Resourcing in the Spotlight: An Interview with Alison Driscoll

In her role as Head of Resourcing at KPMG, Alison Driscoll was responsible for the staffing c. 1.6million projects per year.

Here, she reflects upon the practical challenges global enterprises face with resourcing, the benefits that can be achieved by investing in the right approach, and the culture required to get it right.

Could you tell me a little bit about your experience in Resource Management?

Yes sure, I’ve been working in Professional Services for almost 20 years, and have worked at 2 of the ‘Big Four’. I’ve worked in various operations and resourcing roles during this time. My most recent role was the Head of Resourcing at KPMG UK. My team and I were responsible for the successful deployment of all staff across audit and advisory. To give an idea of the scale of the role, in any given year we deployed c. 14k staff on around 1.6m projects, resulting in 25m chargeable hours. Ultimately, our job was to get the right people, on the right job, at the right time, and for the right price.

What are the biggest challenges people face with resourcing today?

I would say there are two key areas: technology and headcount ownership. On the technology side, the problem is fragmented systems and data – in particular, capturing demand. Demand should reside in one place so you can overlay that with the supply. Not having full visibility of all the demand and all the supply makes it slower to staff jobs, and almost impossible to make the most intelligent resourcing decisions. 

In regards to headcount ownership, business leaders often want to make their own decisions about staffing, which is understandable because they want to choose who works on their projects and, in an ideal world, this may be successful. But all too often there isn’t a perfect team sitting there waiting to be put onto the newly won project. Instead, there is a need to pull resources together from different engagements and areas. Sometimes you have to pull someone off of one project to work on another, perhaps due to a specialist skill set.

When working in a complex, multifunctional business, you often need a much broader view of what is happening across the business to ensure the most effective resourcing decisions are being made. Typically, Resourcing sits across the whole business and is able to take a firm-wide view to see what’s going on beyond individual teams and departments. Understanding utilisation hotspots and where there is capacity is crucial to effectively staff work.

Not having full visibility of all the demand and all the supply makes it slower to staff jobs, and almost impossible to make the most intelligent resourcing decisions

What stands in the way of progress towards resource optimization?

Capturing demand succinctly is one of the biggest challenges. Demand often comes through multiple channels… emails, phone calls, informal conversations, spreadsheets. If that isn’t all captured in a demand tracking system, there is no one source of the truth and priorities can’t be accurately managed. This has a greater knock-on effect as it makes it very hard to accurately show the demand vs supply and can therefore affect recruitment and other key business decisions.

It’s impossible to achieve resource optimization with fragmented data. If you’ve got to look in multiple places for demand, another system for available staff, another system to check skills – all those extra steps add time to the process and affect the ability to make the most effective decision.

When these resourcing challenges are navigated effectively, what impact can it have on the employee experience?

Resourcing can make a huge impact on the employee experience. People want to feel listened to and know they have been heard. The resource manager will often be one of the first people to find out if someone feels unhappy – they’ve spent too much time travelling away on projects for example – or perhaps someone is frustrated they haven’t been promoted, and were told this was because they haven’t got the necessary breadth of market knowledge, but they have only ever worked on one client because the partner always insists they work on their projects. Whatever the reason, resourcing can help to support making positive changes. One of the most rewarding parts of a resource managers job is helping people grow and develop by accessing the right opportunities.

Great resourcing is about doing what is right for the business, whilst also understanding the individual and their preferences, and being transparent about available opportunities. The more a resource manager knows about their team, the skills they have, their desired career paths, what their preferences are etc, they can factor this into their resourcing decisions, orchestrating happier and more productive teams, who ultimately deliver better quality work. Overall, effective resourcing is a critical enabler of the employee experience. Having the right tools, data, systems and mindset to carry out resourcing effectively makes a huge impact on the business overall. 

One of the most rewarding parts of a resource managers job is helping people grow and develop by accessing the right opportunities

One of the most rewarding parts of a resource managers job is helping people grow and develop by accessing the right opportunities

An open, honest, transparent culture is required to make it really work. At times it is necessary to do what’s right for the firm overall, rather than what’s right for one discrete area. This can make a business leader feel uncomfortable, but if the trust is there and there is a strong dialogue between resourcing and the business to explain why a decision has been made and what other options are available, usually most issues can be overcome.

It’s also super important to remember that it’s not just about doing what is right for the business but also about what is right for the individual. It’s a really fine balance. Ultimately, we need to drive revenue and profitability, and effective resourcing certainly does that, but equally if the workforce do not feel engaged and are not presented opportunities that match their preferences and developmental needs – it’s likely there will be a higher turnover of staff, and that has a business impact too. Being able to balance this is crucial. It requires a culture where there is a sustainable and responsible approach to workforce management, that considers the needs of the individual, the projects, and the business as a whole.

What is required from the business leaders in terms of mindset?

Openness to options is a really important one. Business leaders often like to work with the same people and teams that they have previously worked with, because they know they can trust them to get the job done. But if they only work with the same people, what happens when those people perhaps decide to leave the firm, are sick or go on leave? Not only that, if the same people are selected time and again, it doesn’t give other staff an opportunity to show their skills or develop new ones.

