Turning your consultancy on a dime hasn’t been easy, but some of the challenges are thankfully diminishing. In fact, the nuances of converting to a virtual workforce and a mostly or completely offsite project work are now last on the list of Top 10 Challenges Facing Professional Services Leaders, according to respondents in a recent SPI Professional Services Talent Benchmark.
However, there are plenty of challenges still remaining including around many around hiring and retaining the right talent. Here are some tips taken from the recent Technology Advice Paper: Top 10 Critical Consulting Moves for 2021.
Don’t Neglect the “Soft Skills”
When it comes to talent, consulting staff (and clients alike) must punch up their skills as online communicators and collaborators – to best engage without in-person lunch meetings or stand-up presentations. Those soft skills are now critical to your firm’s success.
In stressful working environments, clients seeking consulting support appreciate meaningful interactions with a more balanced professional staff, skilled at effective collaboration, with a bit of compassion.
Hire for the Long Term
Many businesses are trying to make short-term adjustments today so they can more easily adapt as needed tomorrow. But when it comes to hiring talent today, leadership must invest for the long term. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that on average it costs a company 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to replace him or her.
Make your firm attractive to the top talent that’s available by offering opportunities for learning, growth, wellness, personal connections, and family flexibility. Your firm will find that the opportunities you offer to your talent today will pay off in retention, employee satisfaction and even client satisfaction down the road.
Effectively managing talent is critical for project-focused companies who rely on their people to provide value to the business. Leverage these ten tips to ensure your people are working at peak productivity, delivering exceptional projects to delight clients, and driving organizational growth. Each of these tips will help you manage and retain more top talent while consistently contributing to the overall business strategy.
Keep Communicating – Make a conscious effort to listen and talk to your employees about their frustrations and aspirations within the company. Take time to really listen; remind them how much you appreciate their work and value their contribution to the firm. Keep the lines of communication open by leveraging continuous feedback sessions and implementing project-based appraisals.
The Stars Are Aligned – Keep your top performers in tune with the current corporate strategy. This creates a culture of reciprocity and mutual understanding for both the company and its employees. You will start to see personal goals align with the overall organization’s goals.
Emphasize Strengths – Use development plans to address the weaknesses and problems of your employees while honing in on their talent potential. Consider strategically assigning employees to projects that will help them strengthen new skills. Utilize development plans, career paths, and learning opportunities to help employees recognize their strengths while closing competency gaps.
Think Like a Headhunter – When it comes to your top talent you must know who they are, what skills they possess, and their potential within your firm before someone else does. There are few things worse than losing an important project leader or an individual contributor at a critical juncture in a project delivery cycle. Think like a recruiter and cultivate your existing talent by including them in succession plans. Employees are more likely to stay with you longer if they understand their path within your organization.
Be More Inclusive – Research shows that 75% of diverse organizations are more likely to see their innovative ideas brought to life. This statistic stems from leaders embracing diversity and encouraging their employees to speak up about their opinions. Creating a diverse and inclusive environment allows employees and managers to embrace innovation.
Know What Success Looks Like – Define success by creating competency models. The ability to measure your employees’ performance allows you to determine their success within the construct of your company. Best-in-class companies don’t rely on subjective thoughts to determine their talent performance, but rather, they create competency models throughout their organization to build a model of sustainable success.
Who’s Ready to Move Up? – Identifying potential leaders is one step towards filling vacant leadership roles. The second step is to have a clear path to identify and develop their skills. Most companies identify but forget to develop leadership skills. Take the time to identify, develop, and refine your potential leaders.
Plan, Plan, Plan – The best thing you can do to face the competition for talent is to plan. Creating and building a robust and comprehensive talent management solution strategy is a big feat. Take the time to plan and build your talent management solution strategy for effective and sustainable success that flows from within.
Embrace Data – Big Data seems overwhelming, but with the help of a unified technology solution, it can be a manageable and powerful tool to fuel the success of your company. Having a unified HR technology solution can help you handle talent-related data and provide straightforward and powerful analytics utilized in all stages of the talent management strategy.
