Every consulting firm needs a strategy for delegating projects to consultants. As a business offering knowledge-based services, resources must be allocated effectively so that professionals — and in turn, client work — can thrive.
How can better work allocation help consulting firms?
Effectively staffing consultants on projects can help firms combat several key problems.
- Tight labor market and attrition. Consulting firms have experienced a surge in business with the pandemic. But the majority of these organizations are short-staffed, and one in five has had to decline work as a result. Better work allocation can help consulting firms attract new talent and fight attrition by offering consultants the chance to do the type of work they want.
- Consultant burnout. Burnout is on the rise — a 2022 survey found that 38% of professionals feel more overworked than they did last year. With strategic work allocation, firms can monitor every consultant’s workload and avoid overloading their busiest team members.
- Consultant dissatisfaction. When consultants aren’t given meaningful work, they soon grow demotivated and unhappy. Modern work allocation methods help firms recognize when a consultant is being pigeon-holed into grunt work, is lacking relationship-building opportunities, or is in need of skill-building projects. Firms can then respond by matching consultants to the projects they need before dissatisfaction festers.
- New hire dropout. New professionals tend to have high expectations for exciting work. If these hopes aren’t fulfilled, they may decide to leave for better opportunities. Effective project staffing helps new hires integrate into the firm and secure important work from the get-go.
- Low client satisfaction. Poor project staffing can hurt client services. With thoughtful work allocation, firms pull together the best team possible for every project. This vastly improves client work and fosters a stronger talent pool overall.
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion. Ineffective work allocation disproportionately affects diverse workers. These employees tend to receive fewer stretch assignments and end up underrepresented in senior positions. To improve DE&I, firms can use strategic work allocation to provide valuable work for all consultants.
Why is thoughtful work allocation especially important in today’s hybrid world?
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, consulting firms entered a new era of hybrid and remote services. While the hybrid model provides flexibility, it can also exacerbate issues already facing consulting firms, making thoughtful resource allocation more important than ever.
When employees are working out of office, firms have a harder time monitoring consultant workload. On top of this, working from home can make consultants feel like they should be accessible at all times, contributing to overwork and burnout. Finally, a remote team makes it much trickier for consulting firms to foster company culture and connection. A lack of in-person socialization is especially hard on diverse employees or new hires who joined during the pandemic.
7 best practices for staffing consultants on projects in a hybrid world
As consulting firms confront the challenges of hybrid work, many of them are adopting resource allocation technology to help them efficiently staff their consultants on projects. Let’s look at 7 best practices for improving project staffing with a hybrid team.
1. Track consultant availability and workloads
Consultants deal with heavy workloads and a fast-paced environment, conditions which were only intensified by the pandemic. A standardized system can help firms keep tabs on every consultant’s workload, whether they’re in the office, at client site, or at home. Crucially, this provides organizations with an up-to-date picture of which consultants are available for work and which are overloaded.
With a resource allocation platform, consultants can fill in their availability and forecast their hours online, for example, on a weekly basis. For a holistic view of a consultant’s workload, firms should look further than billable hours and consider hours allotted to activities like training, research, or business development work. Firms can also compare forecast hours with actual hours to improve forecast accuracy over time. This workload monitoring is critical for preventing burnout since an unmanageable workload is the second highest cause of burnout.
2. Build and maintain a skills taxonomy for your firm
Professionals want skill growth — the majority of workers (68%) say they would remain with their employer throughout their career if their employer took steps to upskill them. Skill-building opportunities are easily uncovered with a skills taxonomy — a system for organizing and managing all the skills within an organization.
Inside the resource allocation platform, consultants have clearly-defined skills development plans and can easily update the skills they develop after each project. With clear visibility into every consultant’s strengths and developmental needs, firms can strategically match workers to projects in ways that build up their competencies. For example, a professional who lacks a certain skill can be matched to a project alongside a professional who already has this skill. This gives junior consultants the growth opportunities they need and more experienced consultants the chance to solidify their skills by mentoring others.
