As the holiday season approaches, entrepreneurs will have to face the perennial problem of being understaffed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that most American’s take their holiday between June and September, and what this means is that your throughout large parts of this period you’ll most likely be operating with a skeleton crew, that’s barely enough staff to keep the show on the road. On some days or weeks, there might not be enough, which can undermine business continuity and seriously underwhelm clients who’ll stick expect their SLA’s to be met throughout the holiday period, even if they themselves are sat on a sunny beach.
So, what can business do? You can’t simply just stand in the way of the nation’s desire to take a break, in June, July and August, year after year as you’ll be one of the most hated entrepreneurs on the planet. You’ll need to develop a sustainable win-win approach to skeleton crew working if you don’t want your business to be constantly undermined by the annual holiday season. And here’s some tips to survive and thrive with a skeleton crew:
1.Plan well in advance. Working with a skeleton crew is one thing, but being understaffed and completely unprepared can leave you in a crisis situation. That’s why one of the best ways to cope with skeleton crew working is to be forewarned. You don’t need HR software to do this, but it sure helps if you do, because these systems will have sophisticated advance holiday planning mechanisms, which will alert you to holiday clashes and enable you to reduce resource black spots.
2.Get your staff highly engaged about overtime working. Assuming that you have some slack in the system and your staff are not already maxed out – working dawn to dusk – you might want to withdraw some time from your staff over-time account. But, be careful as pressurizing staff into overtime when colleagues are on vacation can lead to feelings of exploitation and negativity.
You’ll want to create a positive buzz around overtime, as there are several ways to do this:
- try asking for over-time volunteers, ensuring that there is appropriate financial incentive either in terms of bonus/higher rate or time of in lieu.
- Get managers, leaders and for real novelty value even get the CEO to pitch in for a few hours; if staff see leaders getting their hands dirty too, it can spur them to do the same.
- Lay on treats during over-time working such as: gourmet take-out supper, pets allowed, music allowed, gym credits etc… anything that creates a sense of goodwill and make those who aren’t doing over-time green with envy.
- Give some public recognition after the event for those who pitched in.
3.Don’t try to do everything. Trying to maintain normal operations with a skeleton crew is not realistic, even if you have pumped your team up. Prioritization: saying no to some tasks or delaying them, will be crucial to effective management of work with a skeleton crew. You’ll want to help staff with prioritizing their own work by setting out the top down priorities, e.g. projects A, B, C may be downgraded in importance and delayed, while projects X, Y, Z may be crucial and staff should be prioritizing all activity related to these projects. Getting staff all pointing in the right and same direction is more important than ever when operating with a skeleton crew.
4.Borrow staff from other departments. You can of course get in a temp or interim to cover short-staffed periods but that’s can of course hit profits so this might not always be a viable or desirable option. That’s where borrowing staff from other departments can be a benefit as it’s a cost neutral way to increase resources. Approach departments that might typically have a lower work-load in the summer, perhaps HR, hiring, or whatever function experiences a slow-down in demand. Once again, try and make sure the work is positively incentivized like in step 2 with treats, rewards and recognition. It could even be ‘sold’ to staff as a personal or career development opportunity, giving staff the chance the opportunity to sample a different career path. Cross pollinating in this way can be very beneficial.
Being able to effectively manage periods of peak demand or being understaffed is a key skill that entrepreneurs will need to develop if they are to develop a flexible, adaptable and ultimately sustainable business. If you have too many resource crunches in your business where staff are consistently burned, you’ll dent morale and reduce participation and engagement at the times you most need them. On the other-hand, if you can engender an all hands on deck, positive buzz around being part of the skeleton crew, you’ll have a willing band of helpers ready to pull together when things get tough.