Leadership

Three tactics for dealing with sub-par performance of contractors


What do you do when a tem member is not meeting your expectations? Normally, a project manager would deal with poor performance through a process of trying to determine the cause of the performance problem, further monitoring, getting very specific on deliverables and due dates, documenting the performance problems, and so on.

But what do you do when a contractor is not meeting your expectations and this level of performance monitoring is not appropriate? Generally speaking, most companies have a policy to make sure that employees treat contractors fairly but avoid getting into any situations that would logically be considered a part of a functional manager-subordinate relationship.

For example, if a project manager provides immediate performance feedback to a contractor based on missing a deliverable date, this would be viewed as a normal project manager-team member relationship and shouldn't get a company in trouble. On the other hand, if the project manager performs a formal performance review for the contractor, this might be viewed as implying a functional manager-employee relationship.

So what do you do when a contractor is not meeting expectations? If the contractor work assignments are not completed on time, you have every right to question the contractor as to the cause and to provide feedback that this performance is unacceptable. If the contractor's performance gets back to acceptable, the situation will have worked itself out.

On the other hand, if the situation is not resolved, you have a performance problem to address. One alternative is to simply release the contractor. But the situation might not that dire.

The more appropriate course of action would be to call the contracting company and get them involved. You can explain to the appropriate person at the contract company that the contractor is starting to have performance problems. Describe the situation and your observations. Request that the contractor's manager talk to him in a more formal manager-subordinate relationship. The contractor's manager can then get back to you with the results of the meeting.

This process may seem cumbersome, but it's the nature of contractor relationships.

35 comments
kmurray
kmurray

I was hoping this item would also speak to how you would handle a contractor whose behavior is not satisfactory (ie. not following policies, treating co-workers disrespectfully)

perumalbv
perumalbv

Identify the correct mistake / shortfall First is to identify and resolve the sub performance parameter. Where does the problem originated. Clent or Contractor. If Client , where in Engg?, Design?, etc. If contractor, where in understanding Clients Project Requirements? Second Identify and rectify and make the subcontractor aware of avoiding such issues in future Third Note the lessons learned and convey to project team of client and contractors involoved in whole project for awareness and rectification if required or non occurence in future. Always appreciate and cooperate with contractors and thrive to fast track to makeup the backlog. Ultimately only the contractor has to get the jobs done. It is our responsibility to make our requirements aware to the contractor regulary through progress review meetings and develop them for better performance regards

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I think the individual contractor's boss IS the problem. We have had people that have stalled, avoided direct answers or just ignored emails. When the situation escalates they might change the face but the problem remains. This may be because the company selling us on a new technology is actually selling us a "beta" version. We are the guinea pigs working out the kinks. I wouldn't mind so much if we were told up front.

tags
tags

Recently, I dealt with performance problems by sitting each one down and telling them what my expectations were. I said, now that they have been here 3 months, my expectations are: ... I asked if they had any thoughts and any issues. We have created a meeting a day and keep stressing to them that should they have any issues blocking progress, they need to get these out in the open so we can help them. Next time, we have problems, I will go to their manager. FOr now, I just wanted to ensure they know our expectations.

PMBOK Advocate
PMBOK Advocate

So, basically, what you're saying is if the contractor is not performing well, go tell their boss? Great insight; how about dealing with the more complicated and the sub-performance of the contractor that has a good relationship with their customer and then you come along and wonder how they get away with such lousy performance? (BTW we are dealing with the contract topic, not anyone whining about employer-employee relationships or crying over spilled milk from the past). As project manager you are ultimately responsible for the deliverables. If you have issues with performance of contractors, then you need to be very precise on what you are asking for and when. If you do not consistently stick to the processes in place that are successful in project management, the contractor will continue to perform below par, or miss deadlines. When this happens it???s time to start a serious discussion with your client but you need to keep the end results in mind with these conversations and how missing certain dates can implicate liability or unnecessary work in a scarce resource environment. Keep your focus on the triple constraints of the project and how missing certain deadlines will implicate the processes and delay the project. If the contractor is an independent, and you can't go to the "company" for the sub-par performance, then what do you do? While I did not see any real ???legal??? representation in this topic, there is always the option you stated at the end, ???Release the contractor???.

