Leveraging a Flexible Workforce – An interview with Michael Ryan, SISK.

Leveraging a Flexible Workforce – An interview with Michael Ryan, SISK.

by | 13 May 2021 | The Grey Matters Network Blog

By Michael Furlong

This week at the Grey Matters network I got to talk to Michael Ryan as part of our ‘Ask the Expert Podcasts’ that we run regularly, and all of these podcasts are available on our website: thegreymattersnetwork.com. Michael Ryan who is the IT project director at SISK talked about the value of contractors in the workforce. Michael has worked with SISK for two years now. It was March 20th, 2019 when he joined the SISK organization, he joined to lead a transformation program in IT. Prior to that Michael had an executive career within the IBM Corporation, working both internationally and domestically. His role had a responsibility for the infrastructure services business in Ireland. Post his IBM career he has really enjoyed his time at SISK since he joined. I got to ask him the following questions I hope people interested in the contract industry will find resourceful.

What do you believe drives the decision to use a contracting workforce rather than permanent solutions?

Michael: “I think the workforce is a combination and is a balance of all types of resources. It is mix across employees, across utilization of third-party vendors who may have specific product expertise or project expertise and contract staff. This balance all brings along benefits, clear benefits that contract staff bring firstly: they bring the ability of flexibility and agility. The employer has the ability to onboard them quickly. If you need to reverse the decision you can make it much clearer much quicker. But generally, there is a lot of experience and a lot of different skills that are best fulfilled by contract resources. Typically, a lot of specialist resources and a lot of individuals who find that contract work is of interest to them as a workspace to get employment and to get work. There is a cohort of people there who really have strong capabilities and who will generally add value to most businesses. I think there’s a host of reasons when you look into that so I will always say, you’re not biased one way or the other, you make an assessment. In many, many cases the contract work force get the skill set and capability quickly on board with the right skill set and the right mix to bring into a team.”

What’s the value you’ve enjoyed in terms of using contracting resources in various situations?

Michael: “I think the value is, so typically, when I look at how I run business historically or how I’ve also run large programs and large sales organizations. If I focus on let’s just say a transformation program like were involved with at SISK in this point in time. In order for that program to be successful there are probably five key elements I always look to in terms of what do you need to bring to a program for it to be successful: The first key element is capabilities. What are the capabilities in the team?  To take a real example: if you need to get project manager capability and you need a project manager with multiple years of expertise and it isn’t within the organization, you maybe have a bubble of project work to be done, the logical and obvious place to go to is let’s bring someone on board, let’s get them on board with that project management experience. Just getting the right mix the capabilities is important and the contract marketplace delivers that. The second key element of success is managing stakeholders, externally and internally. Typically, experienced contract resources are very used to and very well capable of dealing with business stakeholders. They have done it all their lives across different industries, that’s the dynamic they often bring. That mix of capability and experience is exceptionally good at helping to manage the stakeholders across the business. The third area that is critical for successful program is governance and good governance. When you’re building up the disciplines around governance, around project plans, project reviews, architectural reviews, etc. again, the capability and a specialization that you get from people in the contract marketplace gives you that additional capability to enable and deliver good governance within an organization. Particularly when that organization is only beginning to mature into those disciplines itself. The fourth one is really about the ability to manage change. As I said earlier, both in terms of upscaling quickly, downscaling quickly or being able to manage any kind of change within the business the contract resources give you that. The fifth one is developing people. This is where I find it may be counterintuitive, but a contract resource pool is a great mix to bring into a team. They typically have more life experience, they can work well with people, they get on well with people and they help develop people and staff within an organization itself. So, when I look across those five key elements, that’s why I look to the contract workforce and they deliver. In my experience they deliver all those five elements and by doing that we deliver projects on time, we help deliver change, we bring the organization on the journey of what change means and we end up delivering the benefits and business cases and project and business benefits from a change program.”

And is there a particular area that you believe contract resources might be more appropriate?

Michael: “I do think they are particularly beneficial in change programs or transformation programs or programs or projects at large. Having multiple experiences in my IBM days across sales, across international work, across running a business, I think there are certain areas in sales where you tend to need to focus your own staff towards operation activities and finance activities where there tends to be a lot of your own staff.  But if you have a program of work, that can often be over a number of years to affect a change in an organization where you need to stand up a set of people to help deliver that change and you need to augment the workforce, but you still need to have the same sense of capabilities, to interview them, to understand their capabilities and what they bring to the team. You know I think that is an ideal place for contract people really, contractors really deliver value.”

Would you have any advice based on your experience you would give to others contemplating using contracting resources?

Michael: A number of things first one would be, some people I talk to sometimes say “but will they be loyal? Will they do as much?” and in my experience that just isn’t a point here, it isn’t an issue at all. Contractors are just as loyal, there just want to deliver. Often, by and large, on very basic level and looking for an extension to a contract. Their looking for that continuity, so what I find is that they are just as loyal and just as capable of delivering success. I think I would tell people ignore that whole kind of fatuous argument about loyalty. I think in our area is that I would advise people on is sometimes people believe when they interview a contract resource is they don’t need to go through the same rigor and discipline as when they interview employees. While I would accept that maybe the case, the reality is you still need to go through a rigorous selection process. You need to understand the benefits, you need to understand how they add value to the team. I would as you know Mick, take a lot of time in assessing the right candidates who come forward from a from the contract marketplace ensure that they are interviewed by the right people, they meet the right people and just ensure the fit is right. Whether it’s for a six-month engagement or one-year engagement, or longer, you still need to hit the ground running. They need to fit into a team. So, my advice is to be just as rigorous in your contract selection as you are in your employee selection.

Why the Grey Matters network? In terms of looking for contracting resources.

Michael: “Well, I think the personal connection. You and I know each other a long time, but aside from that I would say the whole proposition of the Grey Matters network, I referenced experience and capabilities and agility and flexibility and responsiveness throughout this podcast and I think my experience with the organization has been very responsive.  They by and large got me the right types of resources I’ve needed in a relatively responsive and quick time frame. The experience of the people we’ve now had, a number of people over a long period time and— like I said I’m couple of years in SISK—the first person who came in from Grey Matters network joined a couple of months later and has been with us since and is a very effective senior project manager. We’ve had other people on board we’ve brought in people who have addressed things like Lean Black Belt etc. Their particular capabilities that really, I found Grey Matters network are best positioned to respond to.  I think to cohort of people you have with the experience and maturity you have. I think it’s a huge asset and I think it is a brilliant proposition to bring that kind of experience and capabilities to marketplace. It certainly works and I would recommend it to any organization seeking to add contract resources to their organization to look at and work with the Grey Matters network.”

Mick: That’s superb, thank you very much Michael for those insights and based on your experience.  Just in terms of the key points and takeaways that I thought I would repeat and kind of summarise in terms of use of contractorsI think it’s very relevant as having that So again, thank you very much Michael, and as I said

I really enjoyed connecting with Michael Ryan for this podcast, his insights were superb, and they really are very valuable to others who are contemplating entering this type of work. Key points I would like to draw focus on for future contractors or employers looking to the contracting market are as follows:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Speedy time management.
  3. Bring the experience you already have, there is so much value in acquiring capability, and bringing that capability to an organization.
  4. Having the discipline around the selection process when it is a contractor resource.

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