them personally, and pointing out their contribution to the company creates buy-in with your organization.
  • Don’t overload them with the tasks no one else wants: while it’s tempting to pass along the worst jobs to contingent staff – you’re increasing the level of disengagement and increasing the likelihood of you having to go through the process of hiring another contractor.  Constant turnover is bad for your entire team – full and contingent workers alike.
  • Explain your goals:  Let them know how their work fits into the bigger picture of your organization – give them a purpose to buy into.
  • Give them feedback: offer them the same level of performance appraisal and coaching as your full-time employees.  They will feel you are investing in them, and you gain a more efficient employee.
  • Don’t exclude them from social gatherings:  This isn’t just isolating for the contractor; you create unnecessary social awkwardness between them and the rest of your team.  Social gatherings are celebrations together; don’t make your team keep them hush-hush and worry about speaking openly in the office.

If you’re a contractor, how can you take the initiative to be part of the company’s culture?  While contractors might have the impression they’re temporary or working for themselves on-site a “client”, you need to dig into the assignment you’re given.  Changing your view from a focus on your own results to the whole package also convince the company that contractor is valuable beyond their results.  Treating the team like it’s your own builds positive relationships beyond work.  Find out about hobbies, interests, families – just because your signed agreement with the companies is worded differently than your coworkers doesn’t make you less human, or less a part of the team.  If your management doesn’t offer performance appraisal, ask for it.  Find out from them how you can do a better job personally, and for the organization.  You’ll be both improving your career skills and building bridges with them.

As the percentage of contingent workers continues to rise, companies are starting to see a significant chunk of their workforce in these contractors.  There is opportunity to build up your company’s brand with good workplace experience, since the reverse is also true.  You reap what you sow: workers who have been on the inside of your company and have experienced a negative culture first-hand can become “brand terrorists”, taking every opportunity to bad-mouth your organization.

Creating a positive culture with contractors through inclusivity and support gives you more efficient, positive workers for whatever duration they’re with you.  They are the ones who get to experience first-hand how your company lives out its vision, values, norms, beliefs and habits day-to-day.