john
john

You might want to check your spelling in the first sentence.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Personally, I've often wondered why there is any difference between the two. In both cases, you have a provider of services being paid for those services. Employees should view their employers not as "parents" but as customers, and treat them accordingly. We've fostered this absurd employer-employee relationship where the employer basically "owns" the employee, for a fixed fee.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Let them go, unless you can bring them around by talking it over with them.

john
john

...and check your grammar.

kmurray
kmurray

Funny you should say that. What about contractors who act like employees and also do not treat the organization as a "customer"?

gpellett
gpellett

Although I agree that ideally all employees (on roll or on contract) should treat their employers as customers, there is a big difference in attitude. On-role employees have a long-term stake in the company?s future, whereas the contractor knows that he will be gone after a short time. While good contractors may be interested in generating follow-on business, they are not deeply vested like on-roll employees (who should have pensions and benefits to protect). So you have to manage these two types of employees differently. As pointed out in other posts here, communications about expectations are the first step. But this has to go both ways ? employers must remember that contractors are only obligated by the actual specific wording of the contract. If you ask a contractor to perform beyond the contract then probably one of three things happen: his Jolly Roger flag goes up (adds additional charges for scope changes), he ignores your requests, or he performs the additional duties under the assumption that he?ll earn an unspecified bonus (maybe even an on-roll job). None of these are good unless you have the budget for them (and who does?). If clarifying expectations and contract obligations doesn?t solve the problem, then try to make the contractor feel that he is a valuable and appreciated member of the team. Include him in company and project functions, particularly milestone rewards. Friendly loyalty reaps big benefits. However, do not imply that the contractor may be rewarded with an on-roll job offer or a contract extension or bonus unless such opportunities really exist. If discipline is necessary, and a few friendly words to the wise don?t suffice, involve your human resources and contract management departments. I avoid negative confrontations because resources are too scarce to squander. I don?t want more schedule delays, and I don?t want to toss out my contractor because I can?t afford downtime and retraining. Remember that you are still dealing with people here, not just paper (contracts and schedules). However if the situation cannot work out then I need to stop the bleeding. Unless I am very competent at HR and contracting functions I prefer to involve the people who are. If your boss leaves you on your own with problems like these then you need specific company guidelines and support from upper management. Be prepared for fallout, including impact on other team members. The bottom line is that you need to create and maintain a good environment to work in. Everybody needs to know where we?re going and what each participant needs to do. They also need to feel that they are appreciated and justly compensated for their contributions. I don?t mean that slackers will be tolerated or problems will be overlooked, but I do want all team members to become proud of their project and want to see it succeed.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

As a contractor, you don't get benefits from the customer you are servicing and you are not on their payroll. They don't withhold taxes and pay you based on a flat hourly rate or agreed upon project fee, from which you will have to calculate your tax bill and pay estimated tax every fiscal quarter. Also, a contractor is not meant to be a permanent position, so once the contract is expired, the contractor is gone. The problem is that too many companies treat contractors like employees and subject them to the same corporate politics and BS as employees. I see that as a breach of contract and if the client wants work performed outside the scope of the contract, they have to renegotiate the contract or risk breaching the existing contract and facing legal issues from the contractor's attorneys.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

