Another Monday morning, you arrive for work. Everything seems normal…. but wait, who is that sat at the spare desk? Not a new team member, your team doesn’t have a vacancy. Not an auditor, no one seems nervous enough. Not a work experience person, too old!!
In fact, it’s an associate, parachuted into your organisation to work on a specific piece of work, but no-one told you or the team.
Sound familiar? It’s certainly a familiar experience for me having been a WME associate for more than 10 years before “crossing the floor”. Turning up on the first day, no access to internal computer systems or ICT, no induction, and sometimes a frostily cautious welcome from the rest of the team, naturally concerned about what I am there to do. I can remember working on one HR restructure where afterwards the team said, “we were sure you were coming in to be our boss without a recruitment process, that you were going to slide into the role”. I was glad they felt comfortable enough to tell me that – but not until the whole process was complete and I was ending my assignment!
Because of the nature of associate work, it’s understandable that often the details of the work cannot be discussed with wider teams. Investigations, restructures and work on sensitive issues all bring a requirement for a degree of confidentiality. The associate often has one point of contact in the organisation, and reports to them for progress reports and updates, without being able to share much with the rest of the team. But it is Ok to tell the team this – allaying concerns that teams are not being watched, reported on or judged can do much to promote a healthier working environment and take away the need for lots of “water cooler” chats and distractions.
And if you are commissioning work from an associate, how can you make sure you get the best value for money, that the proposal delivers what it needs to and you get the best from the experience? We know from the fact that we have so much repeat business that most interactions work really well, and having someone with a different skills set, or to act in an independent capacity is valued by our members. But there are things you can do to change it from a good experience to a great experience.
- Let your team know someone is coming in to work alongside them, with as much detail on the remit of the associate as you can without breaching any confidentiality. It helps smooths the way for everyone and helps your team feel more secure.
- Scoping is really important at the start. Small things like who is going to arrange any appointments or rooms (very difficult for associates who do not have access to internal systems), what will happen to your timescale for delivery if people are not available? All of this should be covered at the start of the assignment so that everyone is clear about progress.
- If you want information in certain formats, on certain templates, just ask. WME will default to using our own unless we are asked otherwise by the client – but happy to use your materials. It’s your work so you say what you want.
- Associates are self sufficient and used to working alone. But they are human, and feedback is always welcome to make sure they know they are keeping on track and delivering what you want.
- Alongside of this comes the need to practice “scope control”. Make sure what your associate is being asked to do (often by your boss, Chief Executive or other “higher ups”) is part of the original scope, otherwise your consultancy days (and budget) will slip out of your hands.
- Think about whether the work have the opportunity to build in knowledge transfer to your team, so that when your associate leaves others can understand what has happened, or pick up similar work in the future and you are not left with a gap? This may not apply to all assignments, but where it can happen it is a great way of developing a learning culture in your team.
To ensure WME delivers a customer focused and highly responsive consultancy service, we complement our core team of HR, OD and Learning & Development professionals with a pre-selected group of ‘Associate Consultants’ that have a proven track record for quality service provision.
WME engages individuals or organisations from this ‘Associate Consultant Pool’ to deliver services on our behalf to our public sector clients.
Lesley Shore, MCIPD
Director Of Corporate, HR and Membership Services, West Midlands Employers