Other Duties As Assigned Or Projects Performed By Employees Are Both Precarious And Advantageous
When times are slow in employee operations, most talented employees will enjoy the extra challenge of another project. Which means you can get more production out of your staff, and they can add skill sets to their career. However, the peter principle of management typically kicks in, which states that people within hierarchical organizations tend to get promoted to a “level of incompetence” beyond their optimum skill set. As staff take on the new, unplanned project yields new operational responsibilities. Now, in addition to their duties, projects, or promotions they find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. One that will perpetuate until their performance level drops.
So What Do You Do?
Typically, to get your staff back on track, you require coaching, covering, consulting, and even get-well plans. Also, when career growth is stymied as either be boring or overwhelming, these mindsets also require addressing. The goal being to retain employment and to be able to search for future jobs.
So if the staff is not familiar with these other duties or projects, they will most definitely slip on meeting project requirements. They would consequently cost more, and/or will perform their duties with the lowest quality, or requested scope, as possible. So, you have four options – 1) Coach more, 2) Invest in consulting, 3) Create a get-well plan, or 4) Let employees go due to under-performance. And the fifth option, which is taking no action and letting those duties and project objectives slip.
If these are the staff you want to retain, then the get-well plan or coaching can help. However, if you have near-term project objectives, the only effective option is adding consultants. You may have internal folks who can be your consultants. Unfortunately, many times, they are also under duress due to their own scope. This means introducing consultants is a must. Now, another possible solution is a new hire for a permanent position. However, the position will begin as a temporary post for the first 90 days, this person is an “outside” consultant.
The Reality Of The Situation
Unfortunately, this is inevitable when particularly brutal delays happen on internal projects. This is especially true if they happen on a consistent basis. If corporate does not think people can perform, consultants are brought in to “help” in the process. It practically always happens, which makes handling consultants a big part of handling these delays on projects. And due to the stigma of consultants, we think it is important to understand how to handle them, first and foremost, when handling delays on internal projects.
Avoiding The Bobs
“What would you say you do here?” is the imminent persona of a consultant as portrayed on the movie Office Space.
Employees have had many bad experiences working with consultants. Sure, there are many good experiences as well, and a lot of times you rehire or even convert employees. All in all though, the bad experiences are less the fault of the consultant. It is actually more the way the organization brings them in.
- “I’ve had consultants work for me before and they gave me ideas way too advanced for our culture.” – In this case, deliverables were not designed, the contract was not performance-based, and the sponsor did not know exactly what they were buying
- “They explain things using a different language. They don’t get us.” – The consultant went off and interviewed other staff or trained, and it was not tailored to their priorities, lingo, acronyms, objectives, maturity, etc.
- Or water cooler chatter, “Why do I need these guys, they costs twice as much, and I have to train them”. They never clearly defined measures for the staff to complete the project. In other words, if they didn’t, on what would trigger additional help
Point being, we all have had bad experiences with consultants just like we have with our own employees. The difference, of course, is one is part of the plan most the time. The other is a remediation when the plan has gaps.
There Are A Few Ways To Introduce Outside Consultants
The best way is when you hire, promote, or give them a project, you bring forth the budget this upfront knowing their limits. But, sometimes you may want to see what the employee can do first. Bringing in consultants unplanned can tend to introduce cultural issues, and creates various turbulence if not brought in correctly. You still need to either start your project right or get it back on track. Outside consulting does just that, assuming you scoped the project correctly. Also, correctly vetted, mutually priced well, and clearly defined for delivery and transition.
Also, the level of consultant you bring in will change the types of possible reaction:
- Strategic Advisor Intrusion
- Embedded Consultant Insult
- Consulting Project Team Infestation
The following captures some common issues and suggested solutions for engaging outside support.
The Strategic Advisor Intrusion
A strategic consultant will spend time with a sponsor. This inserts influence in places the existing team used to have more time for. If it produces value aligning all or most agendas, the result is positive. If it cannot link any visible fruits to a wanted agenda, this is intrusion.