3. Place the right consultants on the right projects
Consulting firms can harness these utilization insights and skills data to make the most informed resource allocation decisions. With a centralized system that keeps all these metrics in one place, the process is simple and easy.
When allocating work, managers and admin can filter through the available consultants and zero in on specific project needs. Search filters can include skill strengths, demographics, billable rate, interests, and experience level. These deep analytics give firms the best chances of staffing the right consultants on the right projects, using precise decision-making that’s backed by objective data.
4. Distribute work equitably
In the professional services industry, work is often delegated by partners or managers handpicking workers for projects. Familiarity bias steers them toward the professionals they know best — leading to an inequitable distribution of work.
When consultants are working remotely, this bias is especially likely as opportunities for in-person socialization are diminished. This makes it particularly difficult for consultants who lack relationships (like recent hires) to get to know important clients and managers, creating a widening gap between the “favorites” and the “non-favorites.”
A resource allocation system houses the necessary data for firms to ensure quality work for all consultants. For example, customized reports reveal whether newly-hired consultants are getting enough work, whether junior professionals are being given growth opportunities, and whether diverse employees are getting equal access to important projects. When the balance is off, firms can quickly course-correct with more equitable staffing decisions.
This is crucial because a lack of meaningful work can stunt consultant growth and lead to lower quality client work. It can also lead to attrition, which is a major concern since losing a single consultant can cost firms around $150,000.
5. Manage consultant development
When allocating work, consulting firms should keep the organization’s future goals in mind. This means assigning consultants to projects that will help them (and the firm) in the long run, by supporting their career progression.
A resource allocation system lends itself to this holistic view. A skill library provides an overview of the strengths and skill gaps within the workforce. Firms can then use strategic work allocation to create opportunities for consultants to develop well-rounded skills or to fine-tune their specialization.
This approach looks beyond a consultant’s experience level and uses skills tracking to consider the specific competencies they have and the ones they want and need for the future. This can include the creation of a personal development plan (PDP), which encourages consultants to develop goals and envision their future with the firm.
6. Manage firm capacity and resource planning
Effective work allocation not only prevents consultant burnout, but it prevents businesses from burnout, too. Poor resource planning means that firms can easily overextend themselves and end up disappointing their clients. But with reliable workforce metrics, such as consultant availability and utilization, firms can engage in fool-proof capacity planning.
This is vital because, in a post-pandemic world, many organizations are left in the dark about what to expect next. To stay on top of their goals, it’s more important than ever for firms to know their consultants’ skills and availability so they can anticipate workforce gaps and prepare for future challenges.
Surveys suggest that firms are rethinking their resource allocation post-pandemic, such as reassessing the number of professionals in each role. Consulting firms may need to reassess what skills they need to hire for or shift around workloads in order to meet client demand. A standardized resource allocation system can help firms spot trends in the workforce and make adjustments as needed.
7. Allocate resources across offices and practice groups
The hybrid work model has effectively torn down the traditional office walls, and consultants are now working from everywhere. As a result, leaders are recognizing the need to strategize staffing and resource allocation across the entire firm, not just a single practice group or office.
With a centralized resource allocation system, consulting firms can delegate projects across the organization. When one group is overly busy, consultants can be pulled in from another office or practice group to help. This type of flexible management is especially valuable in times of change. Managers can respond proactively to new circumstances by making adjustments across groups, helping firms stay on pace with their environment and ahead of the competition.
Delegating work across practice groups helps the firm remain balanced as a whole — preventing burnout and underutilization across the board. It also helps consultants explore new areas and learn what they like since they can be matched to projects in additional practice areas. Importantly, a standardized system offers the same visibility to all groups and locations, making resource allocation across the firm quick and easy for all parties.
Streamline your consultant work allocation and resource management
Tech solutions are helping consulting firms streamline their resource allocation in today’s hybrid environment. vi by Aderant’s innovative resource allocation system equips firms with real-time insights into consultant workload, availability, skills, interests, and developmental needs for effective work allocation. Firms can also measure DE&I metrics and provide consultants with real-time feedback on projects to accelerate learning and development. Want to know more? Get in touch with us below to learn how vi by Aderant can help!