Fighting the Middle-Aged Spread
Some people get to a certain age and one day they look in the mirror, or maybe they try on their favourite shirt, and they wonder, “What happened?”. What happened to that well ripped body.
The six pack is morphing into one squidgy ab. And the pecs are slowly reaching down for our belly button. The problem is, some people ‘let things go a little’. This doesn’t happen to everyone. But it does happen.
Like middle aged spread in some of us, at a certain age, some businesses go the same way. The founding directors, even though it’s still their business, ‘let things go a little’. I see it all the time. Businesses get busy. Founding directors get busy. And things slip passed them that wouldn’t have got through a few years earlier.
The problem is often articulated as some variant of “I’m too busy and there’s work to be done”. That can be almost plausible. But the reality is the people who should be keeping an eye on the business allow themselves to become too busy. They do the things they prefer to do, rather than the things they should be doing.
Managers and directors should be managing and directing. That’s their role. That’s their job. But too many of them do not.
In our business, providing software to professional services firms, the symptoms are often pretty easy to see.
- The invoicing cycle takes too long to get started each month and too long to complete.
- Project managers and office managers are never quite sure where each project is up to, what was in scope, what has been billed so far, and what is still to be completed. They survive on a myriad of spreadsheets.
- Some give up completely, but fortunately this isn’t seen too often, “We don’t need to manage things too closely because we only work on fixed price contracts”. To which we say piffle, bosh, bunkum!!
When in essence all your business is selling is the collective time and expertise of everyone in the office, there’s no room for a laissez faire approach to management. We believe managing a professional service business is all about time management. That means time planning for yourself, and everyone else, knowing what time has actually been spent, how much is left to go, and getting things done on time. You do that by spending everyone’s time wisely, including your own. That means:
- Committing to times on projects (internally and probably also with the client)
- Making sure invoicing is correctly reflecting the value of time spent, and
- Knowing what to do next time, based on knowing what time was spent last time, even if at the end of the day you invoice the client on some ‘non-time based’ basis.
And that’ll only happen if managers and directors actually spend time managing and directing as one of the main parts of their job.
Fortunately, as with those abs that are turning to flab, the sooner you make a few life-style tweaks the easier it will be to get back on track. Or should we say work-style tweaks?
You don’t have to completely change your world. You can still do the fun bits. But if your role is to manage and direct then that means others are only as effective as you allow them to be through your management and direction. If you’re a one-person band it’s OK to take it easy. If you’re a director in an office of many professionals, it’s not OK. Without management and direction, at best things will incrementally become haphazard. The office becomes inefficient. People who feel surrounded by transparent inefficiencies become cynical. And the good people leave.
Every week, you need to know what needs to be done. Ahead of each coming week you’ll have things you can see two weeks out and some are longer term. There’s client work, administration work, office maintenance. Everything. Then for everyone you’re responsible for, you need to marry up whatever needs to be done with the people available and able to do it. It’s a list of things to do, spreading the work around everyone in the office. Easy right?
That is right. Managing and directing a professional services firm isn’t difficult. But there’s no auto-pilot either. So if you’re not wanting to end up with chronic ‘middle-aged spread’ in your business, stop it today by starting down a new path - today.
The Abtrac team are writers, designers, engineers, consultants and analysts. Together we dream, build and deliver an amazing software solution for professional services.