The start of a new year tends to bring with it the temptation to reflect on the past year in order to determine what our focus, priorities and opportunities will be going forward. As 2016 has started, let's focus on one very important resolution for any company that bills for time as well as other products or services.
Resolve to finally take the steps necessary to convert from a “hard skills” focused company to a “soft skills” centric organization. What, you might ask, does that mean? Unless your organization is fighting off clients who are demanding unlimited billable time, you probably need to start recognizing that many of your current problems are the result of your continued reliance and focus on “traditional” skills and experiences, delivered in a “high touch” model by very expensive resources, with an almost absolute focus on nothing but billable time.
Ask yourself this very important question:
“Would you like one client with a 2,000 hour project, or 20 clients with 100 hour projects, or 200 clients with 10 hour projects?”
The answer to this question is very telling.
Very few project management or professional services companies have moved away from their reliance on billable time even as the marketplace has become less and less willing to invest in this legacy strategy. Utilization and realization rates, and other traditional key performance indicators (KPI’s), have remained unchanged for more than four decades and it is time to reconsider what the prime motivators of priorities, activities, evaluation and compensation should be?
The historical focus on billable time has not allowed for investments in more esoteric (and sometimes non-billable) skills such as:
- Effective communications skills that are specific to the 21st Century business model. This could mean that your people need to start publishing white papers, participating in blogs, hosting webinars and other “social” events. But of course this won’t or can’t happen unless they are encouraged and incented to take such action.
- Communications must also become more “specific” to the prospect and client. Gone are the days where generic messages drive prospects to your organization. Your communication needs to be relevant. Direct mail is dead. Phone calls are unproductive. What new, unique and creative communications skills and techniques are you utilizing in 2016?
- Effective communications by role (including 1099 consultants): Your clients are looking for an “experience”. This experience will be made up of many different touch points. Some of them are human-to-human. Some of them will be systems-based. Some will exist on your portal (or a vendor’s portal that you link to). Some of the communications will be with back office resources such as accounting, warehouse and other areas that need to contribute to the overall communications experience. Some of these resources are not used to dealing with clients or prospect and as such, might need some training. ALL of these communication touch points have to be current, accurate and easy for the prospect or client to find and obtain.
- Have you created the ability to deliver multiple experiences? Traditional professional services organizations are very adept at delivering a very specific experience tied to very specific methodologies which are designed to deliver statements of work which control a relationship built upon billable hours. 21st Century prospects and clients want a much different experience. They want information (and on-line). They want reviews (on-line). They want to download trials, demos, whitepapers, and other information. The experience they want and demand is very much a part of their background and experience. These are GenX decision-makers. They work, act and decide differently. Can your organization keep up with them?
- Which brings us to the next point… Can your organization deliver value 24x7? Can your prospects and clients obtain valuable information on the device of their choosing? Is it possible for your prospects and clients to place orders and obtain subscriptions, products, information or offers with no human interaction? If you can’t deliver it, it will take your prospects or clients six seconds or less to find it somewhere else. And what’s worse, any prospect or client that has a bad experience with your company will make that experience known to the world in about two minutes. And that review will last – forever. For better or for worse, this is the internet age we live in.
- Are your expensive resources incented to package their domain experience into “self-service” modules? Do they have job descriptions that clearly define their responsibilities in this area? When you evaluate your employees (IF you evaluate your employees), is packaging and keeping self-service resources current and accurate, a component? You have thousands of hours’ worth of knowledge and experience sitting in file cabinets and hard drives. You have decades of reports and other deliverables created for one client, but appropriate for dozens of additional clients. You have millions of dollars of value lying untouched. 2016 needs to include a resolution to package your value.
Has your business model evolved to the point where it is costing you business?
These are some tough questions in need of honest answers.
And if you determine your business model might be holding you back, what can you do?
There is so much involved in moving from a hard skills model to a soft skills focus. But the good news is, most of the assets required are already in place. It is the environment that needs an audit. It is the model that needs to be re-thought. It is the business plan that needs to be updated. Most likely you will need new role descriptions, compensation and incentive plans. But the people… they are ready to step up to the plate.
Creating the environment and effectively communicating that environment to your company is the responsibility of the principal, owner or executive (POE). There will not be any change in behavior unless you, as the POE, promote and reward it. You are the role model. You are the leader.
Creating the environment and effectively communicating that environment to your company is also the opportunity before you. While most humans instinctively resist change, this is almost always due to a lack of understanding. If you can clearly communicate the “what’s in it for me” to your people, you can follow that up with the tools, systems, plans, and rewards that empower them to exceed all of your expectations.
Finally, if you can create the environment, and effectively communicate that environment to your company, you can create a critical mass that cannot be denied. Your people have amazing capabilities. They can rise to any occasion. Once they see the benefits to them, and the advantages for the organization, they can work passionately to deliver a stellar experience.
Make 2016 your breakout year.