Reduce Turnover, But Do It Right – Low turnover sounds great, but make sure that the small number of people leaving are not your best people. Turnover is expensive, but no matter the size, make sure that the attrition of your best talent stays low. Top performers are difficult to replace and can have a material impact on your project delivery
It’s spooky season! The Brilliant HR team is excited to begin our 5 part blog series where we will be covering some common Halloween monsters – with a twist – how each monster can show itself in HR!
To kick us off, this week we are covering the Skeleton and the Vampire.
The Skeleton – HR teams operating with a bare bones staff.
Functioning with a bare bones staff can lead to everyone being so overworked, they are no longer effective. This can be a result of incorrect staffing ratios, layoffs driven by budget cuts or even expansion where hiring has yet to catch up with company growth. When this happens, it is important to evaluate your current processes to ensure they will be effective in the new structure of the team. It may be that some employees are now wearing multiple hats and the previous processes are no longer efficient. Carefully analyze all that needs to be done, how many weekly hours it will take, and if it can be reasonably accomplished with your current team. You may want to consider hiring a consultant to help get you through a busy season. If the workload is the new normal, you may want to review what tools are available to help you automate some of your processes to ensure you can meet all your business objectives without burning out your staff. A fatigued staff are more likely to create errors which brings added risk to the organization. Automated processes can save you time and money and allow you to work with a leaner team. Having the right number of people and the right tools is key to running a successful HR Department.
The Vampire – Inefficient business processes that suck the life out of you
I’m guessing you have.
A business process is a series of steps performed to achieve a specific objective. These processes can be fundamental building blocks to the efficiency of a department or business as they can help streamline activities and ensure resources are put to optimal use.
Generally, when a business process is created it is driven by the desire to improve efficiency, streamline communication, to ensure accountability and establish an approval workflow, to standardize a set of tasks, and ultimately to prevent chaos from consuming your day-to-day operations. But what happens over time when business objectives change, technology progresses, fewer people are available to participate in the process, or budgets are smaller? What worked before may no longer be the best way forward.
The truth is the old process may no longer make sense to your current business needs. There are important steps necessary in the development of a new business process. The obvious ones, are to define the objective, map out the process, assign actions to stakeholders, test and implement the process. The less obvious and most important are to monitor the results and repeat. What does that mean? It means we should always be testing and monitoring the effectiveness of our processes and asking ourselves if the process needs to change to better optimize time, money, and resources.
Let us know in the comments – have you dealt with any of these monsters in your workplace?
We hope you enjoyed this first installment of our blog series, and be sure to check back next week to see what monsters are popping up!
Relationships and communication drive the world…we all realize this. I am not simply referring to “who you know” although certainly that comes to mind. I am referring more to the fact that every single day, we have opportunities to create, sustain, strengthen, damage or dissolve relationships. We have chances at every turn to do positive things and choose actions that impact lives. The most subtle interaction that we take for granted could invigorate another person and be a turning point for their career, or their life. The simplest interaction can have profound impact. I am certain you can think back to several (seemingly small) interactions in life that have altered your path. Hopefully, these were for the positive, but we all know it can certainly work the opposite way.
Real Stories That Alter Paths
Let’s relate this to the workplace with several quick examples from my past to which I am certain you can relate.
Story #1: I was about three months into my staffing/recruiting career. I was failing, horrifically. I was 23, unmotivated, a little lost in life during my transition from college to the working world, and simply under-performing. I had a manager that pulled me aside one day (after a couple verbal discussions) to discuss with me that I wasn’t ramping up my billing quickly enough. She asked me to take a walk and we went to another area of the company property and sat at a picnic table. She looked me in the eyes, told me how it was, and also offered to listen to “what was going on” because I was not performing as advertised in my interview. Immediately I was taken aback and defensive, but after the interaction, I realized that she had an interest in me, and in helping me turn this new career around. She could have terminated me and hired someone else or let me continue to fail to strengthen her case for eventual termination. She did neither, and invested a bit in me emotionally. I went on to become a senior manager in that company just two years later. A simple, direct and genuine discussion that many would overlook resulted in me steering my career towards significant success.
