While most well-run professional organizations are using employee timesheet software data to help them run more efficiently, it’s not always a path to greater productivity.
If you’re asking your staff to track too much, then you might lose more than you gain. There’s a pretty steep diminishing return once you ask your staff to track more than 2-3 pieces of information for any given time entry. That descending returns takes a nose-dive if the information you are asking them to fill out involves data they don’t have at their fingertips (e.g. – you want them to track time “per task,” but tasks for the project they’re working on haven’t been entered into your system yet).
As a manager, striking the right balance between the information you ask for and the information you “could use” is often the difference successful timesheet implementations and failures. Too much, and staffers are less likely to stay on top of their daily entry. Too little, and you won’t be able to leverage that data to help your business improve its bottom line.
After watching thousands of managers try to walk this little tightrope, I’ve developed a fairly strong opinion on how best to approach it.
#1 – Start with too little.
It’s way easier to ask for more clarity later. While timesheet data will make your staff more efficient in the long run, it’s still a short-term drain on their time. Asking for the bare minimum, at first, will help increase compliance and will help score some early productivity wins. Project, “type” of work and notes should be enough to start with.
#2 – Always (always) ask for notes.
Timesheet notes will force your staff to summarize the work they’ve done. And, they let you score some early productivity wins.
Just having a manager comment on timesheet notes in project status meetings will help reinforce the value of that information to the entire firm. When filling out detailed timesheets helps to reduce the amount of time staffers spend updating management, they get a productivity boost they can actually see.
#3 – Let your system to a little heavy lifting.
Employees shouldn’t have to fill in bill rates, today’s date or their own name on their timesheet. Not because they can’t — just because they aren’t in the right state of mind to do that well.
Whatever system you use should be smart enough to keep that type of data out of sight.
Focus on showing staffers only the data they need to fill in. A 20-field data entry form is still a time waster, even if 19 of those fields are filled in on my behalf (users feel like they have to verify each field).
#4 Leverage. Leverage. Leverage.
Finally, don’t make timesheet data a dead-end. If the only thing you are using it for is billing or payroll — its going to be extremely difficult to get your staff to care. As soon as you start to use that data to drive staffing, client assignments, reviews, project management, etc. — you’ll see an immediate boost in compliance.
My favorite story on that topic came from a customer in Dallas. He implemented a timesheet system for a 20 person firm in them middle of his busy season, and he asked me what he could do to make sure it was successful (he’s not the type of manager to beat folks over the head… neither am I, I suppose).
“Just make sure they know you care about what they’re putting in there,” I told him. “Don’t make it black hole.”
After a month, he called to tell me that he had 100% compliance without ever telling a single staff member “don’t forget to submit your timesheet.”
How? His approach was drop-dead simple.
“I just stopped asking questions that were already answered in the data.”
Morning status meetings quickly focused on missing data, and the more data users added to their daily recap, the less “managing up” they had to do throughout the day. Staffers jumped at the chance to kill two admin birds with a single stone.