Are you burning cash on interim staff and still not getting where you want to be?

Stop wasting money on interim staff - then Somehow
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Too busy to fix a time consuming administrative process? Interim contractors may fix the problem in the short term, but they don’t improve organisational capability. Here’s how you could use your existing staff instead.

Do you get frustrated by admin systems and processes that don’t work well enough, and end up bringing in interim staff to fix them?

You’re not alone. We’re about to do a piece of work with a university in response to their frustration over clunky, time consuming processes. The challenge has been that everyone is just too busy to fix them.

When admin processes don’t work

Not having time to fix stuff that takes up all your time because it doesn’t work properly is more than a little bit ironic. Lots of organisations tell us they have this challenge and find it hard to do something about.

In a university these problems could be anything from administering enrollment, managing an extenuating circumstances request, or collecting and maintaining student data.

It’s quite common for these to need manual intervention because different bits of software don’t talk to each other. Unfortunately transferring data from one to the other is time consuming and can introduce errors.

Clients often say, “We need to fix this so we don’t find ourselves in the same situation next year.”

Yet when everyone is really busy, it’s hard to find time to fix anything. In a year’s time the organisation is in exactly the same place and everyone is just as frustrated.

Do you have a problem like this?

Why interim staff are not a real solution

Many institutions feel forced to solve these kinds of issues by bringing in external staff on interim contracts to deliver the fix that everyone else is too busy to do.

If the aim of the project is to deploy a new piece of software to solve, say, a pressing enrolment issue, there’ll be a working group formed to provide input but who are too busy to do the work or who don’t have the technical skills. The actual delivery team will be made up of specialist interim contractors. Once their work is completed, the software users will receive training on how to use it.

The expectation is that the new system will have a transformational impact, but often even the commissioning team can be too busy to test it after it is built. And none of the users will have learned anything about how to specify what they need, or how to design the service so that it meets their customer’s needs, or how to collaborate with other parts of the organisation who might also be affected.

The coup de grace is that hiring interim staff on short-term contracts is really expensive. They don’t have the institutional knowledge which introduces some risk, and having done the work, they leave and the university is not much better off.

The original problem might be solved but the organisation’s capability hasn’t been increased.

As an example we have one client looking at data analytics as part of a programme of change management and project delivery. Their entire team was made up of interim staff on 12- to 18- month contracts because they needed to get the project going and didn’t have the people internally, “I couldn’t wait to hire people because it would take too long and we needed to experiment and work out how it was going to work,” they said.

A programme designed to help you to solve the problem internally

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of spending money like this on interim contractors, you funded your own people to solve these problems, especially as often the answers to design issues are already in the room. The best solutions need the thinking from the people who are intimately involved with the problem after all.

So the programme we’ve been discussing is this: take colleagues away from their usual role – with the freedom not to do their day job – and give them the time to fix the problem, with some help.

Their day jobs will be backfilled from within the organisation, or from less expensive temporary contractors, and we’ll put a wrapper of support around participants that includes project management, soft skills training and technical skills training for specific aspects of the project.

They’ll be supported to work in collaboration, and form networks as a part of solving the problem.

In this way, at the end of the project the university will have:

  • solved the problem they needed fixing
  • a group of people who are better connected within the organisation
  • a group who have learned a range of skills they can deploy in other contexts
  • individuals who are more confident and more able to affect change
  • people who have increased their career mobility.

It would be cheaper than hiring specialist interim contractors and you’d end up with an organisation that was better equipped and more mobile. Wouldn’t that be great?

Empowering people to build lasting capability

From our point of view, this is an exciting vision – of capability development combined with project delivery.

It requires a combination of technical skills training (which we don’t offer), with soft skills training and coalitions facilitation (which we do) that would include things like:

  • Working smarter to learn how to make time for important work
  • How to influence with authority
  • How to lead from the middle (distributed leadership)
  • How to form coalitions and make them work
  • How to manage expectations and manage up

This is different to the way that institutions usually fix things, and is the kind of work we really love doing – because it empowers people to create value and builds lasting capability in an organisation.

If you were to consider such an applied programme, how would you design it? What are the projects that lend themselves to this kind of intervention and what would the support curriculum need to look like?

We’d love to hear from you.

At Then Somehow we help universities and other organisations build emotional literacy, increase empathy, and help you see the world differently, giving you practical tools to shift the stuff that’s stuck.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help your organisation develop leaders and perform better, get in touch here.

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