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Contractors: Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

Building a Team
Productivity
Reorganization
Salary / Work Conditions
Hiring

28 November, 2018

Hal shares his solution to inheriting an over-worked, low-performing, and unsatisfied team. The process involved making some very tough decisions, but ultimately resulted in a productive, engaged team - and a happy customer to boot!

Problem

When I was first promoted to Director, I inherited a team here, in California, that consisted of 10 contractors and one junior FTE. My predecessor was working 12 to 14 hours a day fighting endless fires to keep our internal customer happy. The contractors could be grouped into 3 categories: productive, helpful-but-limited, and detrimental.

Actions taken

Initially, I kept my eyes and ears open, and learned as much as I could about the systems we were responsible for, and about the types of issues that were negatively impacting our customer. Soon it became clear to me that some radical changes were required. I came up with a hiring plan for what I wanted my team to look like (reducing contractor headcount while retaining the productive group, and using the money saved to hire a smaller number of more senior full-time engineers). Once I was able to achieve buy-in from my boss, I put my plan into action. I had to be creative, because the labor market for engineering staff is fierce in the SF Bay Area. I was able to bring up a new group of engineers in New York City, co-located with a sister company. One year later, no one on the team worked more than 8 hours a day, and customer satisfaction numbers had increased by 50%.

Lessons learned

Contractors can be a quick fix in some circumstances, but they generally don't have their incentives aligned with the business. Be careful to ensure that all stakeholders have their interests aligned with the company goals. Furthermore, do not let perceived limitations stop you from making progress. My predecessor was sentimental about his team, and was unable to make some hard choices about staffing. Finally, think outside the box to use resources that might not be obvious.


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