When good contract jobs go bad, where can you turn?

Posted on April 12, 2019
By Catherine Heilemann

We’ve all found ourselves in tricky situations in the workplace before, but have you ever found yourself in a situation where leadership is adrift? This is especially stressful when you are in a contract position. As a former human resources manager and current executive coach, I have seen all kinds of workplace situations that can negatively influence your performance. How you respond makes all the difference.

Today, we’re going to examine a troubled contract situation, the issues you might face and the sorts of things you can do to influence the situation for the better with strong negotiation skills

Setting the workplace stage

Imagine a scenario where a contractor role is undertaken.  You’re 8 weeks in, the work scope has been agreed ahead of time and a crack project team has been given the green light. Expectations are high for the team to deliver an aggressive agenda to help the company expand into other markets.

In the background, a hot corporate political situation was unfolding. A wrestle for power between two leaders has begun. Alliances are formed, and it was starting to read like an episode of Survivor.

Soon, timely milestones and contract management concerns start to play second fiddle to increasing drama and turbulence.

After several weeks of strategic and tactical manoeuvring, Joe* the hiring manager of the crack project team resigned, leaving those that opposed him/her feeling victorious. Before Joe’s exit, there is already a vacuum. With politics in play and no clear leadership, trust is thin on the ground. No one feels able to speak to the team and the team itself is bruised. Somehow, they have to try pulling the project together and to start delivering with the politics proceeding and after Pat’s departure.

PRO TIP: This is not an easy situation and can unfortunately be quite common in leadership settings when ego is at play. Attitude is a cornerstone of effective leadership and cannot be replaced by skill alone. Let’s investigate the fall out.

The domino effect

When a team is operating in a damaged capacity, some will leave. This is exactly the case with Joe’s team. Someone takes another job opportunity, leaving a void of skill. The pressure began to show with the others. The sense of vulnerability is growing.

The department encompassing the team is generally positive towards the team yet not what you would call inclusive. When the team asks for help, they are met with varying levels of support and treated as though they should already know the answer. An increased sense of frustration results.

The once expert team has been weakened, yet those on the outside are unable to grasp the enormity of the situation.

Fast-forward a few more weeks and the green light was fast turning orange, and in some places red, under Pat’s* leadership. Three quarters of the project was either now on hold indefinitely or for the next month or more.

Pat, also feeling flummoxed, decides one more team member has to go. This is where the crest of the wave carrying leadership adrift peaks.

PRO TIP: The lack of progress and purpose within the team starts eating away at the confidence of its members, leadership included. It’s difficult to attach to projects and continue when the is no clear roadmap to success.

Inviting stress and conflict

A message was received on a Friday afternoon that Pat wants to speak with the team member, Jack, on the following Monday. In that message Jack is forewarned that Pat may be late due to travel, so to be on stand-by.

Spending a weekend awaiting news on a broken team dynamic and the “what’s next” from a leader that has previously let people go is difficult for employees to take. It’s even more difficult when a conclusion to the misery does not have a time limit attached.

Monday comes and the meeting time arrives. Pat is running late. Jack is waiting in the assigned room with one of their peers, Andy. Jack is doing his best to collect his thoughts and remain calm as the sense of foreboding rises. Neither Jack or Andy are particularly comfortable with the situation.

15 minutes later, Pat called through saying “I’m nearly ready for you, I’m just sorting myself in my seat. Give me three more minutes.”

Meanwhile, the temperature for both Jack and Andy continues to rise as they wait for information.

PRO TIP: When faced with difficult situations in a leadership role, closing the feedback loop quickly works better than prolonging the agony. People respond better to unfavourable outcomes if the situation is expedited.

A time and a place for everything

Pat begins with a preamble about how busy they were, and how the flights didn’t quite match up and all is good now as they were now pretty much settled in their seat on the plane. White noise from the aircraft and people in the plane filters through on the call.

Pat starts to explain how things are with the project.

“Much has been happening, now its slowed down and Jack, you have brought in so much advanced thinking and systems which we love. Its great… and Jack your time has come, we are letting you go,” explains Pat.

Consider this moment in time from Jack’s perspective. Jack has spent an uneasy weekend and even though his work is praised, he’s being let go. Not in person, but in a delayed meeting on a Monday by a leader that is miles away on a plane. Jack also shares the added humiliation of knowing his career has been ended in public through no fault of his own.

What of Andy, the silent fly on the wall with the morning banter? And what of Pat and his decision to erode the team to maximum deficiency and pick off seemingly good workers, despite the stress he creates?

Leadership is more than a title on a business card. Is it OK for a Leader to terminate an employee over the phone while they’re settling into a seat on an aeroplane? What impact may that have on the organisation’s brand? What impact may that have on Pat’s brand? What impact would that have on Jack? Is naming Jack in the conversation in a public arena OK?

If you don’t want to be caught in this kind of leadership crossfire or be the sort of leader that creates it, let’s talk.

Let’s have a chat about leadership adrift and what you can do to ensure you learn from and ultimately become the kind of leader you admire.

If you’re at a place in your career where you want to build on your skills and become a positive force in business leadership, I can help. Check out the individual coaching sessions offered by www.thesalarycoach.com.au or www.heilemann.com.au and discover the different ways I can support you with your career. Learn ways to better stand up for yourself before you become Jack and avoid the Pats of the world completely. And uncover your leadership style in the process.

Contact me now for your free discovery call and let’s ensure your leadership moments are positive ones.

When good contract jobs go bad, where can you turn?

When good contract jobs go bad, where can you turn?

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