The Value of Planning

Is your management team too busy with the day-to-day operations, that they cannot step back and determine the future direction of the company? “Tactical busyness” is a common problem with the lean management teams in the staffing industry. They are so focused on the fires in front of them they cannot address long-term issues. This short term focus traps them in a reactive loop that undermines their ability to improve and direct the organization. About a year ago I was speaking with a software vendor who needed help with an unhappy client. It seems the client purchased their software, but management took a very hands-off approach on its implementation. This lack of leadership led to very poor tool adoption and productivity actually decreased. In response, the leadership team blamed the tool. This wasn’t a question of management being lazy or indifferent. As a matter of fact, these managers worked long hours and were very passionate about the success of the business. This is a great example of a management team that is so involved in the daily business that they do not take a hard look at what they should be doing. The core of the problem is role confusion … Read More

Behind the Wheel: Driving Excellence in Staffing Operations

I am often asked why I wrote a book about the staffing industry. I felt like a book on staffing management needed to be written. There was no business case or financial model, just a belief that strong management is critical to the future of our industry. We needed resources that helped managers understand there unique role as well as their importance. The purpose of the book is to improvement management performance through more effective decision making and collaboration. In order to accomplish that goal, this book defines the performance drivers, provides a shared language, and clarifies the management roles. Defining performance drivers: The key elements of any growth strategy are defined by the performance drivers – Sales Strategy, Operational Alignment, and Performance-Driven Culture. The Sales Strategy begins by identifying both target market and the sales capabilities required to be successful. Operational Alignment ensures the organization has the capabilities to deliver their value proposition. The Performance-Driven Culture is the x factor in staffing operations and the fuel for top-line growth. All managers must understand the role of each of these drivers and how to manage to them effectively. Providing shared language: As a company grows, having a disciplined vocabulary becomes more … Read More

Achieving Simplicity and Focus in Staffing Data

We live in a time where we have more data that can possibly be manipulated.  Companies sincerely believe that the more data they show their team, the better they are at management.   I would argue this approach does more harm than good.   While data can be valuable, sometimes it becomes too much of a good thing. Instead of adding value it does the opposite, it creates confusion resulting in the wrong conclusion.  “Focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”  Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, May 25, 1998 Steve Jobs’ quote from fifteen years ago is still applicable today.  Staffing managers are responsible for combing through data, identifying and understanding key trends, and presenting their findings to their team. The desired result is a team with focus. In order for the data to be usable, it must be simplified to its essence. If management is unable to do this effectively, it can create more harm than good as it fosters confusion. Recently I was at a conference when a speaker said a management … Read More

Execution: The Most Powerful Differentiator

When I was a staffing executive, I faced a crucial decision that would determine the fate of our organization.  Our largest client had given us an ultimatum that would require me to completely restructure our organization to meet their service requirements.  In addition, they were demanding lower margins with the promise of higher volume in the near future. What our client was demanding was a complete transformation of our organization putting at risk our financial model, our culture, and most importantly our philosophy of a quality driven staffing company.  If we decided not to sign the new agreement we would lose our largest client, and have to find a way to replace almost 20% of our gross profit.  We decided to walk away from the client, and built an aggressive sales strategy that replaced it with lower volume, higher margin business.  After everything was said and done I convinced myself that our decision was the right one, and any company who chose otherwise was making a crucial strategic mistake. A few years later I had dinner with a company that challenged my thinking.  This company was put in the exact same scenario with the same client with no more resources … Read More

