Here's a problem common to many project managers. You're asked to work with contractors, part-timers and remote workers who don't have much of a history with your company, and probably aren't even thinking about themselves that way. Yet you need the same commitment and hard work you'd get from someone with their eye on the corner office. Sound familiar (not to mention impossible to solve)?
One of the paradoxes of modern life for managers is that while we often can't offer traditional career paths to people, if they don't see your work offering them a future, they'll bolt for somewhere that can.
This is the key point in a new book from Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni: Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Conversations Employees Want.
The book's premise isn't particularly new. For years people have been saying that one of the keys to employee engagement is the opportunity to build skills and get opportunities to grow that will serve them later. What makes it particularly relevant (although it doesn't say so explicitly) is the rules for those managing projects and people from afar.
Fact is, it's easy to think of managing our remote teammates in a transactional manner. After all, they're going to leave eventually, anyway. Let's get the best from them while we can. Actually there are several reasons to tweak that approach.
First, people want to do work that interests them. Just doing the same thing over and over like some scene from "Brazil" will wear thin, even if you can do it in your jammies or for different people. Assuming the money is fair, people tend not to leave jobs they find interesting. Learning new skills is a great retention tool
What's more, we grow people through concrete actions like delegation. This means we trust they are capable of doing whatever it is we assign to them. We tend to like people who trust us, it's human nature.
Finally, in this crazy world of temps, contractors and short-term projects we are constantly forming and re-forming teams. Which is easier to do: sort through resumes and spend your life on-boarding new hires or go to people whose skills you know (because you helped develop them) and who are grateful to you for the opportunities? It's always easier to get the band back together than form a new one (the Beatles excepted)
For those who think they don't have the time to have development conversations with their people, the authors offer a great comparison: Let's say it takes two hours to have a proper development conversation. You might freak out at the idea of spending two hours per employee, but there's no law that says it needs to be in a row.
Remember, twelve ten minute conversations is the same amount of time as one two-hour marathon. If you've ever spent endless hours sorting through resumes and scheduling interviews you know this is probably a good investment.