Are You Managing Your Contractors for Optimal Performance?

By: Charles Carnes, Senior Partner; Brian Cole, Principal; Krystyna Riley, Senior Consultant

The effective, efficient, and safe performance of contractors is critical to superior turnaround performance; their performance can often make or break the cost and duration of your turnaround. Like most of our clients, you probably train and orient your contractors—before a turnaround begins—in your company’s policies, safety procedures, work rules, quality standards, and culture. While this initial training is vital for getting off to a good start, our experience has been that the oversight and monitoring during the turnaround is even more important for ensuring top performance.

To provide that oversight, many companies utilize some form of “Contractor Liaison.” This often is a temporary role filled by a seasoned employee who is highly skilled in a maintenance craft—such as a welder, pipefitter, machinist, or electrician. The Contractor Liaison is usually “borrowed” from his or her regular job for this temporary assignment. Effective Contractor Liaisons can have a significant positive impact on contractor performance. By serving as a single point of contact for contractor supervisors and foremen, they provide critical work direction to contractors, resolve problems, and remove barriers to working effectively to ensure that contractors remain productive, efficient, and stay on schedule. They also often help contractors comply with company work standards and safety rules.

How Effective Are Your Contractor Liaisons?

The skills and abilities of your Contractor Liaisons are important. In our experience, contractor performance, and thus turnaround outcome, is heavily dependent on the effectiveness of Contractor Liaisons in providing oversight. However, based on what we’ve seen in the field, individuals in the Contractor Liaison role are often ill-prepared to provide oversight. While they typically have excellent general maintenance or craft-specific technical skills, they often lack skill or experience in managing contractors. They struggle with setting work direction, providing constructive feedback, resolving conflict, and breaking down performance barriers in the field.

What Are You Doing to Develop the Skills of Your Contractor Liaisons?

We’ve found that better onboarding and training are not sufficient to improve Contractor Liaison skills. The key is high-quality performance feedback provided to the Contractor Liaison against well-defined performance standards. Ideally, Contractor Liaison expectations should be reviewed prior to the turnaround, and then feedback should be provided regularly during the turnaround, followed by a final performance summary discussion following the turnaround.

The responsibility for giving your Contractor Liaisons high-quality performance feedback rests with their Turnaround Supervisor, which means that good performance management skills are an essential requirement for the Turnaround Supervisor position. Without it, your Contractor Liaisons will perform inconsistently, and consequently your contractors will perform inconsistently as well. In our work we’ve found that the skills and abilities of supervisors to set clear direction and give feedback vary considerably. In addition, Turnaround Supervisors may not have adequate time to properly evaluate Contractor Liaisons and provide meaningful feedback.

5 Critical Contractor Liaison Behaviors

To address those gaps, we recommend providing Turnaround Supervisors with a “standard” for evaluating Contractor Liaison performance. We’ve found these 5 Contractor Liaison behaviors to be critical for effective performance:

  1. Steward Safe Work Practices—e.g., participate in contractor start-of-shift meetings, conduct safe work practices audits, etc.
  2. Gain In-Depth Knowledge of Work—e.g., review the work “packages” and walk the jobs to understand work scope
  3. Monitor Field Activities—e.g., follow up with contractors to ensure timely completion of work, help remove barriers, etc.
  4. Provide High-Quality Turnovers (written and verbal)—e.g., status of critical jobs, next steps, roadblocks, etc.
  5. Verify Post-Work Completion that All Work Packet Requirements Have Been Met—i.e., ensure the work is mechanically complete

With clear standards in place, it’s much easier for Turnaround Supervisors to onboard new Contractor Liaisons, provide coaching and feedback during a turnaround, and provide a formal written performance review against the standards when the turnaround is over.

Providing Turnaround Supervisors and Contractor Liaisons with role-specific training, including a clear set of performance expectations, and providing regular feedback about those expectations, plays a vital role in helping ensure effective contractor performance.

Next, our turnaround series will look at core team meeting behaviors and effectiveness.

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