So you’ve been business savvy and decided to solve your time management issues and track productivity with a brand spanking new platform. The good news is you have all the data you’ll ever need at the touch of a button. The bad news is you’ve realised that brilliant contract signed a couple of months back is taking up twice as much time as was estimated.
Suddenly that time-tracking offensive doesn’t seem quite so wise. It looked a great idea in theory, but now there is what could be a very uncomfortable call to the client at the top of your to-do list.
First things first: you’ve been smart in choosing to track productivity, whether through a leading platform such as TallyPro or more informal means. Having key data about the business is absolutely vital. Ignoring time management, and the potential for waste, could lead to even more uncomfortable conversations if the business begins to fail and employees’ jobs come under threat.
Tackling time management issues with your clients
As a manager, you’re paid to make the big decisions and sometimes endure tough conversations. Here we look at how to approach time management issues with clients in a way that leads to a satisfactory outcome for all parties.
1. Plan ahead
When it comes to signing contracts with new customers, don’t promise something that doesn’t make sense for the business. If a new deal will require eight people to work full-time on the project, don’t charge them for four people’s time just to get them to sign. Sometimes a deal is just not right.
Steve Thompson is the managing director of Forward Role Recruitment, a company that operates in a sector in which it is essential to make good decisions about whether a contract is worth the business hours and effort. Steve says: “Part of a successful service business is knowing what activities drive profit. Because in recruitment, most projects don’t involve billing our time, prioritising projects based on tangible commitment from a client such as some payment up front or exclusivity is common, but for other roles it’s more about using your intuition for where you have the greatest opportunity to make some revenue.”
Furthermore, make sure a contract makes it clear what you are expected to provide. If it’s two deliveries a day, it’s clear that you can’t be expected to make three a day. If that hasn’t been specified, then problems could materialise when you track productivity. A tightly written contract can make a conversation with the client much easier in the long run as you can compare what you are obliged to be providing compared to what they are requesting.
2. Track productivity
Time-tracking tools such as those offered by TallyPro can give accurate details about the man hours that are being put towards a certain contract. Employees can simply tap in the information to the platform, and you can assess the time that is being devoted whether that be every day or over a longer period. This will give a clear visual and help you to decide whether there any concerns.
As well as deploying technology, encourage staff to give feedback as to how they believe the contract is running. If they are having to travel between sites, is this taking longer than expected? Are they having to login from home after 5pm to complete tasks? Of course, it might be an employee who likes a bit of a moan – we all do sometimes – but their feedback will give colour to the data collected by time-tracking tools.
3. Look inwardly
If time management issues are identified it’s time to look at what can be done internally before approaching the client. If it’s taking three people to do a job, is that necessarily the client’s fault? Perhaps there needs to be a review of how the project is being managed. If you can track productivity more effectively and make positive changes, could the task be completed by just two employees?
By conducting an internal review, you will be fully briefed and ready to answer any awkward questions that the client may have for you should a conversation with them become a necessity.
4. Talk to the client
Sometimes a discussion with the client is the only way that concerns over contracts can be rectified. Having made sure that the original contract is tight, having gathered data via technology and employees and having looked at what can be done internally, you have a full view of the situation. Before dialling you should have considered what needs to change, what is acceptable for your company and be ready to answer any questions they have.
While you must be prepared to defend yourself and your company, be open and friendly and pitch the conversation as a way to make the contract work more smoothly. Remember that you are the experts in your field, and use that leverage to make them come round to your way of thinking.
As Forward Role’s Thompson says: “We regularly have to approach clients to tell them that they need to adjust their brief to have a realistic chance of successfully recruiting. Trying to find a ‘unicorn’ is fine if you’re prepared to pay to retain someone to search for you, but if not, a client needs to be realistic to have a chance of getting a recruiter to invest time on their behalf.”
If they are asking for more than is covered by the contract, then tell them so – but, of course, be polite and cordial. Don’t open and close the conversation with: “You’re asking for too much and we’re not doing it anymore”.
5. Find a solution
That call should be seen as the first stage of resolution. You can put forward suggestions during the conversation, but it’s important they are given time to think about how they wish to proceed.
Ultimately, there will be a number of solutions to the problem, but they need to be satisfactory for both sides if the contract is to be a success. Look for solutions that the client may be amenable to, and make sure to present them in a positive light. Would they like to expand the scope of the contract to cover extra work that will guarantee success? Could charges be applied differently? Is there some work that is not as important to them that could be dropped so that you can provide a different service? Make it clear that you are open to suggestions.
6. A better relationship
This should be the beginning of a better relationship with the client. Without the nagging fear of being ripped off and the possibility that has had a negative effect on the work you are carrying out, the client should now be compensating you fairly and fully benefiting from your expertise.
Thompson recalls a recent situation which culminated in success for both parties. “We had a client recently who was looking for half a dozen tough-to-fill digital roles in a challenging location,” he says. “We told them that the only way we could commit to working on the roles was if they paid us a retainer. By paying for our time, it meant we were happy to invest resource in a challenging project and prioritise their roles over other hard to fill projects.
The result was them hiring all their roles and having a shift in mindset about how they engage with recruiters. They now know that by giving commitment upfront, they get much greater commitment, time and chance of success in return.”
7. Moving forward
Most successful partnerships involve fairly regular catch-ups, whether it be every week or every other month. Make sure that any concerns about time and resources are regularly part of these discussions so that problems do not escalate.
If you do use time-tracking software, such as that offered by TallyPro, you could regularly offer this data to the client as evidence of where their resources are being used. This will give them an overview of how the contract is progressing, the ability to track productivity and a greater insight into how their business works.
Keep on providing a great level of service and they won’t want to lose you. Through openness and honesty, and a non-confrontational approach, clients will be keen to help reach an amicable solution and you will be able to address the time management issues.