Winning new business isn’t the problem anymore, delivering the business is.

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Remember when what kept us awake at night was new business? 

Now it seems that what keeps us awake at night is how we’re going to deliver that new business.  The challenge of securing great talent to deliver work, existing and new, has become the quandary and headache of countless service businesses. 

I often talk to my clients about the three pillars – the simple things service businesses need to do (and be great at) to be successful. These pillars are:

  • Winning new business
  • Keeping clients happy
  • Keeping your promises / delivering on your service proposition

Often businesses are good at one or two – the very best are great at all three.

Historically it’s winning new business that has been the main issue, but of late service businesses have seen a complete switch around of the pillars causing most complications. This switch began in the mid and post pandemic period as budgets were released. A lot of clients began realising the scope of opportunity and innovation and what ensued was an acceleration in client churn as businesses started looking for representation and support.

At precisely the moment clients began furtively looking for help, we began to see staff – who were recovering from the pandemic – consider what they want to do with their lives. A lot of people were and are thinking about their options, leaving the industries they’ve been training in, or moving to businesses with higher salaries / renumeration packages. This first wave of ‘the great resignation’ was predominantly younger generations. 

Now we’re entering into a second wave – a shift in middle management. These middle managers are typically those left under resourced during the pandemic; employees who were responsible for continued service levels, onboarding new staff and enduring a huge amount of stress. Those managers are now feeling the strain and we’re seeing a loss in middle management. A new wave that feels particularly devastating for leaders and founders attempting to service new and existing clients. 

This new shift is not necessarily made up of people going to other companies, rather team members who are who are tired out and didn’t feel supported. 

So what can we do? 

Service businesses are not traditionally set up to deal with this challenge. In the past they have been almost solely preoccupied with winning new business. 

But perhaps we can take some small clues from the middle manager churn we’re seeing?

Here’s my shortlist of things to think about which might enable you to either bring on more talent more quickly, get that talent to be more productive more quickly and then retain that talent for longer.

  1. Tackle the classic challenge, overservicing 

Address overservicing. You know what I’m talking about, giving clients everything they ask for even outside scope. Control client expectations through brilliant scope of works, meaningful service level agreements and amazing, trained teams who know how to deliver efficiently and effectively. Talk honestly and openly with clients about what is inside and outside of scope. Get them to understand the value of you. This will reduce the volume of current work and create more capacity in your teams.  

  • Go to the recruiters, or, consider bringing them to you. 

When accessing new talent, service businesses often (of course) go to the recruiters. Typically though, these recruiters use all the same sources – which raises issues in a crowded talent pool who now more than ever want their lives and their work to coexist harmoniously. 

Something I’m exploring with clients is bringing recruiters in house. Having a full-time recruiter in house isn’t normally practical for smaller businesses, but there are companies supplying recruiters on demand. The clients I’ve trialled this with are seeing around 50% less recruitment costs. Reducing the time / energy burden will free you up to concentrate on other things. 

  • Benchmark salaries

There are lots of benchmarking reports out there, so make sure you’re paying the right money. In the same breath, remember money is not the only driver. 

  • Re recruit your teams

Don’t forget your existing team – give them clarity around their roles. I wrote about re recruiting your teams and some great pointers from McKinsey. It’s so important, so give it a read.

  • Retention plan 

Be clear who you should fight for and have a plan for those people.

  • Consider your youth policy

At the moment those with two, three and four years experience are proving quite expensive as there was little training happening during the pandemic. So make sure you’re looking at interns, apprentices and first jobbers. Hire for attitude – always – and consider what are the things those people can do right from the off to feel productive. An amazing induction programme is worth its weight in gold. Stats say new recruits stay around 50% longer if their induction is great. Examine your youth policy, make them feel contributory. Add skills incrementally and put a plan in place for training. 

  • Flexibility

Working from home – or working from where you do your best work as I call it – is forcing us to think differently about how we populate our businesses with talent. There are some very talented people who have previously been overlooked – those who might only be able to work mornings / evenings or very specific hours. Talent that is not being tapped into. Sites like 2to3days.com are popping up to help fill the flexible void. 

  • Hiring different roles

There’s a tendency in service businesses to fall into a rhythm of hiring same people for same roles. The smarter play here to hire a different role and start thinking about your roles differently – who do you really need to fill and expand your skills gaps? Use this as an opportunity to refresh, hiring for more specific or different skills.

I realise a well-meaning article and my dulcet tones may not instantly restore your 8-hours a night, but it’s not hopeless – don’t panic. Don’t hire weak people just because you’re desperate. There are opportunities to get this right and real opportunities to reset your business resulting in a team with an amazing attitude.

I’d be happy to chat through specifics about any of the above – you can either email me andy@etc.co.uk or book a slot on my business leader sessions – which I leave free every Wednesday morning. 

Andy.  

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