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Natalia Rossingol

What We've Learned from 1,000 Conversations With Resource Managers

Three pivotal resource management lessons Nicole and Tim learned from talking to over 1,000 resource managers over the past five years.

What is resource management as a discipline? How has this concept evolved over the years? What can you do to create alignment in your organization and bring it to a whole new level, increasing employee satisfaction and productivity at the same time?

Recently we had an amazing panel discussion with Tim Copeland, Nicole Tiefensee, and Nora Fleischhut who provided exhaustive answers to all these questions. Having talked to over 1, 000 resource management and Business Strategy Leads around the world in the past five years, Tim and Nicole have learned some valuable lessons regarding where the future of Resource Management is headed, and decided to share them with us in a webinar.

In this article, we summarized the webinar in a nutshell, so you can learn more about the prospects of resource management in a condensed form.

Resource management: The origin of a term and the new meaning it’s acquired  

Working with a huge amount of customers throughout the world, which ranged from small companies to Fortune 500 organizations, Tim and Nicole have come to an understanding that there is more to resource management than it is traditionally suggested. Regardless of their size, the organizations had a lot in common. Their problems were very similar, and it implied that the solution must be similar as well.

Resource management, as Nicole explained, is an old-school term. It originally came from the Industrial Revolution when resources were treated like the cogs and wheels in a machine. But there is a catch – people are not parts of a machine. For this reason, Runn has taken a new philosophy that, recognizing the apparent importance of efficiency, also focuses on the human side of Resource Management. 

And so Nicole provided her own interpretation of the term, inspired by the insights of the Runn clients:

Resource management is all about how you deploy your people in a way that elevates, on the one hand, your business… and, on the other hand, also elevates and nurtures all those people in your organization.  

She further continued that while Resource management is definitely about allocating work and putting people on projects, it’s not just that: we should look at Resource Management not just technically, but also strategically. 

A very small percentage of Runn's customers actually have had the title of resource manager. Typically, people in charge of resource management hold the titles of project managers, business strategy leads, CTO, CEO, and so on. This means that the process involves many different people.

Lesson #1: Resource management is not just about maximizing capacity anymore.

These insights lead us to the first key takeaway of the webinar – resource management is not just about maximizing the capacity. At least, not anymore. Even though Resource Management has been typically approached in a mechanical way, there is another side – human, because, in the end, it all comes down to people.    

It is about approaching people in a more holistic way and not just looking at the surface and obvious professional skills but gaining a deeper understanding of who a person really is. - Nora Fleischhut

Nicole pointed out that the understanding of this has evolved since they started Runn. The focus has transformed considerably from the previous paradigm of merely matching a project's requirements with an available engineer possessing the required skills. Instead, organizations are adopting a more strategic perspective, considering factors beyond sheer skills. Nowadays, it's not just about who has the necessary skills but also about who has the relevant experience and the most relevant skill set.

Because besides technical skills, there is always a learning opportunity. Nicole suggested imagining a hypothetical situation. You need to build a website for a big guitar manufacturer, and you have two engineers: one is very skilled technically in Java programming, and the other one is very passionate about playing the guitar. Even though the second person is not as skilled, he might still be a better choice, because he will bring much more into the project, in the long run.

The differences between human-oriented and traditional resource management

Nicole underlined that in organizations that take into account the personalities of their workers, there is more alignment. Typically, these organizations are high-performing. Business goals and strategy are clear, and there is more visibility. And this is the result of doing the right things, treating work as something that matters.

If we’re just purely looking at things from an efficiency point of view, efficiency is very much a productivity metric. And I always tell my teams here that we can very efficiently do the wrong things.

Tim continued that the human side of resource management also includes the component of motivation. In the system where resource management was initially created, managers were telling their employees what to do. It worked, but there was a downside. As Tim said, 

It’s an effective strategy, but it misses the point of all other good stuff that can come with embracing people as a whole.

