SI Review: December 2013

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The Other Side: Talk to Me

How to prevent ‘analysis paralysis’ in contingent staff

By Sara Stringer

Contingents are often propelled into new situations with a large number of unknown or novel factors. It goes with the territory. And there are times we are struck by “analysis paralysis” which can seriously affect our work. Analysis paralysis amounts to the inability to make a decision or take action due to the existence of too many variables and options, and can be a real hindrance to workplace productivity despite best intentions.

Analysis paralysis was depicted in the tale of The Fox and the Cat. In it, the animals discuss their escape plans in case of predators — the fox brags of his countless maneuvers, while the cat’s one escape plan is to go up a tree. When hunting dogs arrive the cat quickly leaps out of harm’s way, but the fox can’t decide and is killed.

Preventing Shutdown

The message is clear: devising countless contingencies is futile if such efforts can’t be converted into successful execution. I was once brought in to run an email marketing campaign for a few months. At first, I kept thinking of ways I could accomplish various aspects of the assignment. Before I knew it, I had lists upon lists of ideas to make the program run more efficiently. My intent was to give the company numerous options. Because of my analysis paralysis, it took me a week to actually start working. And I know I’m not alone. When contingents are involved, there are steps that supervisors at the client site can take to ease the situation.

Looking back now at that email campaign I ran, I recognize that many of my ideas were good. Had I shared my ideas sooner, some may have been implemented, but I most certainly would have been able to focus more quickly. Remind the client that engaging a contingent worker means a fresh pair of eyes on its business, and to encourage the contingent to continue to think outside the box. And encourage the client’s engagement manager to touch base frequently at the beginning of an assignment so the contingent has the opportunity to share ideas or concerns.

That said, work still needs to get done, so there has to be a balance. When you make a placement, remind your contingents that while some planning is important, their projects usually don’t allow for a lot of wasted time. Often, they will have to figure things out as they go. It helps to know that my staffing firm representative is a phone call away. Most times workers are not going to plague you with phone calls or require hand-holding, but it does give us confidence to know we have your ear even after the placement is made.

Start That Conversation

Open up a dialogue so that contingents can communicate their thoughts and suggestions to you. It is also hugely helpful when client managers also keep open lines of communication. This can be via email, though I’ve always found that a brief chat can help me cut through the clutter and give me a clear plan of attack. It would also help if the staffing firm representative touches base with the client regularly to make sure the project is on track.

What you want to prevent is for a contingent employee to be so overwhelmed that he or she wastes weeks in getting started. Communicate to your workers and clients that mistakes are going to happen, and encourage employees to take calculated risks. While in an ideal world the best decision is always made, it’s neither possible nor expected in reality. We need to hear this from you and the client, so we’re not limited by fear of making the wrong decision. But above all, make sure both the contingent and the client appreciate the value of action over theory, as the former will always lead to results, while the latter can lead to wasted efforts.

Sara Stringer can be reached at sarasblogging@gmail.com

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