Kelly McGuire
Nov 1, 2021

Build Back Different (And Better)

It would be easy to simply slot people back into their pre-pandemic roles – the job descriptions are already written and approved, after all. But the deep cuts made by most organizations offer an opportunity for reinvention. 

Build Back Different (And Better)

Kelly McGuire
Nov 1, 2021
Revenue Strategy

It would be easy to simply slot people back into their pre-pandemic roles – the job descriptions are already written and approved, after all. But the deep cuts made by most organizations offer an opportunity for reinvention. 

Rebuilding will be a slow process. Most organizations won’t get back to pre-pandemic staffing levels anytime soon. Striking a clever balance between delegating or stopping existing tasks, making strategic technology investments, and redefining required roles and skills will result in an organization that’s not only better prepared to meet the challenges ahead, but one that truly can do more with less!  

The surge in demand over the summer, along with optimism about the return of business travelers and groups this fall, means some companies are thinking about bringing headcount back. In fact, you might be in the middle of negotiating and budgeting for additional headcount as you read this article.

Evaluate, Don't Just Reinstate
A lot of frenzied adapting took place in March and April of 2020, and there’s been some pivoting and tweaking since. Have you taken a step back and really evaluated where you landed, and what the implications are? It would be easy to slide back into prior habits and structures but think about your strategies and goals instead. Will your current employee structure, work deployment and skill sets enable you to execute (and succeed)?

In late 2020, ZS and HSMAI partnered on Voice of Revenue Manager, a survey of revenue managers’ daily activities. We asked them how much time they spend on a variety of tasks within their areas of responsibility. We found many are getting bogged down in activities like updating systems, moving data around, pulling or building reports and providing the same update to multiple stakeholders in different formats. They spend less than half their time generating revenue.

We suspect your organization is no different. Every company has plenty of highly manual, non-value-added activities. Some are business critical; others may be legacy processes that have become routine but are no longer relevant. Evaluating them can help you understand how teams are dividing their time between value-added and non-value-added activities.  

Start by evaluating your processes – the work you do, why you do it and the benefit it brings. Next, think about technology: Are there investments you can make to improve efficiency and effectiveness? Finally, think about people – what skills and roles do you really need?

Process Based on the Voice of Revenue Manager results, we challenged leaders to improve their approach to revenue management via the DARE process: Delegate, Automate, Reduce, or Eliminate anything that keeps revenue managers from generating revenue.

We challenge you to do the same. The first step is to understand what your team does all day. Take an inventory of your processes, both current and pre-COVID-19. Flag activities your group may have added or taken on because of the pandemic. For each process, think about:

Stakeholders: Who consumes or is impacted by the process?

Value: Does it add value? Does it support operations, strategy, customer service, executive leadership? Is it a legal or operational requirement?

People:Who contributes to the process, and what skills do they need to execute it?  Do any resources from outside your group contribute?

Time: Whether you measure it in hours, percentage of time, or percentage of FTE, it’s more important to get a relative sense of effort than a precise measurement.

Humans have a natural tendency to add and a much harder time subtracting.  The first step is to challenge yourself to eliminate unnecessary tasks – either those you can stop or those that should be delegated elsewhere. Challenge yourself to go deep in this thinking, even if eliminating them might involve negotiating some internal politics. Remember, with so much emphasis on finding efficiencies, you may never have a better chance of getting rid of tasks that don’t really fit.

The next step is to identify activities that require an outsized amount of effort given the value they add to the organization. These are likely more administrative or highly manual tasks, and those that are part of cross-functional processes where others depend on your output. These are good candidates for streamlining through technology investments or new skills sets.

Technology Before bringing back people who are responsible for highly manual, repetitive tasks, consider whether automation technology investments could free up headcount for more strategic, “human-centric” roles. If you’re clever about technology investments, you can likely reduce headcount and slide in a request for someone with that specialized skill set you’ve had your eye on. This is a great way to look like a hero for minimal investment.

In the short term, it’s unlikely that any organization will take on massive technology restructuring projects with multi-year roadmaps that require millions of dollars in investment. You’ll probably have to hold on to your modernization wish list for a bit longer. However, there are solutions that wrap around your existing technology stack. These could allow you to automate the manual processes that are bogging your team down without disrupting the core technology. Of course, any task you automate – no matter how small – saves time and effort for value-added work.

Smaller tasks like data pulls, reporting or even sending emails can be automated with technology you probably already own. It’s likely people already on your team can do them. More complex processes like invoice processing or rate loading, which involve accessing third-party systems, entering data and testing outcomes, can also be automated. These require more involved technology like robotic process automation (RPA) than has to be coded by external developers. Still, these more complex implementations have a relatively quick time to value, and a relatively low up-front investment. Educate yourself about these techniques and understand what might be possible for your organization.

People The last step is to think about the skills and roles that are critical for your team:

  • Was your prior organization heavy on doers due to the amount of manual work that you have now streamlined?
  • Would you benefit from adding a few specialists (advanced analytics, training, technology) to replace your generalists, now that you’ve delegated tasks back to more appropriate departments?
  • Could you centralize or outsource some work to drive efficiencies?
  • Are there any duplications of efforts across the entire organization that could be consolidated?  

Remember, it will likely be difficult to find people in the short term. Don’t compromise on your required skill sets just because you’re desperate for a warm body. Think about whether the skills you’re looking for might exist outside the industry. Be patient and purposeful in your search.

There’s a huge opportunity to make the organizational transformations you’ve been talking about for years as you rebuild from pandemic staffing levels. Don’t take the easy way out and just refill your pre-pandemic org structure. Instead take a careful look at what you want to accomplish and what might be standing in the way of doing so.

Release yourself from the temptation to empire-build. Instead build a streamlined, efficient, agile organization, because that’s what executives will value in the new normal. Build back differently and be better!  


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