In the current difficult financial times, many organisations in both the public and private sector need to reduce costs. Even saving money requires business change that needs specialist skills; in better times consultants, interim managers or contract staff would often have provided those skills.
When budgets are constrained, the challenge is to run business change projects and undertake other specialist work without the use of outside resources. Indeed, in good times the organisation would often have outsourced the delivery of such projects to third parties that has left the organisation without the in-house skills to do such work.
Now, organisations have to run business change, and other, projects with only in-house resource. This puts pressure on staff at all levels to deliver specialist programmes of work without the necessary experience or skills. Everybody feels exposed and fearful. However difficult as it is, it is also an opportunity for the organisation to redevelop the missing skills. It will be difficult as it takes time to gain experience and it may be difficult to fund traditional training; as many organisations have downsized it may also be difficult to release staff for training.
Managers can often take on some of the burden of training their staff. Staff will have to take more responsibility for their own development, which in itself will provide valuable skills. The biggest problem is that after years of outsourcing there is often no organisational memory or capability that understands projects and the associated technical skills. As a result, managers also need to gain skills to allow them to direct specialist projects.
A more creative way forward is to use a very small amount of external support and leverage its contribution. Such support should not undertake the work; that will simply perpetuate the problem. Rather it is to act as coach, tutor or mentor to enable the in-house management and staff to achieve their project goals. By using experienced project directors or managers can enable motivated but relatively inexperienced staff to deliver complex programmes of work.
The external coach provides high-level oversight to ensure the work stays on track and guides the self-development of managers and their teams. The external resource does not do the work but challenges the in-house team, highlights potential issues, shares knowledge and experience. It gives senior management comfort that the work is on track. Although this may sound difficult, it is very similar to the approach good directors have used to support and develop those external project teams.
Instead of using a full project team from outside, expensive, this coaching method would usually require only a few days a month even on a large project; a huge saving that will give senior management peace of mind and recreate the lost capability for the organisation. Individuals too will benefit from new skills, improved job security and the satisfaction of being able to deliver what they once thought beyond them.
Now is the time for organisations and individuals to redevelop lost, or new, skills. It is a case of "needs must".