A company needs to have awareness of what people want and use this knowledge so that people get driven to do things not because they’re told to do so, but because they want it.

Nora added that this sounds like a win-win situation for everyone – for employees, who will be more engaged at work as well as for managers who can let go of some of their current tasks and focus on other priorities.

Lesson #2: Resource managers play a critical role in breaking down silos in an organization. They can act as a catalyst of transformation.

Commenting on this one, Tim mentioned that a lot of tension in organizations is the result of competition between two different forces. The first force is work that needs to be done. The second force is people, the capability, and the capacity of the organization. What makes a big difference is how well synchronized they are. 

It’s cliché, but unfortunately, it’s still true that a lot of dysfunction in business comes down to the fact that everybody operates in silos.

For example, you’ve got a sales team, a delivery team, an accounting team, a hiring team, etc. – but very often, these teams are not connected. And then the delivery team might not be able to provide the product to the client on time, because people from other teams didn’t meet the deadline, which created a chain reaction. When this situation happens, it is usually caused by a lack of visibility and the fact that people work in silos.

But as Tim said, such situations are solvable - and the key is alignment.  

What we frequently see when new clients in particular are getting on board, is that they all have this conflict, which they don’t actually know they’ve got - it’s on the horizon. But once you’ve actually got everybody to start loading their original plans into the system, all these things get surfaced.

Some managers can act like inspirational speakers, who can make their people feel good for a couple of hours. But when they hit the operational reality and have to turn things into action, they realize they’ve got a problem. Tim underlined this has to be solved at the system’s level:

If any of these systems are resource management solutions, once you’ve solved that, that gives you the foundation to actually do the fun stuff.

Two fundamental processes: People vs. Delivery

Resource management, as Nicole explained, happens at the intersection of two critical business processes:

  • Delivery side. This is complicated, especially when you’re scaling as an organization and have to handle multiple projects simultaneously - and, in particular, deal with the changing scope.
I’ve never ever in the entirety of my career have seen a project start with a specific kind of scope and end up with exactly that same scope.   
  • Human side, which is also challenging, because people are inherently very complex – they’ve got their interests and passions, they get sick, they have family lives, so working with people is very unpredictable.

Navigating this intersection is challenging, and to do it successfully, managers need to think strategically. Like Nora said, as the organization matures, the focus increasingly moves from solely the delivery to the delivery and people side.

The qualities of resource managers

Logically, the new approach to resource management requires managers to have a different set of qualities. Like it was mentioned before, people have different titles, but there is a person or a division that takes on that responsibility. To be successful, resource managers need to understand processes on both the delivery side and the people side.

First and foremost, this involves impeccable communication skills, as you will have to continuously hold conversations with people from different departments. However, staying human is just as crucial:  

You really need to be someone who can be a good communicator, good connector… [show] lots of empathy and being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

Lesson #3: Everyone is operating in heavily resource-constrained environments.

The fact that we work in a resource-constraint environment is not a surprise. What is curious is how different companies handle this. Tim explained there are two main strategies companies deploy:

  1. You work harder and spend more hours. This is the Industrial Age mentality, and this is a good familiar way people resort to when things get hard.
  2. You use this opportunity to build a higher-quality organization.  

However, when choosing a strategy, you should remember that what matters is outputs, not inputs. Inputs are easy to measure, and they can give you a short-term boost, if you’re working longer hours. But Tim underlined that you can also try taking a step back and focus on more important stuff: 

Aligning the work you’re doing with the passion and the things which are intrinsically motivating to your staff, you’ll get a higher quality organization, and probably a more profitable one.   

To illustrate this point, Tim provided the following example. There was a large company that was historically focused on the utilization of their staff, using it as a main driver of success, financial in particular. But the company recognized that the skills their staff had were not the most valuable in the market. So it decided to get rid of high utilization targets and instead focus more on training and development.

This transformation took 6 months, and it was costly and painful. However, consequently, the company had lower utilization targets, and started bringing more value for the clients, having reached a sweet spot where the organization was more profitable and people were less stressed.