Increase Employee Engagement with Continuous Goal Management
Story #2: I was about two years into my corporate Human Resources (HR) career when it suddenly struck me on a rather slow day that if I wanted, I could totally see my employee file. It was more of a sudden curiosity that struck me rather than this crazy (seemingly obvious) revelation. I went to the filing cabinet (yes, I am that old – electronic employee files were just starting to gain ground), grabbed my file, and headed back to my desk. On the left inside tab was my resume from my initial interview. As I was about to breeze past it, I noticed a note my manager wrote in the upper right corner in all capital letters. It simply said “POTENTIAL.” This is a word that I am not sure I ever heard someone say to me, or about me. I still to this day feel an immense sense of pride and motivation to live up to that. I think about it all the time, and am incredibly thankful and humbled that someone so talented thought this about me.
Story #3: Fast forward to present day. Here I am at Deltek. I made a total career change at age 40, transitioning from being a senior HR practitioner to the Human Capital Management (HCM) product management world. This was a transition that many would not have made. I was divorced, splitting custody of my wonderful kids, and a one income household. Why would I take a near twenty year career in HR and make this move at this time when there was so much risk? What if I failed? How would I take care of my kids and support us? Even with those concerns in mind, I was determined to be successful in this new path and demonstrate to myself and my kids that I could do this, that it can be done at any age, and that I could succeed at a very challenging career. It was only about two weeks into this position and my head was spinning. All new acronyms (a ton of them) to learn, the technology seemed intimidating, and I was sure certain people were wondering how I got this position. I had a regularly scheduled 1-on-1 discussion with my new manager who had recruited me. I remember vividly that I was relaying some initial observations and I asked her for direction on how I should tackle product strategy. Two weeks, brand new to this career and organization, my manager said to me, “I trust your decisions and that you will make the right ones.” I thought to myself, “who says that two weeks in to an employee?” I was brand new, I hadn’t earned this trust yet, and there was no reason for me to receive this trust (at least in my mind). It was that near twenty-year career and all that came with it that earned the trust, and there was absolutely no way I was not going to deliver.
Three situations, all extremely different, and yet all have a commonality. In every situation, there was a simple interaction (verbal or written); one word, one line, or a quick discussion that shaped not just my career, but my life. I love my career and the path I have taken. I have enjoyed a ton of success that I can honestly attribute to a handful of individuals who simply took an interest in my development. They spoke to me consistently in a genuine manner, and helped me get to where I am.
Communication Is the Past, Present and Future
It is these opportunities to connect and influence that we need to act on. In order to do this, as HR professionals and leaders, we must build and foster the right processes and culture that help create stories like the above. Note that not a single one of my most defining moments in my career had anything to do with notes or comments from a performance appraisal. To this day, I cannot remember a single comment any manager has ever made on a performance appraisal, not one. What I can remember, and what has impacted my career are the moments of compassion and investment.
To be direct, if you have not adopted the Continuous Feedback process in your organization, you are most likely missing out on creating more moments like the above. If your primary performance management tool is still appraisals, you have very little opportunity to create similar impact. Relying largely on an antiquated, non-specific, disingenuous and untimely method of employee engagement, development and measurement is costing your business. Continuous Feedback and ongoing communication have transformed the workplace with a mechanism that fosters opportunities for stories like the above.
To close, I want to note that on a personal level as a father to two amazing kids, I recognize just how important key relationships and communication are. My kids look to me for so many things: support, leadership, development and encouragement. Do the four items I just mentioned sound like anything else? Just like being a leader in the workplace, all of these items rely on constant communication and feedback to foster growth, encourage learning, development and success. There are so many similarities between personal and professional lives, although we are taught often times to keep them separate. That doesn’t mean though that the skills and processes are not transferable. My challenge to you is this. Are you developing, implementing and fostering processes that can lead to positive impacts on lives? If not, it is definitely time for transformation.
Many of us are highly “visual” individuals. We visualize conversations going favorably, relationships lasting forever, and being wildly successful. These are largely examples of how “hope” shapes our thoughts. The power of positive thinking can aid us in guiding our paths towards positive outcomes and hopefully create self-fulfilling prophecies. Unfortunately at the end of the day, some things just don’t work out the way we visualize them. Relationships end, both personally and professionally. Conversations don’t go quite as planned and projects end prematurely. Our best ideas and most desired outcomes, ones we spend incredible time and effort on, fail.
