There has been a lot of talk in the last six months around our need to have a flexible workforce that can grow and shrink as efficiently and painlessly as possible when needed. This has resulted in us using contractors more and more, and in more creative ways with different engagement models. We currently have at least three different engagement types with contractors that I know of.

In my new role as Contractor Relations Manager in the Engineering group, I'm tasked with the day-to-day administration of managing our contractors (approving hours, reviewing invoices, making sure contractors have the tools they need, ensuring they are feeling good about working with Habanero) and also tasked with finding additional contractors who may want to work with us as the need arises.

There has been a lot of work and thought that has gone into the employee experience at Habanero over the years, and this has evolved into what we call "Stellar Careers". This is something that potential employees see when they go through interviews and talk with Habanero employees that makes them want to work for us, and something that keeps Habanero employees engaged and moving forward. Proof that this is something this is very important to us is right in our vision:

Habanero will become a truly remarkable IT services company and achieve the following outcomes:

  • Delighted customers — we are a core strategy for our clients
  • Exceptional business — an admired business platform
  • Stellar careers — best IT consulting employer
  • Perpetual beta — we never stop evolving

If we are going to make our contracting engagements stellar, we need to ensure we are articulating a vision for them as well. We don't currently have a the same type of clearly articulated message and value proposition for our current and future contractors. We need to make sure that our vision, purpose and values are taken into account when we are engaging our contractors and that our contractors are taken into account when we are thinking about our vision, purpose and values.

We know that we want our contractors to be treated no differently than employees. I've worked at places before where contractors were second class citizens, and I know that we do not want that feeling to occur at Habanero. The good news is I think we are doing a pretty good job already. Over the last few weeks I've had some good chats with the current active contractors in the Engineering group, and I've asked each of them how things are going and if there are any issues. Every single one of them said they love working with us. They don't feel as if they are being treated any differently than anyone else at Habanero, communicating with the company about project and non project work is easy and seamless and there have really only been minor suggestions on how we can make things easier for them. This is obviously great news, but I still feel like we could do better.

A bigger question is, how do we get our contractors engaged at a level where they are living our company values? Is this even possible?

I have this feeling that our messaging and value proposition to contractors in the market we work with can be so strong that:

  1. Contractors are knocking at our door to work with us just as much as employees are
  2. It becomes a competitive advantage for us in every market

Over the last few weeks I've spoken with members of the leadership team to pick their brains and find out what their thoughts are on how we want to work with contractors and what can set us apart moving forward. There were many ideas mentioned that were very interesting that we want to explore. Here are a few of the areas I'm hoping to improve upon in the near future.

Engagement types

We are experimenting with different types of engagements than we have in the past. So far this is working out great. Currently in Engineering we have the following active types of engagements:

Short-term or hourly engagements

  • These can work quite well for short engagements
  • This has generally been the type of engagement we at Habanero are use to setting up with our contractors

Partnered firms

  • We find these types of engagements to be very useful when there is a need for a specialized skill set that we do not currently have in-house at the capacity or level that we require. By finding a partner provider, we can maximize the benefit for both Habanero and the contracted firm. We can increase our ability to provide the skills needed very quickly and because we still vet each person that works with us from that firm, we can still make sure we are keeping our working environment filled with the type of people that makes Habanero who we are.
  • We maintain a high level relationship with the provider and they help us increase the speed at which we can find the special skills we need when we need it.

Term Contracts

  • We currently have a few full-time contractors who are on longer term contracts (3, 6, 12 months).
  • Generally this type of engagement is being used when we have an immediate need for resources but we are not sure how long that need will last for. Maybe we can only see an immediate need for 3 months and we are unsure what the demand will be beyond that.
  • The people that we engage in this manner are always people we would want to hire if we could. These types of engagements can, and have turned into full-time employment when it makes sense for the contractor and Habanero
  • It is important to realize that not everyone will want full-time employment, and that is ok, just like with our employees the idea is to help make this person as successful as we can in the manner that makes sense and benefits them and Habanero

Recruiting process

We have a clearly defined process we follow when hiring an employee. We go through a series of interviews including an initial meeting, a technical interview, various fit interviews, and a CCI (in-depth three-hour interview) and an executive meeting. The process helps us ensure that the candidate is a good fit for Habanero, but also allows the candidate to learn about Habanero and make sure we are good fit for them.

So the question has arisen — do we follow the exact same process for contractors? Does it depend on the length of the contract? Or the type of engagement?

Our current thinking is that for short term contracts (one to two weeks) we need to make sure the contractor will fit in, they are technically competent, but we can't conduct hours of interviews and a CCI. For a term contract of a few months we definitely want to leverage the majority of our interview process — an initial interview, a technical interview, and a number of fit meetings. There is discussion surrounding the CCI and how it should relate to contractors and there is still more to discuss here. Personally, I keep going back and forth if we should wait until the time that the contractor wants to become a full-time employee for the CCI or if it should be done sooner than that if someone is going to be around for a while.

Accountability Agreements

As employees of Habanero, we have a number of performance management relationships and we know what is expected of us and what we are accountable for at work. We are moving towards everyone having an Accountability Agreement that clearly outlines the accountabilities, supports, measures, goals and consequences for each person's role. Currently, for contractors we may have a verbal discussion and perhaps a paragraph describing the type of work and client engagement they will be working on.

It was suggested that perhaps a one-page Accountability Agreement should be crafted for all contractor engagements to make it clear what their specific accountabilities are. This would be followed up by a series of regular, short check-ins where we touch base and see how everything is going. We will be experimenting with this in the near future with some of our existing term contractors as well as new contractors that will be brought on for some upcoming projects.

Communication and meetings

Habanero is a very open company. It's not uncommon for us to have customers, contractors and partners attending firm-wide meetings such as the Monday Morning Meeting, or our monthly Open Books meeting that reviews our monthly financial performance. It is completely understandable that many of our contractors may not feel the need to attend these meetings. However, I think that it is beneficial for both Habanero and our contractors to have them attend, especially if they are longer-term contractors who we have brought on and may end up being employees at some point! Currently contractors in Engineering are invited to all of these meetings, however we do not currently pay for their attendance — it's too early to tell if this is something we will do — we need some further analysis on this one.

Why are we doing this?

Through the work of defining our ideal relationship and engagement with contractors we are hoping that we can make Habanero a "contracting destination" — a company contractors want to come and work for. This will allow us to have a pool of great contracting resources we can go to when projects come up that we need additional resources for. This pool would be pre-qualified and ready to work with us. Right now we often have to do a lot of scrambling to find people when we get busy — this is less than ideal for Habanero and our contractors and sometimes causes the process to be rushed.

If you have any questions, thoughts or ideas I'd love to talk.