I've been an independent contractor and I can explain why the customer may assume that the contractor is not meeting expectations. The first problem is that many companies who hire contractors incorrectly assume that contractors are superhuman and can accomplish the work of 10 individuals in a given 8 hour workday. Another problem is that the contractor is bombarded with too many tasks in a shortly absurd amount of time, yet is not paid overtime to stay late to complete the tasks within the short amount of time. This problem stems from the fact that the company hiring the contractor treats the contractor like a salaried employee and expects him/her to work as long as needed to get the job done. If a contractor is not getting paid to work OT, he/she will walk out the door and won't think twice. Yes, there are contractors who are slackers and aren't worth a dime they are billing, but the good contractors are also getting a bad rap because the amount of work thrown at them is overly excessive given the amount of hours they can bill for. I've seen this all too often at IT departments with serious staffing issues, so they hire a contractor to somehow make up for the fact they they don't want to augment the IT staff. I have a good friend who is currently in a contractor situation where they don't pay him over 40 hours, but give him grief if he leaves after putting in his 8 hours because they give him last minute work to do, 30 minutes before his day is up. Many times, it's not the contractor who is at fault, but the customers who is demanding things outside the scope of the contract itself and is not willing to pay for it.

petraborchert
petraborchert

As a Contractor, I feel that it is the Contractor's responsibility to prevent such issues. If one is to be a "Good" contractor, then one does his/her best within the expectations outlined in the contract. Also, the Contractor, must measure/track the customer satisfaction throughout the process, thus catching issues as they arrive. When the Contractor takes on the responsibility of being a good contractor, most of the pressure of legal management cross-over issues are eliminated. The Contractor needs to know that he/she is or is not meeting the expectations as soon as possible in order to resolve the issue. Most cases, I find, that the employer develops higher/more-complicated expectations that what was originally agreed upon. Such a situation can be easily resolved with continuous communication of customer satisfaction between the consultant and the customer (employer.

john
john

I believe the author is addressing the legal issues. Since employers are responsible for employment taxes for employees but not for contractors, keeping this distinction is important. That said, I agree with you. Employers all too often consider that they own their employees and employees all too often consider that they are 'owed' a job by their employer. A much better outlook is as you suggest where the employees consider the employer a customer and if you want your customer to keep paying you, you must do what you can to keep your customer happy. After all, we all have competition, don't we?

marchred
marchred

Spot on, Chip - communication (as in two-way interchanges) is the solution to most project issues.

alaniane
alaniane

contractors are not employees and if a company insists on treating them as employees then it should hire them as such. A contractor should be treated as an outside vendor who has contracted for a particular product or service. If you hire a general contractor to replace the roof on your house and then you ask him to replace the plumbing; he is going to charge extra for the work and he is not legally obligated to provide such work based upon his current contract. The same goes for software/hardware contractors. The problem is that the industry has come to view these contractors as sub-employees and not as vendors.

marchred
marchred

As a contractor who negotiates his own contracts I always make sure that expectations are stated in the initial interview with the "employer". I ensure that I understand what the nature of the task/work is and what the expectations are. If the "employer" indicates that I may be required to work extra hours then I negotiate an hourly rate or some flexibility in my hours - a kind of "time off in liue" arrangement. You are suggesting that the issues surrounding workload, etc are out of the contractor's area of control - not so, that is why they have a contract. This article is spot on - contractors are expected to perform just like any other team members and if their performance is not up to scratch the project manager has an obligation to act. As always it's about communication and managing expectations ... something we contractors have to take on as our own responsibility. Nobody forces us to sign on the dotted line - if you don't like the terms of the arrangement, don't take on the contract!

heluvsya
heluvsya

I just started working as an independent contractor in which the company inquired whether I'd accept a full-time position. The project manager whom I've been working with however, treats and addresses me as a contracter and other team members treat me like a team member. She always shoots down my ideas, responds with we've always done it this way or says "we don't want to open that can of worms". I've documented her feedback and seemingly undermining activity, like renaming and moving files that I've been working on. Any advice on working with this person, communication with the company that hired me in as a contractor? Should I tell them? Thanks!

marchred
marchred

I agree petraborchert - "EXPECTATIONS OUTLINED" is absolutely the cornerstone of a sound contract and then it's just a matter of meeting those expectations