At times it’s preferable and more cost effective to have a blended model, perhaps with a mix of on and offshore staff. Another example could be where a more junior person needs to be given the opportunity to step up into a stretch role to demonstrate readiness for promotion. If there isn’t the willingness to work with resourcing and be open to other options, a business can run the risk of making suboptimal resourcing decisions that can impact both engagement profitability and employee satisfaction.

What is required specifically from the resource manager?

Resource managers must have the confidence to push for the right outcomes. If resourcing simply take direction and don’t challenge the thinking or decision-making, they significantly reduce their impact. It could mean challenging a partner (for example) who is hanging onto underutilised resources, cherry-picking their favourite people for projects, or allocating people to work in a way that is not in the best interests of the business overall.

All resource managers require resilience, strong negotiation and senior stakeholder management skills. They should have an ability to analyse and interpret specific resourcing data. As well as being accessible and open to staff to help provide meaningful work and development opportunities.

Business leaders often like to work with the same people and teams that they have previously worked with… but this can lead to suboptimal resourcing decisions… resource managers must have the confidence to push for the right outcomes

With resourcing sitting at the heart of the business, are levels of investment appropriate?

In my honest opinion it is not. When you see the amount of investment into adjacent areas like talent acquisition, learning or human resources, there is an abundance of tools, research and strategies available. Resource management simply does not have the equivalent. In fact it is often misunderstood with people assuming it’s the same as recruitment. Others see it as an administrative task geared around updating a person’s schedule. In reality, resourcing is an intricate and complex task which ultimately must balance the needs of the business with the needs of the staff members.

If resource managers had better tools to support them with making data driven decisions, the benefits would be ten-fold. Jobs would be staffed more efficiently, thus driving revenue. There would be transparency around available roles, and the ability to demonstrate the most appropriately skilled people had been allocated, which would help drive trust and employee engagement. Staff would be explained to why they had been matched to a specific job and how this can benefit their career. They would also have the chance to seek out roles for themselves.

Investing in resourcing, ensuring the right team and technology is in place can drive deployment efficiencies, create drive better outcomes, remove bias in the process and improve employee satisfaction scores. There are so many positive financial and people levers that can be achieved. Boosting utilisation even by 1% can create a staggering difference to the bottom line results, so the economics of investment in resourcing are pretty healthy.

What impact is there when resourcing budgets are under pressure?

When resourcing budgets are squeezed, typically there will be a reduction in resourcing headcount, or perhaps a larger proportion of less experienced people doing the role. This can have a detrimental effect to both a business and the staff within it. Resourcing teams are responsible for thousands of transactions a week. Every day they are responsible for staffing new demand, fixing issues on projects that are underway, for example finding a replacement for someone who is unexpectedly off, backfilling a resource from one engagement as their skills are urgently needed elsewhere, moving team schedules due to delays in clients providing essential data. The list goes on. If the resourcing team is reduced in size, they will have a larger portfolio of staff to deploy and this puts more pressure on them filling roles in a timely manner and with the best matched people. It could also hinder their ability to build those vital relationships with business leaders and staff alike.

Whilst tools and systems, if in place, can help to drive a large part of the resourcing solution, there will always be an element of human interaction and oversight required. Without this human interaction, perhaps explaining why a person has been booked on a specific job and how this can help their career, or explaining why someone should move from the current engagement they are on in order to help another engagement that might be struggling due to lack of a specific skill set, people can feel as though they are just a number and employee engagement can dip. If a more junior person is doing the role and doesn’t have the benefit of coaching from a more experienced resource manager, then often they can struggle to push back effectively to the business which can see bad behaviours such as ringfencing staff creeping in.

Why has resourcing historically been an underinvested area?

I believe resourcing has been underinvested in for a number of reasons. Firstly, until very recently there were limited tools available to assist with the resourcing process. So even if a business did want to invest in technology, there were few options to choose from and even then they only dealt with a small part of the process, rather than an end to end solution. Secondly because the resourcing process can be very manual and resource intensive, it was difficult to quantify a return on investment, due to lack of supporting data. Over the last few years as the complexities of staffing across multidisciplinary firms has increased and there is a greater need for regulatory compliance the spotlight has begun to shine on the importance of resourcing. Now businesses are looking to see how they can support the mobilisation of their staff in the most effective and efficient way. With supporting tools and data, resourcing teams are able to demonstrate and quantify their value.

Investing in resourcing, ensuring the right team and technology is in place can drive deployment efficiencies, create better outcomes, remove bias in the process and improve employee satisfaction scores… the economics of investment in resourcing are pretty healthy. Until very recently there were limited tools available to assist with the resourcing process

Thanks for reading our interview with Alison Driscoll! 

Overcoming these resourcing challenges to ensure that the right people are matched to the right work, and enable resource optimization across a business has historically been very difficult.  That’s why ProFinda is designed to find the optimal team or person for any work assignment in seconds. If you’d like to learn more about resource optimization, and what ProFinda can do to help – get in touch!

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