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From Staffing to Solutions: Lessons From the Frontier

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at SIA’s Executive Forum alongside my panelists Raj Sardana, Chairman + CEO of ACS Solutions, and Bert Bean, CEO of Insight Global. Our conversation, moderated by Peter Reagan, Senior Director, CWS of SIA, centered on pivoting from being a pure-play staffing company to a solutions-focused company, and unsurprisingly, we all had a lot to say about this topic. 

Here’s a quick recap of what we discussed. I also encourage you to share your viewpoint, too, as we can all stand to learn from one another as we navigate new opportunities and challenges. 

To Pivot or Not to Pivot?

Before deciding to bring solutions into your operating model, you need to understand if the decision itself is more internal or external focused. Meaning, is there an internal economic or business reason (i.e., better margins, higher multiple, diversification in service offerings, etc.) behind the decision? Or is it external? Do you want to be part of your customer's digital transformations, moving along the higher value chain journey and supporting their growth in this area?

If you've decided that a pivot is best for your organization, there are few questions I recommend you ask all your stakeholders (internal and external) before crafting a strategy: 

  1.  Do you have direct relationships with your customers?
  2. Do you have a focus on specialization either in a skill set, geography, or industry-domain vertical?
  3. Do you have a small to mid-size customer relationship you can leverage to pivot?
  4. Do you have a talent acquisition machine that you can use to attract talented high-end IT professionals relevant to this offering?
  5. Is your leadership aligned to this long-term vision? 
  6. Do you have a team of solution sellers or have the ability to equip and train the teams?
  7. Do you want to keep the brand separate or integrated?
  8. Do you want to build (organic) vs. buy (accelerate the journey)?

There are inevitable challenges and obstacles on any transformation journey, especially as it relates to your business’ operating model; however, enabling transparency and communication through collaborative brainstorming sessions can ensure alignment across the organization, resulting in buy-in down the line. 

Challenges

When you are trying to build your solutions business, it’s almost impossible to drive value to the customer without having in-house expertise. When thinking about talent, I typically refer to a pyramid model wherein the lower base comprises individual contributors that you could potentially leverage (the current staffing talent acquisition engine). The top two pieces of the pyramid are more focused on specialization and leadership. This is where you need architects to whiteboard and manage the projects themselves––and leaders who can comprehend customers' challenges and support those efforts. Without that specialized skill set and talent who actually understands how to develop, build and manage technology solutions, your team will not be successful. 

Besides, your sales team will need to have a deep understanding of whom they’re trying to connect with and ultimately sell to. Typically, in staffing, we look at headcount and filling roles quickly. Project solutions, on the other hand, is outcomes-based (see image below). This is a significant difference your teams will need to understand to be successful.

Slide and information cited from (https://www2.staffingindustry.com/Webinars/North-American-Staffing-Webinars/Staffing-Thought-Leadership-Webinars/Archived-Webinars/Making-the-Pivot-Transforming-your-IT-Staffing-Firm-to-a-Digital-Solutions-Provider), hosted by Eximer Capital.” 

Finally, it takes an incredible amount of capital to create and offer new solutions for your organization. You’ll need to invest in talent, tools, technology, etc. – can your business sustain that growth without deeply impacting other areas of the company? Or should you consider bringing in outside capital as a means to building out your solutions business? There are many factors to consider and a lot of moving parts. Still, failure to recognize all the realized and potential challenges is almost a guarantee your organization may not be ready to pivot. 

Summary

In summary, as you think of pivoting your business, understand that the decision cannot be emotional. It has to be data-driven. It has to align with your long-term vision. Make sure it’s adjacent to your business, so you build on your strengths. It’s imperative not to forget what was already working – the core. Make sure the vision is clear, so your team supports and is fully behind it. Remember: unless you get the internal buy-in it doesn’t matter how good a strategy is if the execution fails.

Lastly, customers are not just looking for a supplier to solve their problems. They’re also looking for a partner who can help them identify the problem that they aren’t able to see through.