Timesheets (although we hate them) are a foundational tool for running a profitable agency. And yet, we set up our employees for failure in terms of doing them accurately. Here’s how to help them get it right.

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Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. This week coming to you from Vancouver, Washington where fall is about to make a huge entrance. So I was on the phone today with an agency owner and we were talking about time sheets, and they’ve been tracking billability and utilization. And what they discovered was something that all of you would discover if you dig into this, which is this. That your employees need refreshers when it comes to time sheets. So think about when the last time was that you talked to your employees about how to complete their time sheet. It was typically the first day or week of their employment. They have been drinking from a fire hose, they’ve been filling out forms, meeting people whose names they won’t remember, trying to understand their role, trying to impress everybody, and now you’re giving them the nitty-gritty of how to do time sheets. So number one, they don’t remember everything you said. Number two, even if they’ve been with you for a long time, that doesn’t mean they actually understand the task codes and how they should bill their time. And what this agency owner said to me was, “When we went back and we actually looked through people’s time sheets, through no fault of their own, they weren’t trying to be deceptive, they weren’t trying to hide time, they just were doing it wrong.” They didn’t know that they could put this in billable time or they didn’t know that they could put this task over here. And what happens is, in most agencies, once we onboard an employee, we never talk about the mechanics of how to do time sheets again. At least once a quarter, you need to be standing in front of your entire agency, literally or virtually today, and you need to be talking to them about, “Hey, you guys we’re noticing a pattern of a lot of people using this task code wrong, or this billable issue wrong, or you’re putting a lot of billable time in this category when really it belongs in this category.” So what that requires is a couple things. Number one, that you’re monitoring time sheets. So if you have an employee or two that you’re like “I don’t get it. They’re here, they seem busy, but they’re not as billable as they should be.” You need to dig into their time sheets, because I’m going to guess that you’re going to find that they’re doing some of those things wrong. And if they’re doing them wrong, so are other people. So yes, meet one-on-one and have a conversation with them and say, “Hey, I noticed that you’re putting this as a non-billable task, but actually it’s a billable task,” or whatever the error is. But then use that teachable moment to talk to your entire agency about time sheets. It’s also a great time for you to talk to them about why time sheets matter. That it’s not about being punitive. That it’s not about tracking their every hour. But it is about checking if your estimates are accurate. It is about seeing whether or not you need new people. It is about whether or not you’re allocating the resources properly for the work to get done. Time sheets are a critical foundational data point for you as an agency owner and for your leadership team. But they’re not very useful if everybody’s doing them wrong. Do not assume that your employees know exactly how to do their time sheets, even if you’ve told them. So once a quarter, bring them together in an all agency meeting and talk about some of the patterns you’re seeing in time sheets. “Hey, a lot of you are miscoding personal time.” Or, “A lot of you think research is non billable, but it is actually billable.” Whatever it is, you are going to see patterns when you start looking. And your team needs that continual nudging and guidance so that they continue to more accurately reflect and record their time. This is not going to take a lot of time on your part, but it is going to take some focus, it probably needs to be on your calendar so you do it. And by the way, it doesn’t have to be you doing it. Someone in your team needs to be looking. So it might be department heads looking at their own department. It might be your CFO looking at everybody’s time sheets. You decide how to do it. But two things. Number one, start looking at time sheets and watching for patterns of errors. And number two, start talking to your team quarterly about those errors so that your time tracking is more and more accurate every quarter, all right? Super simple. Seems like a duh. But again, in the speed and pace at which you do work, a lot of times this is one of those things you don’t pay attention to and you don’t do and you assume that everybody’s doing it right and well, and I am telling you that’s just not the case. It is not that they’re trying to be deceptive. It’s not that they’re trying to pad their time. It’s just that they heard it wrong, or forgot, or don’t do it very often. Whatever it is, they just need refreshers. So, that’s on you. All right? I’ll talk to you next week.

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