The most challenging part is investing, believing, and trusting in something or someone and finding a way to be “ok” when the process, project, or relationship ends before we are ready for it. It takes maturity to understand that (simply put) sometimes change, endings, etc. are in fact, totally “ok”. If I can promise you one thing, it is this: There is an absolute peace in the personal and professional world when we get to a point where we understand that all we can do is go about everything the right way, build the right framework, put the right people around us, work hard for those in our lives (again personally and professionally) and know that sometimes it just isn’t going to work out the way we see it in our minds. That also doesn’t mean we have failed, in any way, shape, or form. It just means our visions and reality didn’t really align.
Although sometimes endings and/or changes are the best things that can happen to us, emotion and ego often times cloud our ability to recognize this. Where this ties in for purposes of this blog is the employee lifespan at our organizations. In the modern employment landscape, we are called upon to enact a superior employee experience, where our brand and every touch point with employees is critical. It presents a lot of pressure for employers, at times fair and at times exhausting. We will discuss organizational fatigue later on. For now, let’s provide some help, direction and relief.
Are We Ready to Pop the Big Question?
Let’s start with a personal example everyone can relate to, and then quickly correlate it to a similar workplace situation. We aspire to know we are in good relationships, we are on target, in sync, and progressing in a mutually positive direction. Ever think about asking your significant other this question? “How difficult would it be for you to leave me?”
This question can trigger a ton of thoughts. Your significant other could be thinking “Maybe I would just be happier alone. People find me attractive and others would want to be with me. I am only marginally happy and I feel somewhat disregarded and unimportant.” It could yield positive thoughts, such as: “We have many mutual interests and we communicate so well. I would miss the partnership and friendship.”
The answer they may come up with could be something like “Honestly, it would be tough to have that conversation and there would be a few bumps in the road, but I can see myself being quite happy outside of this relationship.” Or it could be “It would be far too difficult for me and honestly, I wouldn’t want to be outside of this relationship. I belong here and am incredibly happy.”
Let’s think of that question in a professional setting. We are conducting a feedback discussion with a direct report. We ask the same question tailored to employment. “How difficult would it be for you to leave our organization?”
It will trigger the same thoughts. “Am I happier going out on my own? Is there a good market for who I am? Will someone else be more open to my thoughts and ideas, and care more about my development? Do we have similar mutual interests for my career path, and will they communicate with me frequently?”
This one question has a ton of impact. The answer (quality, depth, etc.) to this one question will support or challenge our assumptions and tell us everything we need to know assuming we have fostered a culture where honesty is encouraged and valued. It truly is the one question we can ask that can provide us with what we need to know about how this employee feels about their entire experience with our organization.
The next big question is one that we must then ask ourselves…“what do we do with all the information, and how can we avoid organizational fatigue by going too far with change?” Although it goes without saying, if we ask questions like these, we must be prepared to act on or address issues and concerns, or at minimum provide follow-up communication on the “why or why not” as this is critical to gaining/retaining trust.
Avoiding Organizational Fatigue
Organizations need to be careful when compiling feedback and implementing change. Heightened understanding, empathy and care for the employee experience is wonderful…but making constant change in a panic just to try and raise retention rates is exhausting and will end up fostering an inconsistent, uneven, and “squeaky wheel” culture.
So What Can/Should We Do
Here is a short list of what could be many items we can or should do, but if we follow these suggestions, we will be able to achieve some balance.
Unselfish leadership and support: we build and support those around us for the right reasons, and we do it unconditionally. This provides us with peace that we did things the right way, and outcomes will fall where they may.
Great programs and processes: in the workplace, we facilitate that great communication with continuous feedback programs and use those conversations to launch development, growth, reskilling and upskilling, learning, and most importantly, compassion.
Balanced decision-making: we need to be agile, nimble and adapt our culture to modern ways, but there is a balance needed to ensure we aren’t just making changes every time an employee is dissatisfied. These changes must align with our mission, vision, and values and not foster “squeaky wheel” issues.
Remember This One Thing
And that one thing is to ask “How difficult would it be for you to leave our organization?” As stated, if you have developed trust, you will get all the answers you need. From there, prioritize and implement the ones that make sense for your culture, and do your best to avoid changes just to save people. Stick to your mission, vision, and values and avoid fatigue…but remember, change and evolution to some degrees are table stakes.
