I was noticing the other day how much self-service has filtered into our everyday lives and started reflecting on how that has changed the Professional Services landscape. Take a typical workday where I’m traveling to a customer site, managing the company needs, and addressing employee questions. I check into my flight via my mobile app and skate through security to board my flight. While in the air, I book my hotel and car via online applications or mobile apps while I’m connected to the internet. Upon landing, I head out to the rental car agency and check-in via their kiosks to pick up my car with minimal customer support. When the day is through, I check into my hotel via the mobile app for the hotel chain and everything is ready for me when I arrive. In the evening I review expense reports via our PSA solution and setup/issues ACH payment for reimbursable expenses then record invoice payments from clients in our accounting system, PSA, and take check snapshots with my mobile phone to deposit into the bank. Meanwhile, my PSA system and personal calendar continually remind me of my next to-do’s, priorities and upcoming calls/events. My team keeps in contact via Skype or email, and I text with my family that I arrived safely and will be home soon. I’m connected but managing things on my own with a plethora of self-service options.
The tablet and smart phone evolution have empowered much of the self-service offerings, in my opinion, and professional services industry is certainly among those that have embraced the evolution. Staying connected to the company via email, instant messenger, texting, and, of course, phone calls, no matter where you are in the world, have given rise to virtual companies where there is no traditional office but rather a remote working culture. Cloud computing has further supported virtual company existence by providing a ‘connect anywhere’ approach with both internet and smart device connectivity. Information is at the touch of a keyboard across the gambit of roles from executive management to team member. With so much information and technology available, how has this impacted the management of today’s professional services organizations, especially when it comes to managing the career path of your team?
To have a virtual company is to focus on regular communication to build your organization’s culture and a sense of team while also empowering self-service techniques and technologies. Let’s take resource scheduling as an example. Having a centralized resource management individual or team responsible for scheduling resources or project managers schedule resources provides a direction and accountability for how scheduling is handled and managed. What about the individual who is being staffed to projects? How can a self-service approach empower them to take control of their own growth? One option is to make scheduling demands transparent to the individual, highlighting skill needs in the organization. Team members can drive their own education path based on skill demands and work out with their management ways to become more of an asset to the organization while expanding their own skill profile.
Another is to have resources approve or accept assignments, or even schedule themselves. A self-scheduling culture does rely heavily on empowerment of the individual and compliance to timely actions; however, it also supports an evolution of efficiency and convenience by minimizing the middle-man. Self-service processes also tend to highlight those individuals that are proactive and driven. These individuals become clear candidates for promotion and/or strategic participation in the growth of the company. With a combination of communication, empowerment and self-service technologies, your staff can not only support the organization, they can take charge of their own path and provide better insight to management of their own passions and focus.
With every positive, there is a negative and when it comes to self-service, it’s more of a culture and control impact. Empowering others to take charge, make decisions, and be key stakeholders in your organization does require solid process adoption, clear checks/balances, and escalation paths to resolve differences or conflicts. There is a sense of Utopia in this type of environment which is not fully achievable in many organizations. The healthy medium is empowering down to a level in the organization where individuals have accountability outside of their own sphere, such as project managers or team leads, and providing insight into personal goal achievement to those at the individual contributor level. You’ll still be providing self-service options throughout the organization – just tailoring them a bit to be the most productive and appropriate for your organization.
For a self-service culture to work I believe clear vision and open communication is a must in the organization - especially in a virtual organization. Without a clear vision, self-service approaches either wind up with chaotic and invalid data upon which to run the organization or no data, which is almost worse. Mission statements are key to establishing culture and a focus for your organization. Take the time to put one together that highlights your goals and objectives for you, your customers, and your employees. Just look around, you’ll see missions statements or tag lines in everyday life as you notice how much self-service there is, and continues to be, in the businesses around us and within our customer base. Ensure you have the right tools in place to support a self-service culture and, above all, keep communication paths open and proactive to engage your team for company and personal growth.