The Billable Battle

Being a part of a consulting company that is growing at a rapid pace, it is easy to be critical of all the growing pains that accompanies growth.  Ingrained in our corporate culture is the idea that the most important task for our employees is to be billable.  I don’t believe the company does this on purpose, but every conversation always seems to come to the bottom line.  As the department I am a part of has grown from a cozy 25 employees to almost 100 employees, the department togetherness has been lost.  The department no longer seems like a cohesive business unit with managers working together for the better of the department.  Right now, as it stands, managers are only out to improve their own situation by being sure the employees they are directly responsible are billable at any cost.  This creates a constant battle of resources and a constant lack of communication.  It is crazy to me that the mangers within the department don’t work together, don’t communicate, don’t share resources and knowledge, and in all, just don’t care about eachother.  The department has become so disjointed that its really starting to hurt what should be the bottom line, a quality deliverable and a happy client.

To me, this issue resides within the managers themselves, but most of all falls on the shoulders of our department Vice President.  As the corporate culture of being billable at any cost will most likely not change, the VP needs to gather his managers and figure out a way to bring back the department to its cohesive unit operating together in unison.  Maybe to do this, the VP should stop looking at managers individually and start looking at them as a group.  Force them to work together by combining the business units billable numbers.  Another solution to bring together the department could be an ERP system or Enterprise Wide Management.  An ERP is actually in the works for our company, but I do believe that this will get all the managers using the same tools, performing the same tasks, and in turn coercing them to work together.

What do you guys think?  How can our department be sure that managers get their billable numbers, but still work together in the process?  Is it possible to change a corporate culture away from a billable nature for a consulting firm?

5 thoughts on “The Billable Battle

  1. This is an interesting problem, and as I was reading it, I started to wonder whether the VP would benefit from a program manager who works with all managers to achieve their performance goals. In turn, the managers’ performance goals would need to be aligned with the goals of the company – which is to use resources most efficiently in order to provide the most value (and thus billable hours) to your clients. It sounds as if each manager’s performance goals are likely very individualistic, and it would be beneficial to make these goals tied to the performance of the entire unit (group of managers).

  2. I think you are on the right track when it comes to measuring performance of the group rather than as individuals. Setting team targets would encourage everyone to work together to maximize billable hours for the whole, not just for each managers indivdual project.

  3. I witnessed this same issue at my previous consulting firm. The focus was only on billable hours since the nature of job required you to be staffed at all times and this was the main performance measure. It does create a very competitive environment in which everyone tends to look out for themselves and not the greater organization. I believe that a team culture can be created but it must stem from the top leadership at the firm and must be constantly communicated to everyone. It is too difficult to create the community and family feeling from the bottom of the organization. In the end being utilized on projects remains the top metric measured for performance. Management can also create a sense of belonging within the department by initiating team activities and promoting a family type culture.

  4. It seems like an attitude like this could actually lead to decrease in efficiency. If the main focus is on billable hours, what is to stop someone from prolonging a project just to increase billable hours. I’m not saying you or your company is doing anything like, that, but it is definitely a possible by-product.

  5. I have worked in consulting for many years and in most cases, the only thing that drives salary and bonus is being billable. The larger the organization, the more disjointed and selfish the units become. I have worked in large and small consulting companies. I found while working for smaller companies , just as you suggested, there was more cohesiveness among consultants. Probably because there is less bureaucracy, less politics. I think one way bigger companies can increase engagement among employees is by providing employees some incentive to do so. For instance have a component of their performance reviews graded by their contribution to the company or helping other projects and employees. Sadly many such consulting companies link bonuses to just utilization.

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