- Seen as insult to executive or leadership team
- Some team members hog the advisor to advance own agenda possibly undermining the intended direction
- Some team members take offense on why they aren’t receiving budget support for their gaps in support and feel their scope is undervalued and is seen as competing priorities
- Kick off the effort with a collaborative, tailored 2-day workshop to rapidly plan, capture drivers, needs, priorities in front of each other, make the deliverables each night, produce value immediately, show how the team can work together with the new advisor both showing they add great value, but also get their culture. Tailor the workshop to the project needs (complexity, as-is situation, defining target vision, scoping out resources, and setting milestones).
Embedded Consultant Insult (The Reactions)
An embedded consultant can be seen as a short-timer “leader” working side-by-side existing staff trying to catalyze a vision where others may perceive as a sign of failure. If the value can be seen clearly by project or program objectives or measures advancing, this is typically on the whole seen as positive, but even then, the insult of having to get help can insult a minority of the staff, and some could be key staff.
- If the sponsor forces the consultant on the lead, typical reactions go beyond resistance, and can actually go into sabotage as a sign of “Not in my backyard” protectionism. Some can view it as an insult to intelligence. This is especially true in project recovery
- Also, if the consultant is replacing a previous leader, the “acting” or “temporary” leadership role the consultant will definitely experience an “awkward transition”. This is expensive as consultants do tend to run 1.25-2x employee costs
Embedded Consultant Insult (The Solution)
- To get this right, three things need to happen:
- One, the lead has to recognize they are behind, the sponsor wants to help them address the gap and being specific to: project is behind, solution is not there, costs are overrunning or has a high burn rate, or project team needs more guidance to get quality up
- Two, Consultant needs to be brought in as embedded consultant: part of the team. This is not a temp that does “rote” tasks and reports to a manager. The consultant needs be part of team, interact with all, and be expected to deliver within culture, get deliverables done. The consultant can gather, interact, make observations, and even present training or subject matter, but the concluding direction, recommendations should be presented outward by the manager. This demonstrates they get it, are competent, and can grow.
- Thereafter, to address objectives for achieving value, the consultant needs to have clear deliverables, and early ones should be tangible and visible. This is so that others including the manager can see if they are getting what they paid for. Define the deliverables upfront. Thereafter, you can decide to doe time & materials, but at minimum, milestones should still be clear.
- As a way to get started, use a process that links the embedded consultant work to the newly defined/updated drivers, stakeholders, objectives, and milestones and always refer back to both when developing solution, so any collaboration is not personal, but using executive direction and proven process
Train existing staff how to do a specific intermediate skill set (plan, design, research, architect, etc.) who already is observed to be overwhelmed rarely yields success without first taking other duties or projects off their plate. These intermediate positions are multi-year efforts with years of domain, subject, and pattern knowledge. The solution can be to start training, but they will come back with new acronyms and certifications (PME, ITIL, FEAC, CMMI, etc.), patterns, which take time to learn what applies when.
Consulting Project Team Infestation
A project team brought in to introduce a new system, process, migration, or evaluation can be a tidal wave when it hits. Project teams introduce a subculture within themselves, and can be referred to in a segregated fashion as they will be “gone soon”.
Potential Reactions: Awkward transition from previous development, resentment from those loyal to previous developers, initial stagnation, attempted coup in defense of previous team, lower IT support to team, project team has myopic view of needs due to isolation and could impact deliverable results
- Foster new relationships early by getting a milestone successful executed out of gate to show the new team demonstrates results
- Have a project liaison, whether that is the project manager, or the office correspondent, to the team that assures the project team has escalation of needs and as well help them acclimate to how “things get done around here” as well as opportunities to engage in the office culture (events, outings, even idea meetings, and brownbags)
Point Being, Bringing In Consultants Can Be Scary To Staff If The Expectations Are Not Clear Why
Sure, there may be cases where the employee is on a get-well plan while bringing in consultants. If you are not at that point, set the milestones for when what needs to happen. And if those measures are not being met, it is not at the desired point, or the coaching time dedicated is not cutting it, you need to move to consultant phase.