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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
612-978-3050

5 Reasons the Hired Help Isn't Helping Much . . .

when you bring in outside help, commit to managing your team

Faced with major communication, training, or best practices initiatives, you usually depend on a team of players. Some team members -- specialists in writing, graphic design, programming, training delivery and facilitation, or other special skill areas -- may come from outside your organization, as contract or freelance helpers, and managing "hired help" of this kind can present its own challenges.

I've worked as a corporate staff person hiring outside help, and as a freelance contractor, on projects of all sizes. And I've seen instances where, as the project gears up, the team leader begins to realize that things aren't going as well as they should. Typical symptoms might include:

  • Missed deadlines.
  • Difficult working relationships.
  • Poor quality output.
  • Replowing the same ground, again and again.
  • Soaring costs.

What Went Wrong?

First, let's dismiss the obvious: I am not talking about simply having hired the wrong people. That happens from time to time. All companies hire employees who look good, but turn out not to contribute very much, and the same thing happens with freelance help.

If that's the problem, replace them and move on.

The more challenging situation occurs when the team has the skills and knowledge you need to get the job done, but they aren't producing results.

Here are five of the most common sources of these kinds of problems:

  1. Not understanding why you need help in the first place.
  2. Failure to define and manage roles and process
  3. Backseat driving vs. effective delegation
  4. Clinging to first ideas
  5. Indecision, and re-decisioning

Not Understanding Why You Need Help in the First Place

Maybe you have the wrong team, because you went looking for the wrong kinds of team members. You need certain skills, but you were seduced into hiring expert knowledge instead (see this Think Piece). Or you hired people you'd worked with repeatedly, before you had defined the problem, only to discover that this time you need a different kind, or mix, of help.

Before supplementing your team with additional talent, from inside or oustide your company, make sure you know the strengths and needs you already have, and focus on plugging those gaps.

Failure to Define and Manage Roles and Process

Commit, at the outset, to managing "boundaries" between different functions on your team. You have to recognize the difference between collaboration and meddling, among different team members. You have to know when team members are fulfilling their functions, and when they are making it harder for other team members to be effective.

And you have to think about dependencies between roles as you develop the most effective process for your project.

Some years ago, a client of mine assembled a team of freelancers to launch a new training seminar product. He hired a "naming" consultant to come up with a product name, content developers for the seminar and marketing material, and graphic designers for the packaging.

Unfortunately, he set all these tasks in motion at the same time, probably thinking it would save time. At a later meeting, the graphic designers unveiled an eye-catching series of 1890's images, and half an hour after that, the naming consultant delivered a very futuristic name for the product. The client loved the name . . . for which he had a lot of useless graphics (and the costs associated with them).

Backseat Driving vs. Effective Delegation

If you have outsourced writing, graphics, or other elements of the project, make sure team feedback and direction are pitched at the appropriate level. When everyone is an expert on grammar, writing style, or color selection, you can spend hours arguing about stuff that won't change your end result much -- except for using up a lot of time, money, and energy!

"Delegation' generally means that you've accepted the idea that things will not be done exactly the way you would do them. Make sure you give your hired help room to apply their skills, and expend your energy in keeping them on track, maintaining the "big picture", leaving the technical details to the people you hired to handle them in the first place.

Clinging to First Ideas

People fall in love with their own creations very quickly, and this can happen on both the in-house and outsourced sides of the table. If you have writers or designers who fight over every change or edit you request, you probably have the wrong help. In the example of the 1890's graphics I mentioned above, the graphic designers were very resistant to changing their graphics to fit the futuristic name of the product.

On the other hand, project leaders fall in love with early ideas just as easily. A company brings in outsiders because they have experience with what needs to be done, and because outside perspectives offer new options for achieving your goals. But when the client asks for input, they only accept predetermined answers.

That's a waste of time and money, and usually means settling for less impressive outcomes from the project.

Indecision, and Re-Decisioning

Perfect decisions are hard to come by, so sometimes you'll have to make your best guess. If you cannot make the necessary decisions along the way, and then stick to them, your project will bog down . . . or even back up!

Nothing makes project costs spin out of control faster than covering the same ground again and again. An issue comes up, you make a decision, but then you change that decision a little later -- and maybe change your mind again. Any sensible contractor will charge you for the extra work these "material changes" require, when a little more thought, combined with a little more courage, would prevent costly overruns.

If you frequently encounter points where you have a hard time making a decision, maybe your project tasks are set up in the wrong order. Think of your project as a series of decisions, as much as a series of actions, and make sure you have those decisions in a sequence that will generate the information you need at each decision point.

 

There are lots of ways that a project team can go astray, just as there are many ways a team can flourish. But if you avoid the handful of issues discussed above, you've got an excellent chance of producing powerful results from your team.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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