Reducing the Growth Plateau in Staffing Companies

From what I have seen, most growth trends for staffing companies are not linear.  Instead, there is strong growth followed by a plateau.  I have come to the conclusion that managers may not be able to completely escape plateaus, but they are the key factor in determining how long they last.  The reason for this is simple.  As a company grows and operations become more complex, it is more difficult to identify bottlenecks and drive accountability. Each manager has a different role in breaking through plateaus, below are some common considerations each functional role must consider.   Middle management isn’t listed below since they either directly or indirectly impact the functional roles. Executive Role:  Responsible for adjustments in growth strategy, strategic investments, organizational structure, cultural considerations, and revamping the management framework. Sales Manager:  Accountable for revamping targets, managing process improvement, using data to drive creative problem solving, establishing sales identity, formalizing on-boarding and on-going training, creating consistent accountability, and remaining externally focused. Delivery Manager: In charge of implementing new sourcing tools, maturing processes to drive operational alignment, formalizing on-boarding and on-going training, and managing automation to streamline data flow. How each of these manager’s attempts to break through the plateau varies … Read More

Set It and Forget It

As a young staffing manager I was always looking for the perfect combination of policies and metrics to make managing operations easier.  I wanted to find the perfect compensation plan to motivate my reports, the   perfect metrics to establish expectations, and the perfect meetings to drive effective communication and collaboration.  What I wanted to create was a turn-key operation that managed itself.  After all, we hear consultants and authors advocate methods that basically promise a self-managing organization.  Unfortunately, those promises are simply gimmicks. The best way to understand gimmicks is to listen to an infomercial, specifically one infomercial that got the better of me about 15 years ago.  I was watching an infomercial on a rotisserie cooker that would cook restaurant quality food with little to no work.  All you needed to do was set it and forget it.   I ordered the cooker, unwilling to pass on this once in a lifetime opportunity.  While I had buyer’s remorse it was nothing compared to the disappointment when I saw the big yellow warning label not to leave the cooker unattended.  So much for set it and forget it. I put similar faith into the impact of formal management policies, processes and … Read More

Letting Go

In my first executive role, I had a difficult time letting go and allowing my managers to do their job. Whether it was getting involved in daily conflict resolution or overriding minor decisions, I spent more time acting as a puppet master than a manager. This is a tendency common in staffing and is understandable especially for the owner-operator who has built their company from scratch. However, by injecting ourselves into tactical operational decisions we impede a manager’s development, by undermining accountability and losing crucial opportunities to evaluate and coach our management team. I was speaking to one of my clients about this very issue, and their response was they simply didn’t trust that their managers had the ability to make and implement the right decisions.   However, while that may be justifiable to help with daily operational decisions, it is not a long-term solution.  Eventually, the executive must delegate decision making authority to the management team. This does not mean that once a person is hired or promoted into a management role that the executive doesn’t stay involved in the operations.  However, executives must eventually allow a manager to do their job independently and they can begin the process by … Read More

Mike Cleland Named to Staffing 100 for 2014 by Staffing Industry Analysts

Mountain View, Calif. – October 24, 2014 – The top 100 most influential people in the North American and European staffing markets have been announced by Staffing Industry Analysts, the global advisor on contingent work. The annual list, now in its fourth year, profiles the movers and shakers who have made a difference to the staffing industry. Staffing industry insiders and observers nominate men and women from all sectors of the industry. The Staffing Industry Analysts editorial team reviews the nominations and makes the final determination of those individuals who have in some way affected the world of contingent work and influenced people’s perception of talent and how it can be used. Mike Cleland is honored to be included in the Staffing 100 list for 2014.   See Mike Cleland Staffing 100 Announcement    

Mike Cleland named as Finalist for the Fast Growth Entrepreneur Legend Award


Mike Cleland was named as a finalist for the Oxford Center Fast Growth Entrepreneur Legend Award at the Oxford Center Get Real Conference in New York City on September 26, 2014. The Entrepreneur Legend Award is a lifetime Legacy Award to an entrepreneur who has built and successfully exited fast growth companies, continuously demonstrates excellent customer service, exhibits a positive influence and is still actively engaged in the advancement of society. The Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs is dedicated to educating and helping fast growth entrepreneurs take business to the next level. Oxford Center knows the dedication and success necessary to achieve the high level of growth to be nominated for this honor.