A Longer Term Lens

Think of your staffing outlook as the cockpit view for running your agency. Staffing feeds information into sales & recruitment and vice versa.

Staffing doesn’t only understand when to hire people and sell more, but also who to hire and what to sell.

Having enough sales discussions ongoing and a sufficient number of people in the recruitment pipeline is the lifeblood of a service business.

Keep sales ahead of recruitment and work with subcontractors

When there are not enough new projects starting, agencies have people on the bench waiting for new projects to start. Conversely, when too few people are signed to start and the demand is high, project start dates are pushed into the future. Pushing starting dates is a positive problem. Keeping people on the bench is costly.

To only have positive and not costly problems, we recommend the following:

  1. Always keep the sales pipeline ahead of recruitment, it’s preferable to push start dates than to run an unprofitable business
  2. Build a network of subcontractors to work on your projects. A good ratio of subcontracting headcount is 10-30% of your total time spent in billable work. When you’re low on your own capacity, you can leverage subcontracting to be able to nimbly respond to client requests.

Time on the bench: is there a mismatch of offering & talent?

Having too many people on the bench is detrimental for the financials and for morale. When bench time inevitably happens, help your people to focus on productive errands: sales, learning, writing blog posts etc. and prioritize them when selling new projects. Some agencies with a constant influx of urgent deals keep a “tactical bench” to be able to respond to sudden client needs, but for most companies this is not feasible.

If someone’s on a bench for a while, there might be a mismatch between their skills and what you’re offering to your clients. Keep an eye out for this to steer sales in the right direction and to make better recruiting decisions. Your bench is a good indicator of what’s easy to sell and what’s harder.

Help people move on from your company if you see that they would find better, more meaningful work elsewhere.

Overbook your available consultants

You should always sell your available consultants to multiple cases at the same time – your win-rate is not 100%, sometimes not even 30%. This is natural for professional services, but might not be intuitive for consultants who are new to the industry. As you provide visibility to the sales pipeline, some people might get anxious seeing their face in many proposals. Talk openly about this with people and help them understand that it’s the nature of the business. They won’t have to work for seven clients at the same time.

Speculate and plan for the future

It’s essential to speculate with upcoming and uncertain projects to be able to plan what is ahead. When a new deal is far enough in the pipeline, mark which kinds of competencies are likely needed and for how long. When the staffing pool grows larger, this is key to be able to make enlightened guesses about recruitment decisions and to inform sales about where to put the focus.

Make it clear that planning for the future doesn’t mean clients have been promised certain people. Most often you should staff new deals on a first come, first served basis only when contracts have been signed. Making binding promises to clients during the sales process is risky. Imagine reserving a consultant for a possible future project and passing on another opportunity only to later find out that the initial deal was lost. Double whammy.

We recommend at least keeping an eye out for:

  • Utilization forecasts for specific competencies for the near future: who to hire, what to sell
  • Expected allocations vs. actual hours spent to reveal anomalies: you might have more capacity than you think!
  • Who is on the bench: are there mismatches between the kinds of people you keep recruiting, and what you keep selling?

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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