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Are You Ready to Be an “Emerging Worker”?

Greetings from the road. Recently I have been involved in a new consulting engagement that has afforded the opportunity to work almost exclusively with a team of “emerging workers”. That is the term I use for workers “of age” who were between jobs and now are taking contract/consulting opportunities. While many companies today are adding these contract workers to their ranks to augment projects and/or staff specific short term needs, it is rare to see a situation with a whole team of these “employees”, guided by only a few permanent staff members.

The whole spectrum I’ve observed in this assignment is worthy of some commentary here. First let me say the camp is pretty evenly divided between three key profiles. First, there are those workers who are incredibly skilled and gifted AND who are demonstrating an incredibly positive attitude about the opportunity. These people can easily be trusted to take a task and run with it to either good or many times, even great results. The other extreme is the group who exhibits poor work ethic, moderate to low willingness to be a part of the team, and outright poor attitudes about all parts of the workload. For these folks one might say “it’s easy to see why YOU lost your last job”. Then there is a rather strange group in the middle. The paradox with this ‘tweener’ group is the conflict between having high potential based upon occasional demonstration of skills yet there is a barrier to success because of various (and often unpredictable) objections to instruction or tasking. Many times the objections take the form of ‘well we did it this way where I came from’ or ‘I don’t care what you say, I know better’.

On one hand, the three profiles represent the problem with the workforce at large. As any manager can tell you, even among permanent employees, most work teams end up with the same three profiles in play. The challenge for the leaders of these work teams where the assignment is temporary is to bring out the best in those who are ready and willing to contribute. Then they must still work with the “people management” part of dealing with the rest of the team. As an employer choosing to deploy temporary workers, the fix is somewhat easy. If a person cannot or will not contribute, then they can be terminated more quickly.

To workers facing this alternative to permanent employment, I recommend the following:

  1. Before taking the engagement, decide upon a clear and specific set of your own expectations. Deals like this are often offered at pay grades below your former level. Be sure you are clear and honest with yourself about that fact. If you accept an engagement, then later decide your pay grade is a problem, you will have created your own biggest barrier to success.
  2. Join the work team with a whole new and fresh set of attitudes. Be open to new ideas. Respect those who may be in authority. Try VERY hard to scope the whole assignment from within before you start making decisions about what you can and will do. Ask questions that exhibit a willingness to achieve success, not to undermine the plan already in place.
  3. Understand who the designated leaders of the group may be, then offer help of all kinds.
  4. Develop good rapport with everyone in a 360 range; peers, reports, and leaders. Demonstrate an openness to be the best member of the team you can be.

If you are saying you are not willing to do some of these things, I can promise you a temporary assignment like this will not be a good experience for you.  Since there is strong and growing evidence that corporate America is shifting to this model, it is vitally important that workers consider these things when looking at contract opportunities.