I came across research commissioned by Middlesex University for Work Based Learningthat found from a sample of 4,300 workers, that 74% felt they weren’t achieving their full potential at work due to lack of development opportunities. While this research included workers form a variety of industries, my own conversations with customers and industry leaders indicate a similar failing where project-focused businesses are concerned. Development really should be at the very center of any human capital management strategy – instead we see investment in recruiting without an equal investment in the initiatives that will keep those key leaders and star project players at the top of their game and driving successful outcomes.
Think about it. By acting on a development plan you can impact everything from productivity to the billing rates of your employees. For example, if one of your growth plays includes diversifying your revenue streams by pursuing different types of projects, your development plans should be preparing your employees to meet the new and unique needs of those different contracts.
Want to have a serious impact on your organization? Development plans, when leveraged consistently, can help you to:
Facilitate alignment between your business goals and employee performance and growth
Prevent stagnation in your workforce, which results in increased employee engagement AND improved client satisfaction
Identify the key strengths (and weaknesses) of your employees and course-correct to utilize those strengths or address the gaps
Gain the competitive edge that you need to win the next contract or project by keeping your workforce on the cutting edge of your industry
Attract even more great talent by cultivating a development culture that helps establish your employer brand in the talent marketplace
Let’s assume for a second that you’re convinced, how and when do you start creating and implementing development plans? In short, the day your employees walk through the door for their first interview. After all, you learn key information that can help inform the earliest version of a new hire development plan during the interview process, so why wait?
It’s not as difficult as you might think to get started and the pay-off will be significant. Here are 5 tips to help you kick off the process:
#1 Define (and understand) your business strategy
Whether your business is in a growth phase or is staying relatively stable in size, there are always firm-wide strategies that require employees to stay at the top of their game. Understanding those plays is an important piece of implementing a development planning process for your employees. Aligning strategy with employee development offers a much higher return on your investment and prepares the workforce for the known challenges coming their way.
#2 Get to know your employees
You took the time to define what the business needs from its workforce, now it’s time to talk to your employees. Learn what your employees want from their careers. Take the time to objectively assess (and understand) you employees’ skill level and career aspirations. No assumptions. A star project player may seem like a logical project manager, but maybe they would rather stay an individual contributor. Gaining a basic understanding of who wants what on your team can go a long way toward building development plans that make sense for the employee AND for your business.
#3 Identify potential (and readiness)
Once you understand what types of roles your employees want to move into, it’s time to assess whether they are ready for their next step. Readiness is about more than general skills and experience. Every seasoned manager had to start somewhere, but I think most of us would admit that those first couple of years as a manager were some of the most difficult. A dose of humility and a growth mindset are also important indicators of readiness when it comes to moving an employee into a leadership position for the first time in their career, for example.
#4 Development is about more than certifications
Many of the industries we serve have very credentialed workforces, so tracking and maintaining the certifications, licenses, and even security clearances needed can be a handful. Regardless of tenure, career path, or level within your business, your employees need so much more than certification tracking. Start your development plans during onboarding, and leverage them throughout the employee life cycle to address gaps, and to prepare employees for stretch projects and growth.
#5 Create plan, measure success, adjust and repeat
A development plan is not a static thing. It is absolutely NOT something that you create once and leave on a shelf for the remainder of the employee’s tenure with the company. Development plans should be fluid and reflective of the changing needs of your employees. If you are executing your development plans, than your employees are constantly growing out of them. That is as it should be. As an employee progresses, their aspirations may change and the skills and competencies required for advancement may change, too. Be prepared to keep that dialogue open and continuous; then adjust and repeat the process.
Development plans aren’t just about creating leaders; they are about supporting your employees in their own aspirations and providing a framework that makes them successful. The success of your employees is your success. As your employees mature in their roles and feel your support, they’ll take on those stretch projects and become even more skilled. You’ll end up with a culture of development; a workforce full of people with a growth mindset. You will have cultivated the leaders, the innovators, and the integral contributors your company needs to build a long-lasting legacy of growth.