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... how to deal with them as "colleagues"? You'll have to hunt for your pressure points. How can you give effective feedback within your organization? How can you make compliance more desirable for this person? In any setting, every individual has two types of authority: (1) granted and (2) assumed. Don't be limited to (1).

kmurray
kmurray

None of us that work with the consultants have the authority to fire them or cancel their contract.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

We want you to do everything our employees do, but 10x harder, don't you DARE take a lunch break or break of any kind...

ps2goat
ps2goat

Unless you're doing volunteer work, no one gets ahead by being a slave-- especially as an independent contractor. At least you can get some brand promotion if you are running your own company. What contracting company is going to post a blog or something similar saying "Jane Doe is an excellent independent contractor... try her services?" Not one. The contracting company will be too busy trying to drain Jane Doe for all she's worth, since they know they can bend her to their will. If you have your own company, the contracting company may be able to say "XYZ company really put forth an extra effort to finish this project on time."

meryllogue
meryllogue

That sounds so harsh, Marchred. Did you mean to dis TiggerTwo so badly? She's a hard-working person who contributes to society well beyond her job.

petraborchert
petraborchert

"Contract be damned, I need this done Today!" - yes. I have been in that situation. I have explained the obstacles, the benefits, and costs of what the Employer is asking. I have only gained greater respect from those employers because I have proven my ability to provide the best for the employer/customer. As a contractor, I NEVER pretend to do more than I can. Therefore, I am very upfront and honest with all my communication through out the contacted time. Walking into the screwed-pooch situation? Oh Yeah! Been there too! Again, identifying all issues, even ones that are direct results of incompetent management, are CRITICAL to address in the development of the contract. Management, Employers, and Companies, do not always know what you do. The best contractors in the world are those that respectfully explain the limitations, the obstacles, costs, and benefits. Since a Contractor is typically self-employed, sometimes contracted through a firm, that Contractor has the responsibility to stand up for him/herself. Don't be the vulnerable victim. Remember, you are responsible for your actions, your pay, and your contract.

marchred
marchred

You seem to want all the benefits of being an employee with the pay rates attached to contracting ... go get a 9-5 job and stop complaining. I will start with the "managing expectations crap" as that is exactly what a contract is about - stating the objectives and what is and is not included. If you aren't strong enough to negotiate your contract conditions then that's not my fault ... it's not harsh reality - it's just reality Save the "poor me" for someone who gives a damn

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I've been on far too many contracts where management screwed the pooch so hard that they are now in the position of doing the IT equivelant of hiring 9 women to have a baby in 1 month. Try walking into one like that. You've also not been in the position where an employer's had the attitude of "contract be damned, I need this done TODAY!"

alaniane
alaniane

when the customer is contracting you as a vendor; however, too often companies hire "contractors" to avoid employment issues. They treat the contactor as an employee and not as an outside vendor. It's interesting to look at the IRS documents related to contracting. If a company determines when a contractor will work on a project and for how many hours the contractor can work on that project, then they are in violation since IRS considers the contractor as an employee and not a separate vendor. However, there is little or no enforcement of the tax laws in this area and companies have become flagrant violators.

Tig2
Tig2

I was brought into to company XYZ on contract to hire. From Day One, I was told that I could only bill so many hours. During ramp up for a solution, I worked as many as 60 and had to drive 2 hours to get home. After a bridge over a significant waterway collapsed, that time was increased. Sometimes- even many, the contractor does not have visibility to the expectations of the customer. But they have to manage to them. Second party contract is MUCH more common than any other. And we frequently are left trying to guess what our customer wants. And don't start with the whole "managing expectations" crap. You can do that forever, but if you didn't engineer the expectations, failure is your fault and it is glaring. You may be in the happy position of never having to deal with harsh reality. Some of us aren't that lucky. P.S. We do whatever because we need to make a living.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... the trick is, who? You have to analyze the power structure and pick the person who can do you the most good -- which means, the one who can benefit most from fixing things. If it's such a political swamp that you can't fix it, then I'd start looking for a way out.

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