In terms of general resourcing strategy, Tim mentioned one more thing. Typically, organizations allocate 100% of their staff’s time on work, and that is not the most rational decision. By allocating 70 or 80% of time on work, you allow enough space for spontaneous and unplanned activities, like creativity, and you show that you trust your staff. This will help you build a really high-quality organization.

Besides, as Nicole noticed, companies react to uncertainty a lot better if they have a bit of buffer built into their targets.     

Let's summarize those the key insights:

  1. In resource management, there is more than just maximizing capacity and focusing on delivery. There is also a human side. In the future, it will be also about getting a better understanding of what people’s interests are and what they enjoy doing.
  2. A resource manager can be an enabler for organizations to come together more closely, by being empathetic, understanding the needs of different business areas, and helping build bridges.
  3. While it’s easy to fall back into old patterns when things get hard, we can prevent this from happening if we keep on fostering the human side in resource management.

After the actual discussion, Nora read out the questions posted by the guests, letting Nicole and Tim answer them.

Questions and answers

1. How does the evolvement and maturing of an organization impact resource managers?

Tim: Two things happen. Resource management role itself gets distributed around the organization, so it’s not just one person at the bottleneck controlling the flow of traffic per se. And more so, people get to learn and choose work or signal the work they want to do.

Again, you’ve got one side, which is, “We’re representing the organization, we’re telling people what to do.” And there is going to be another subwave, which is “This is an individual, this is the work I want to do.” This side doesn’t exist in many organizations, or it does, but in a very lip-service way.

Tim further explained that in big organizations, managers are the only ones who assign work, so they work in isolation and don’t have all the knowledge. In the best case scenario, this leads to frustration, in the worst case, it can lead to resignation.

Nicole also added that as you’re scaling, you don’t know people well anymore and so you need to start creating connections.

2. If I’m a CEO looking to transition to resource management from something in the background to a proactive function in my organization that drives real strategic value, what are some of the key areas of focus for myself and the organization to make that transition to a proactive strategic approach happen?

Nicole: The first thing I would tell people is just to focus on that alignment piece and create some kind of shared goals and metrics across different functions.

Tim: Make this a bottom-up initiative rather than a top-down one. The reason for that is that you want to get the people who have actually been managing people in the projects… you need their input, their perspective on the world at the foundational layer.

It’s not overly strategic on Day 1. Get the tactical stuff working, get a shared plan across the organization, create that visibility and alignment, and make a conscious effort, so that everybody is all over the operational aspect. And once you’ve done that, you can start getting a lot more strategic about how you deploy this.

3. What are some of the key objections or fixed ideas that you’ll run into when enlightening potential clients on your solutions?

Tim: One of the challenges there is around how you go about making changes, where do you start. A challenge a lot of organizations have got is that there’s a mass of data, and there’s a lot of sub-systems integration. You’ve got this challenge of getting an initial sort of data set. That’s reasonably straightforward to do.

But how you operationalize it, that’s harder. What it might mean is doing integrations with your CRM tool, integrations with your time tracking tools, intergrations with your finances tools. If you’re a Runn customer, we can give you a bit of guidance around how to think that through.

Nicole: In terms of objections that we’re hearing a lot is really that visibility part. You get to give access to the system, right? Our point of view is – the more people can see the data and have visibility over what’s going on, the better. And sometimes we see huge reluctance on actually giving people access to the system.

And then over time, that evolves, and people see what value it actually brings.

Tim: Particularly at the start, there’s a whole bunch of dysfunction and conflict around people’s expectations around time. You want the management to have a safe space to go through and resolve all that stuff, before it gets communicated and shared more broadly with the organization.

We hope our webinar helped you look at resource management from a different angle. As you can see, by recognizing the importance of the human component in Resource Management, you can build a hight-quality organization and achieve better results.

Our next webinar, “Resourcing for Success,” will take place on September 5th, so you’re welcome to join as well!

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