White collar contractors are the ideal just-in-time and flexible workforce. They bring skills, expertise and resources when you need them. They supplement in-house capabilities and extend resident knowledge. However, they are also an independent breed. They like flexibility and independence. They know they aren't staff and traditional employee management practices are unlikely to bring out the best in them.
With the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warning of another difficult year ahead characterised by slow growth and continuing flat world trade, it's time for HR professionals to give serious consideration to their workforce plans for 2012.
In uncertain times there's a strong argument to be made for the use of IPros (independent professionals), rather than employing additional permanent staff for essentially project-based or overflow roles. The flexibility to adjust resources or skills at short notice is a convenient way for organisations to maintain efficiency while ensuring responsiveness to changing market conditions.
In such circumstances you are going to need your IPros up and running, contributing to the projects/assignments from the time they begin until the moment their contract ends. The best way to achieve this is to understand what IPros are seeking from their work and from the clients who engage them. To help you get started, following are five key findings from the 2011 IPro Index, an attitudinal study conducted earlier this year by Monash University and sponsored by Entity Solutions.
1. IPros think differently to permanent employees
IPros choose their role. They aren't pushed into contracting because of problems finding permanent work or because they've been laid off. By and large they make a conscious choice to engage in contracting because they like the idea of flexible hours, challenge and variety. They love the freedom of being their own boss. They experience high levels of satisfaction from their work. It's important to recognise that. While IPros are working with your organisation make them feel welcome as part of the team, but acknowledge their independence. Remember they aren't permanent and allow them their flexibility.
2. IPros need variety and like intensity
One of the most consistent findings of the past few years has been the overwhelming enthusiasm of IPros. More than four in five IPros report being proud of the work they do; enjoy being immersed in their work and say they are happiest when working intensely. They score extremely highly in the areas of vigour, dedication, absorption and professional efficacy.
This has important implications for organisations who use them because engagement is considered to be the antithesis of burnout. Engaged IPros are energetic and feel very connected to their work. The clear message for managers is: Give your IPros challenges, keep them busy and they will respond with energy.
3. IPros will do their best for you
Despite their independence IPros are strongly committed to their clients. One in two agree:
their client organisation has a great deal of personal meaning to them.
they would be very happy to spend the rest of their career working for their current client organisation
they really feel as if their current client organisation's problems are their own.
IPros want to do the right thing and are focused on achieving clients' goals. Look for ways to tap into that commitment. If they are engaged in a small portion of a project, keep them informed about the broader aspects so they can see how all the activity comes together. If you strike problems along the way you may find that your IPro has specialist knowledge or good advice to share.
4. Reciprocate - Relationships are a two-way street
If you do engage IPros or are planning on engaging them, it is only fair that you show some commitment and support in return for their dedication to your goals. In 2011 almost three quarters of IPros feel their current client organisation values their opinion, has help available when they have a problem, cares about their wellbeing and honours its promises to them. These results support the view that, when managed effectively, the IPro-client relationship will foster mutual trust between the parties and thus match the objectives of the IPro to those of the client organisation.
It's a win-win situation.
5. Maximise relationship value through knowledge transfer
IPros work across many sites and industries, and are exposed to a wide range of circumstances. They bring a breadth of knowledge and experience that in-house staff can rarely match. The 2011 IPro Index suggests a side benefit of many IPro-client relationships is an informal form of knowledge sharing. Rather than leaving it to chance, however, organisations should consider formally incorporating knowledge sharing into the relationship through the use of verbal or written knowledge sharing obligations in work contracts or by creating informal organisational knowledge networks which involve IPros.
Exactly how 2012 will play out is impossible to predict but it's almost certain to be a year of fluctuating business confidence. Employing permanent staff may not be an option for many organisations but through adept use of IPros, service and business efficiency need not suffer. By managing your IPro relationships professionally and effectively, you can ensure you get the best of a committed, goal-oriented and enthusiastic workforce that may just help to bring new skills and vibrancy to your organisation.
About the author
Matthew Franceschini is CEO, Entity Solutions
Go here to download the full copy of the IPro Index 2011