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Managing Temps, Casuals, Part-timers, and Contractors - 16 March 2010

At the bottom of India’s hierarchical caste system are the Dalits, otherwise known as the Untouchables. They’re relegated to dangerous and dirty jobs, such as cleaning human waste and other forms of slavery. Since the Untouchables are perceived to be impure and polluting, they’re usually segregated from the other castes so that they don’t share the same housing, water, and temples. In effect, they’re second-class citizens.

One such second-class citizen was Narendra Jadhav, pictured. He grew up in a slum. His family of nine lived in a room measuring a mere 10 feet by 10 feet. No bathroom. No internal lighting. No hope of escape. And yet Narendra went from this squalid environment to eventually getting his PhD. He became the Chief Economist of the Reserve Bank of India and then vice-chancellor of Pune University, achievements never before attained by a Dalit.

Second-class citizens exist in modern-day organisations, too. They’re the casual workers putting in a few hours a week. They’re the temps hired to help out during a peak period. They’re the contractor with no hope of more work when the project’s over. And just like the Untouchables, they’re treated differently because they’re not like ‘normal’ employees.

If we look at the three people who had the greatest influence on Narendra’s life, we can derive lessons on how to engage and manage the Corporate Untouchables.

His father: Narendra’s dad was obsessed with education. He'd force him to study, beat him when he didn’t, and threatened to go on a hunger strike to get him into a good school.

The lesson: Develop your Corporate Untouchables as if they’re going to be with you forever. Coach them as often as you coach your full-timers. Train them with as much enthusiasm.

His teacher: Narendra avoided school competitions due to lower-caste insecurities. One teacher convinced him of his potential by showing and reminding him of his talents.

The lesson: Corporate Untouchables need support and recognition like everyone else. As Narendra describes his own management style, “Most important thing is the human touch.”

His boss: Narendra’s boss told him he’s an asset, but unlike many managers who just say it, he demonstrated it by creating opportunities that enabled Narendra to prove himself.

The lesson: People are motivated strongly by progress in whatever way they define it. Their future longevity shouldn’t impact how much you involve them, consult them, and trust them.

You probably already do the above with your full-timers. Yet for some reason, perhaps because of busyness or questionable loyalty, most managers treat Corporate Untouchables differently. They’re commonly excluded and neglected because they’re not around as much or as long. But today, Narendra holds a senior cabinet post with India’s ruling political party. That would never have happened had he always been treated as an Untouchable.

 

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