Consultant, Contractor, Temp: All the Same, Right? – Part 2

In the last posting we got into the nitty-gritty about what made a consultant a consultant. Today, we’re going to talk about their often confused counterparts: the contractor and temps, but also about why this matters and how it all fits together.

If you look at the previous posting, I listed three specific things which helped you determine whether or not you had a management consultant on your hand or something else. Lists and bullets are nice, but you know what’s better? Tables and grids! 

Types of Non-Perm Resources

[1] This is not supposed to serve as the be-all-and-end-all of determining all types of resource, permanent, SOW-based, contingent, etc.,
[2] This is an attempt at general classification – the reality is that lines do blur.

Does it really matter?
One could argue that while the above is nice information to have, it doesn’t matter all that much. The reality is that a worker is a worker, there are tasks to be completed, everyone is part of “the team” and we all need to put heads together and hands in to get it done. More hands make the work light, right?

Wrong. Here are the areas which are impacted directly by types of resources (people, really, people!) that you have on-hand and once you see them, you’ll get it immediately:

  • Budgeting
  • Corporate culture
  • Talent management and retention

Budget well or break your bank
Here’s a quick and dirty fact:

General costs of resources

What that means in reality is that misusing your Temps probably doesn’t hurt you that much, but since the work they’re likely doing isn’t all that strategic, their work may not be up to the level you need it and/or if it is, you’ve gotten quite the win. But you shouldn’t bank on that, pun intended.

On the complete other side of that, misusing your consultants, having them do work of an employee or a temp, while it may be spot on perfect (no guarantee, because consultants at times can be highly specialized and putting them outside their comfort zone isn’t always successful), you’re paying through the nose for it.

Often times it’s easy to think of budgeting as a vertical control:

Cost of Resources (by Level)

But it’s a combination of those two things which allow you to allocate tasks/functions/activities to the best type and level of resource. Doing all of that is creating the right resource mix to give you the best bang for your buck. Make sense?

Culture is made up of people
It doesn’t take much more than a Google search to find articles about “building corporate culture” or “how do you prevent a toxic corporate culture” or “the value of organizational culture”. The flat definition of culture is, per Merriam-Webster: “The belief, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time” or “A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business).”

There are words there which give us clues about the nature of culture, words like ‘belief’, ‘thinking’, ‘behaving’, ‘working’, ‘society’… Those are things that point towards individuals. It’s about people.

Therefore, the type of folks that you hire result in the type of culture that you have. Reasonably so, you would expect that folks who enjoy consulting, contracting, and temping have a different style of work and focus than folks who want to be full-time employees, right? Therefore, if your company is made up majority of one or the other, the culture it creates reflects that.

This is too large a topic to go into here, but keep it in mind: culture is made up of people therefore the people you hire create the culture of your organization.

This all neatly dovetails into our last area of impact.

Talent management and retention is a 2-way street
♦   When someone sends out a job offer, someone is responding to that: it takes two to tango.
♦   When someone goes on an interview, you’re both asking and answering questions: it takes two to tango.
♦   When someone offers a job, and someone accepts…yes, it takes two to tango.

If you have danced the tango, or salsa or merengue or a waltz, the reality is that it’s two people, one leading and one following, but they are in agreement. If one person is trying to tango and the other is trying to do the salsa – that dance isn’t going to work; it’s going to be a mess and toes will stepped on, feelings could get hurt, and if it’s a competition, you will not win. You will lose.

It’s the same with work arrangement, whether you have hired on a consultant or a temp, a contractor or an employee. You both had an idea in mind, and yes lines will blur at certain points, but if there’s a change in opinion, it needs to be spoken and it needs to be addressed directly and explicitly.

Why? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes…if I’ve chosen to be a consultant, I may not want to be treated as an employee and to do work in the style and fashion of an employee. If I’ve chosen to be an employee, I may not wanted to be treated as a temp: assigned tasks which are one-off and potentially not related and just aren’t the right fit.

When you have mismatches in understanding or they change, people start to protest. What’s protest behavior? Showing up late, lackluster quality in e-mails and work, inattention, skipping meetings or conference calls, random sick and vacation days, combative behavior, defensiveness in interactions, et al.

Unaddressed protest behavior ends in one of three ways:

  1. They quit.
  2. You fire them.
  3. They stay and poison your culture.

If your goal is to be retain your resources and/or your business relationships, none of the above are positive outcomes.

So, now I know it matters – what next?
The reality is that nothing is as cut and dried as the above. I think we all get that. Still, now you have the background and tools to be more thoughtful about your resourcing and planning decisions. Therefore, ask these questions when you’re making hiring plans, setting up projects, and making decisions:

  1. What type of work are we doing?
  2. How much do we have in funding?
  3. What do I want the work culture to be?
  4. With the combination of the above, what types of resources do I need?
  5. How will I appropriately manage those resources once their onboard?
  6. If we have changes in those factors: our work needs, our funding, or some combination thereof, how will I communicate those changes and best leverage the resources that I now have?

Most every organization that I know of cares about getting work done in the most cost effective and efficient way possible. People still do a majority work in industry, doesn’t it behoove the smart manager to give the right amount of focus to bringing in and managing the right people for those jobs?

I would think so; I’m pretty sure you think so, too.


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  1. Reblogged this on FJWilson Talent and commented:
    Anthony Haynes writes: In ‘Consultant, contractor, temp — all the same, right?’, Cassandra John seeks to establish criteria for distinguishing three types of workers. This is helpful: I have found some mangers’ use of this terminology rather fuzzy. On its own, however, the question of taxonomy is rather academic. What interested me more — and made me decide to reblog it here — is that John then links the question to issues of talent acquisition and management — an original and thought-provoking twist.

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