Vince was successful. His had reached his five-year income goal, and his company was growing. His book of clients was increasing, and so was his staff to service them. Despite this, Vince had a big concern keeping him up at night - cash-flow. Recently he had to use his credit line at the bank to cover payroll.
All of us can think of a version of this story from our work experience. It is far from uncommon for employees to ignore policies, cut corners on procedures, or treat rules as general guidelines. Our HR systems have designed many solutions for improving employee compliance.
When the firm was less busy, entering time into the billing system was typically completed on Fridays. Thus, employees lacked the habit of capturing billable hours daily, let alone multiple times a day as work shifted from one project to the next. As the pace of work increased, the thought to change the timing of input did not change. Everyone continued to focus on the end of week deadline for capturing their billing information. Lacking accurate capture of the information, employees estimated their time on client work and listed the balance as administrative time.
Additionally, as the complexity of the work grew alongside the volume, more work hours were required late into Friday and even the weekend. The time that many employees used to complete entries into the billable time system was now taken up by client work, and so they forgot to make their entries. Deep into the creation of deliverables the following week, many people ignored the requests to enter billable time from the prior week, planning to enter two-weeks worth of billable time when Friday came.
I shared my findings with Vince and assured him that employees meant no harm and did not understand the issue that they had helped to create inadvertently. I explained that the challenge he and his team faced was shifting a habit, which is often difficult to achieve. Vince needed more than compliance by his staff in using the billable time system. A quick and lasting change necessitated their participation in more efficiently integrating time tracking into their work processes. Together we agreed on this outcome: create shared ownership for accurate and timely reporting of hours worked.
As our coaching work moved forward, I advised Vince to educate his team on the lifecycle of client work, including the contractual assumptions about completed work and payment by clients. Providing this context shifted the reporting of billable hours from an internal administrative task. Employees now understood how they played a direct role in the finances of the firm. They had a compelling reason to change their habits, and the conversation expanded to using systems to automate some aspects of billable hours reporting. Vince and his team were using their collective knowledge to find ways of working smarter.
Non-negotiable requirements exist in every business, and as a leader, you are accountable. It often seems expedient to demand compliance. The lack of understanding, however, makes this an act of servitude rather than an act of ownership. Having employees who are co-creators in your business success requires meaningful conversation, and the extra time it takes is an investment in your Extraordinary.