Laxmi Solkar, an Account Executive at one of the leading communications consultancy hurriedly enters office as she has to take some urgent prints for a client meeting. Starts the computer, but finds it locked as she had forgotten to fill her timesheet for the last week. Now she has to connect with the IT department and take permission of her Group Head assuring them that she will duly fill the timesheets regularly. By the time she could get her computer unlocked; she got delayed for the meeting and was ready for another firing session.
This is not one-off situation but something that is slowly being experienced in almost every Indian consultancy. Updating timesheets was never a fun task to do, but something that you have to and get it off your back every weekend or suffer the fate above (this is happening in few top consultancies, you may be lucky if this has not reached your firm yet, but sooner or later you will be forced to be a part of this necessary evil).
Timesheet entered the processes of Indian PR consultancies just few years ago, with the entry of multinational PR firms. Current situation is that very few have compulsorily mandated their employees to fill up the timesheet daily/weekly, and failing to do so, get their systems locked; salaries are put on hold and are sternly warned by superiors impacting their appraisals as well. There are few consultancies that have implemented timesheet as a process but rarely take action against non-complying employees, and there many consultancies who are yet to bring timesheets in their systems.
Many global consultancies charge their client’s basis the number of hours spent on their account as the client’s want to know how many hours were actually devoted on the account and how efficient is their agency.
Here in India, things are different, though timesheet does exist but clients rarely would agree for a billing based on time spent, instead they still insist of AVEs, CCMs type of measurement parameters. While I was doing the story I requested inputs from all levels of PR practitioners and surprisingly I got many responses. Though I couldn’t have included all the responses in this article but something that I would like to highlight was that, all written responses were in favor of timesheets. While the people who were against timesheets preferred to call rather than sending a written response and even didn’t want to be quoted for obvious reasons.
I have listed the arguments of timesheet haters, as per one of the respondent, “It is a failing attempt especially by the smaller players as there is a huge list of clients that need servicing and documents like time sheets only add on to a pending file of undone tasks.”
Another one pointed out that “The truth is that almost all PR consultancies in India are perennially understaffed due to high attrition, talent shortage, poor pay scales etc. So working overtime is the norm rather than exception. In this scenario, time sheets are an additional burden on the PR professionals.”
One consultant was clear that “Time Sheets won’t work in a Country like India. How can you dictate PR Professionals to work in time sheet way? Public Relation is a 24×7 job, not a 9 to 5 job.”
Nitin Mantri, CEO, Avian Media, is very optimistic about the use of timesheets, he says, “Indian PR professionals are moving towards timesheet reporting format in their organizations. While there is always resistance initially as it is another task to be completed, there is increasingly a better understanding of the need for doing this. The clients on the contrary, still need to understand the consultancy perspective on time sheets. Many firms are already using timesheets to analyze their internal systems of functioning and improving them further. However, it is still not a widespread concept in India as there is little acceptability from the clients to use this format as a way of showcasing review of work undertaken for them.”
Even though timesheets are seen as an additional admin chore and hated universally by most, it does deliver some benefits, which many practitioners even agree to. Richa Seth, opines that “time sheets are very beneficial as it not only helps to manage employee’s time better but immensely helps to keep in check servicing offered to the client i.e whether one is over servicing or under servicing the account.”
Nithin Rajasekaram, says, “Timesheets are like your daily EOD sheet. Its helps you figure out where you spent most of your time. Helps you identify improvement areas and utilize the time well.”
Natasha Bhattacharya on the other hand says, “Public Relations in India is still seen as a profession where in the activities are fluid and the time taken for each activity cannot be benchmarked unlike the IT industry. From a process perspective, it brought in a lot of transparency and a window into the productivities of resources. From a people’s perspective, beginner to mid-level resources views it as an intrusive practice.”
Bhuvaneshwari Joshi, points out that “Time sheets reporting format can be viewed from two angles, which is making efficient use of time and money the client spends on their PR account” or ” Just another to do task”. Indian Professionals should gear up for the same, if not already. It is helpful and one can make best use of their time.”
As an industry leader, Nitin, says, PR staffers must be able to track their time for their own efficiency. If you work across several clients, as most consultancy staff will, you need to balance your allocation. There’s always a gravitational pull towards a favorite client, or the one you’re most comfortable with, the newest or the noisiest. Timesheets help to address that, particularly if they are transparent to the entire office. Another benefit is that the humble timesheet does prevent over-work. It’s clear who is burning the midnight oil and who has some spare capacity. Some staff, particularly juniors, tend to over-work for the wrong reasons. Perhaps they feel they need to, or perhaps they’re still mastering the skills of time management. Here again the timesheets can step in since it’ll be clear whether excess hours are due to over-commitment or inefficiency. We know what we’ve committed to so where are these extra hours coming from?”
He added, “But Once you’ve mastered the use of timesheets, it can transform the way you work. You know the time you have available and the tasks to be delivered each week. Then you can set yourself internal deadlines against each activity, or you can rapidly decide that you’re over-committed. This helps in managing expectations and priorities. It also makes you value your own time, and be disciplined with it. When I was a junior account exec, I gave freely of my time since I wanted to build experience. You do need to get some miles on the clock after all. But long-term, pumping in long days is not sustainable nor really that productive. Each of us will find their own tolerances, and it’s true that like any muscle, your brain can sustain higher levels of performance the more you exercise it, but there are limits. Some of us are work sprinters who put in long hours then take a break; others are marathon runners who are capable of sustained periods of effort. Whatever your personal style, the timesheet should be your friend. It helps you monitor the greatest and most fleeting asset you have – your time.”
The primary reason why timesheets were introduced was to charge the clients as per the number of hours spent on their accounts. Personally I am not a believer in billable hours, but it is extremely important that you track your time and assign a rate to it. Without it, you have no idea how much time has been put into an activity and what could be its probable cost. That’s why, even when you’re over servicing a client, tracking time helps you to be strategic and smart about the budgets you’re creating.
In a small research that I conducted (the primary reason why I missed my column last week) amongst 100 PR practitioners, 75% agreed that they don’t accurately fill the time sheets, but do it randomly at the end of the week or even a month. This in itself blemishes the use of time sheets as very few are honestly filling the timesheet. The fundamental issue is how consultancies communicate the rationale of its use to clients, and, as importantly, to their staff.
Clients were also divided on the benefits of using timesheets. Few clients that I spoke to said “consultancy should be judged on results rather than the time spent on the account. We want and expect our partners to deliver the objectives and targets we have agreed together, and how long it takes to achieve this doesn’t really matter. Just so long as everything is done on time.”
Timesheet software which costs PR firms, anywhere between Rs. 1 Lakh to Rs. 6 Lakh, depending on functionalities it provides, will sooner or later be introduced in every consultancy starting from the large-size to mid-size, primarily to track efficiency of the employees. Charging clients as per time doesn’t seem to happen for few more years atleast. I may be completely wrong, request your feedback and and thoughts on the same, do comment here or on my blog www.vikypedia.in or tweet@vikramkharvi