In our last post, we looked that challenge of managing up – in other words, managing those who are technically your superior – your boss, board, or executive. Recall that we discussed two different definitions of the term “manage” – the first of which implies you have some direct control or authority, the second of which implies you must maintain some degree of control and influence – even when you’re not the boss. There is another, increasingly common business scenario which requires a skillful application of that second definition, and that is managing those you don’t technically manage, be they freelancers, supplier partners, members of cross-functional or cross-departmental teams, and more.
Cross-functional and cross-departmental teams can present such a challenge. Suppose you are running a project which requires drawing on resources from a different business silo – not only are you not the ‘boss’ of those resources, but their actual boss may also be involved, may have different priorities than you, and is almost certainly a presence in the situation.
Similarly, although opinions vary about the impact and longevity of the gig economy on the future of business, industries and businesses are embracing gig workers to at least some degree. Contract workers, freelancers, and outsourcing are common, and managers need to adapt their skills to meet the unique challenges that come with this type of workforce. How does a manager manage workers who are not, technically, employees?
Regardless of why you are presented with the challenge of managing someone you don’t manage, here’s where you are likely to run into a few challenges – and what you can do about it:
Establishing a relationship
You may be meeting or working with this individual for the first time; in some cases, you may have been at cross-purposes with them in the past. How can you build a relationship – quickly – so that you can work effectively together?
- Establish trust. It’s not always the case, but generally speaking when someone joins a team, even temporarily, they want to fit in and do a good job. By starting things out of the right foot, you can earn their trust and set the foundation for a positive working relationship. Treat them like a team member and not an outsider.
- Demonstrate your credibility by sharing your knowledge, understanding and requirements for the project or assignment.
- Listen and show respect for the expertise they are bringing – after all, if you knew or could do everything they can, you likely wouldn’t have added them to the team.
- Find out what their goals are for working with the team and look for opportunities for mutual benefit.
Bringing them up to speed.
As an ‘outsider’ to your team, outside resources can offer invaluable fresh perspective – but it can be difficult to ensure they understand the perspective, goals, and needs of your team or project.
- Ensure that you have an effective onboarding process in place; in particular, ensure that they are introduced to the team and provided with the appropriate resources they need to work – a designated workspace, equipment, etc.
- Explain their role, as well as the roles of others on the team, and ensure they know who to go to when they have questions and concerns.
- Define your expectations – do you need a daily update? A weekly meeting? State this up front – position them for a successful working relationship with you.
- Give them as much context as is appropriate so they can understand how their role fits into the big picture. Help them understand the culture, the strategic business goals, and what is most valued at your company, again setting them up to deliver successful results for themselves and the team.
A tricky situation at the best of times, this can be complicated by the fact that these workers exist somewhat autonomously (as in the case of freelancers) or under someone else’s domain (as in internal resources who report elsewhere). When negotiation fails, it can be difficult to break a stalemate.
- Be prepared to have a difficult conversation. Define the problem, and your expectations for its resolution. Then, be prepared to listen to their side of the story. Start with the expectation that a positive resolution is possible.
- Consider the possibility that you may be wrong. Once again – this individual has been brought in because they had a capability you needed. Be willing to learn from them. Also, consider whether something on your end may have contributed to the trouble – lack of communication, undefined expectations, even something as innocuous as different use of terminology. Seek to find solutions rather than blame.
- When all else fails, you may have to speak to their authority – in the case of a freelancer, that might mean shifting into ‘client’ mode (where your customer status gives you an element of authority); with a resource from a different department, this might mean escalating to their direct manager. When this course of action is necessary, it is important to stay fact-based and solution-focused, in order to protect the relationship going forward.
The types of resources we are talking about tend to be temporary, almost by definition. How do you ensure continuity once they step out of the picture?
- Understand what they are doing. Trusting someone to do their job is one thing; being totally uninvolved in another. As a manager, it is your job to understand what is going on and what is being implemented. This includes understanding the skills and ability required to maintain or build on what they’ve achieved. For example, if you’ve hired a process analyst to determine how your team can be more efficient, what needs to be done to implement the recommendations? If you have someone from your IT department implement software for your team, what’s involved in maintaining it and how can you secure those resources?
- Make continuity part of their job. This might mean requiring process documentation or providing them a resource for ongoing knowledge transfer. (Side tip – maintaining a positive relationship should not be relied upon for continuity – but it is certain a worthwhile back-up strategy).
Non-traditional staffing is the new normal, and requires a unique set of management skills and strategies. Learn how to manage those you don’t manage, and you can maximize your benefit from mutually beneficial relationships with freelancers, contracts and internal temporary resources.