How to Prioritize

A new week begins. Sales & staffing join their weekly meeting to discuss new opportunities identified over the past week by talking to clients and prospects. You might have your routines set up differently, but most likely after the weekend, you’re eager to get your hands dirty with staffing.

There are long and short projects and needs for small and large teams. Some projects have a strategic importance for the client, while others are tactical and merely to keep the wheels turning. One deal is more likely to close than the other and with some you can clearly see the sales rep counting their chickens before they hatch.

The worst part – new needs emerge throughout the week and it never stops. How should you make decisions on which needs to prioritize? Let’s talk about that.

Make sense of incoming client needs

Professional service companies exist for the clients. You should always hear what the client has to say and understand what they need first. Only after that should you discuss internally about which client to prioritize. Some clients can make a huge difference for your company's future, like those who could lead to a big collaboration, be a great reference for others, or open doors to new areas or industries.

Clients look for people with a set of skills and expertise to solve their problems. It’s self-evident that if these needs are not met, you most likely won’t get the gig. Optimally, the client needs and your employees’ expertise are tracked in the same system, so when requests come in and the staffing discussions begin, all the information is available and connected.

Make sure your new business team and account managers are quick to respond to any requests coming from existing clients and prospects. We love the combination of a modern CRM and a robust process for using it and delivering information to the right people in a timely manner. But this is not a book on sales management.

When looking at a staffing need, consider:

  • What’s the problem? How open-ended, complex or chaotic is it?
  • When should the work ideally begin? If they say ASAP, why?
  • Do you know if they’re willing to compromise –  cost, schedule, quality?

Resource available people first

Prioritize consultants’ availability next. Begin by looking at who’s on the bench, i.e. who’s currently unassigned. Your staffing system should provide a clear view of all your people prioritized so that the ones with the least work are always focused on first.

Often managers tend to staff their “favorites” so that even months before their project is ending they have a new project lined up. While this is how things are when the order book is full, this will feel unfair for the people sitting on the bench.

A consultant on the bench means unused potential. That’s why it’s so important to keep people utilized. If people end up on the bench for longer periods of time, figure out why this is happening before people get discouraged and it becomes a chronic issue. Use the untapped capacity and don’t leave people on their own. There are many things to work on such as sales, upskilling etc.

There are exceptions to this rule. Some consultants are naturals at opening new accounts because they have a special skill or they have experience in a certain industry. These people might have their hands full of work already, but you still might have to use their time to open new accounts and accept lower invoicing elsewhere for a while.

Acknowledge personal preferences

Take consultants’ skills and wishes into consideration. An unhappy consultant in a project decreases the chances of any kind of continuation with the client. It’s not a recipe for long tenures either.

It’s not always possible to keep all promises. When your headcount grows, it’s hard to remember what’s been discussed with whom and who knows what. You need to either have a chain-of-command or a place where agreements are stored.

Consultants’ preferences might include location, industry focus, technology focus, the role and responsibility, and future learning goals. These need to be present in the system you use to make staffing decisions. If you store this information away in separate apps or Excel sheets, you don’t have it at hand when you need it. It’s a recipe for continuing with your usual way of doing things: making decisions based on gut feeling, or at worst, disregarding people’s preferences altogether.

Give people the possibility to show interest in projects. Have your sales pipeline visible and post deal updates to your communication channels and make it easy to show interest in projects. It’s also a great way to uncover people’s learning goals.

Last but not least, lower the barriers for asking for a rotation from a project. Long projects are great for learning, but there comes a point when your consultants could use a change of scenery. Optimally consultants can flag a rotation wish under their profile in your staffing system. A heads-up is given to all the people who can help make the rotation possible.

Build balanced teams

Team building is not an exact science and there are plenty of parameters to consider. It’s not only about matching hard skills with client needs. You need to balance some of the less clear-cut factors too:

  • Skillset: Make sure the team is ready to tackle both the tangible and intangible problems. Some of these are explicitly listed, some your team has to uncover by themselves during the project.
  • Seniority mix: Optimally, a team consists of both juniors and seniors. The number one wish from junior consultants is to learn from seasoned experts in larger teams. A junior can eventually take over most of the work freeing the senior to enable others. A good seniority mix also ensures you’re not putting all your most expensive consultants on the same projects keeping the project cost structures healthy.
  • Personality traits: Both introverted and extroverted people make good consultants. Try to figure out what makes sense for the project setting. Your team needs to always have one proactive communicator rapidly responding to client requests.
  • Business drive: Always have some “healthy opportunism” in the team to enable more work. We call this backdoor sales. It often happens without any sales people involved. This is how the best consulting companies sell the majority of their work.
  • Chemistry: Some people work better together than others and some clients can be challenging to work with. While we don’t have an exact template to use to assess chemistry, this is something that needs to be taken into account. Use your gut feeling here and ask around.
  • Conflicts of interest and confidentiality: Some clients may want you to avoid working with their competitors, or there may be conflicts with people on the client's team or internally. Watch out for these and keep a list of who can work on what under the consultant profile.
  • Engagement intensity: some client organizations are more intense than others. Outsiders are often brought in to resolve – or facilitate – conflicts, to act as agents of change. Who are the ones who thrive when the going gets tough? Should the team leader face the brunt of the problems while shielding the rest of the team, helping them focus?

Transparency makes it fair 

Last but not least, consider fairness and transparency. Balance all the previously mentioned aspects and make sure your consultants understand how your process works.

Don’t make staffing a black box for your people, but explain clearly how decisions are made and why.

Involve consultants in the decision making process from early on. Only if everyone’s up-to-date on what makes sense for the company, clients and for the individual, is it possible to accept compromises – because there will always be lots of compromises to be made.

Download our Operating Routine for Staffing

Agencies and consultancies of all sizes – from a boutique to an international powerhouse – should operate efficiently. We wrote a Staffing Routine and a solid agenda for your weekly meeting. Get the guide.

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