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Three Strategies for Getting the Most Out of Your Contract Engineers

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Are you getting the maximum value from your contract engineers? Collectively, your contract team may have hundreds of years of experience and the wisdom to streamline processes, create cutting-edge designs or make the best use of valuable resources. But unless you’re doing the following three things consistently, you’re probably not reaping the full benefits of their vast expertise.

What did you say? Portrait senior man with hearing difficulties

Solicit Their Opinions

According to a Fierce survey on management best practices, 98 percent of workers stated that leaders should solicit input from everyone impacted by a decision. Unfortunately, 40 percent of those surveyed also said that leaders continuously fail to ask for their ideas. It can be especially frustrating for contractors, who may have a solution to a problem but feel reluctant to weigh-in without an invitation.

“Ask for my opinion,” said Andre’ Nel, an independent electromechanical engineer based in Pennsylvania.

Nel added that he frequently knows a faster way to develop a new product and more efficient ways to handle design changes and manage engineering documents. He says he’s happy to share his ideas and productivity-enhancing tips with curious engineering managers when he’s on a contract assignment.

In fact, disruptive innovation often comes from outsiders without an invested stake in the status quo, noted Jeanne Schwartz in this article about innovation in WIRED Magazine.

The bottom line is that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by soliciting feedback and input from your contract engineering team.

Let Them Work on High Value Projects

What motivates an engineer? What gets their creative juices flowing? Problems—that’s what. The bigger, the better.

“Assign me to your highest priority project,” said Nel. “I love it when I get to focus on a single project that offers high value and a big potential return.”

Not all projects are created equal. Prioritizing and aligning your most capable engineering talent with strategic, high impact projects not only increases your return on human capital, it boosts morale and may put a feather in your cap.

Allocating resources to maximize the value of a project portfolio by reviewing key objectives, such as profitability, ROI and acceptable risk, is a best-practice, according to research on Portfolio Management by Dr. Robert G. Cooper and Dr. Scott J. Edgett, co-founders of the Product Development Institute.

Trust Them

Teams that trust each other outperform teams that don’t trust each other, according to an HCI study of business professionals. Furthermore, Stephen M.R. Covey argues in his book “The Speed of Trust” that trust boosts engagement as well as productivity, and that high trust organizations earn loyalty from stakeholders – including employees and outsiders such as customers, suppliers, distributors, investors and contract professionals.

So how can engineering managers engender trust? You have to give in order to receive, according to HCI. Managers should extend trust to contractors and employees and expect to receive it in return. The study’s authors also claim that trust is a decision that leaders make, not an inherent trait. And not surprisingly, seeking input from workers is one of five key leadership actions that build trust.

“When decisions are made without getting input from people, they tend to hold back their ideas and take less initiative to make improvement,” business leadership expert and author, Dr. John Izzo told Business News Daily.

The bottom line is that soliciting your contractors’ opinions, and really listening to what they have to say, is the key to unlocking their full potential.

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