How to Prioritize When You Are Short of Staff

Jul 19, 2022, Written by Sue Miley

how to deal with short staffing

Right now, all small business owners are feeling the pinch of the war for talent. I was shocked the first time I saw a sign in front of a local restaurant that said, “Closed for seating because of staff shortage. Take out only.”

Fast forward to more recent months, when the pandemic is supposedly under control, and the shortage on talent has resulted in missed deadlines, supply chain shortages, poor quality, and the antithesis of good customer service.

This is from companies, small and large.

Many do not even apologize. Consumers feel that even though they have received poor quality and bad service, they still must patronage the businesses because the grass isn’t greener at a competitor.  

As a small business owner and a Christian who wants to glorify God in my work, I don’t want to be that consumer that lowers their expectations, but even more, I don’t want to be that business that lets down their clients. Demand for our services increases, probably because of the lack of responsiveness of other companies, but we too are having trouble finding the talent and the fit with our culture.

Even though I coach others not to settle and don’t just hire a warm body, the “people” famine is real. We want to grow. But we don’t want to settle.

You don’t either.

You don’t want to add team members that don’t share your core values.
You don’t want to tell a new prospect we have a two-month wait list or lead time.
You don’t want to add the business, then disappoint.

So, what do you do?

There isn’t an ideal solution, but there is still, in fact, the best solution. And the best solution is still the best course of action.

The Best Solution To Prioritizing When You’re Short of Staff

1.  Face the fact that you must prioritize.

Just like when facing a long to-do list, competing goals, or multiple projects, you must rank in order of importance. Without prioritization, you will start everything, move a step at a time forward on each, inch forward and never complete anything or get it off the list. Worse yet, new things get unavoidably added, and then the mountain of work you are carrying forward leads to burnout. It is the beginning of burnout for you and your team and disappointment and unmet expectation of customers. So as hard as it may be, you must prioritize.

2.  Always prioritize your current customers and your current services within your customers first.

You have spent years getting your existing customers. They are on board and committed to you in the form of past or current payments. Your work up until now has created your reputation and your client satisfaction. If you assume your existing clients will not go anywhere, so you focus on new business, you are taking your loyal customer base, your raving fans, for granted. These are the people who got you to today. They are the most important equity in your business. Therefore, prioritize and take care of your current clients and customers.  

3.  Similarly, make sure you prioritize your current product lines and your current services so that what got you to today is still here tomorrow.

It is always wise to stay focused on your niche and to have any product or service optimized before you add any new services. When your team is spread thin, it is even more critical. If you lower the quality of your core products and services, this will impact your hard-earned reputation. Not adding a new product or service will not hurt your reputation because it isn’t expected from your customers yet.

4.  Resist expanding services within your current client base too.

Maintaining only current services is super hard because these are your core customers, and yes, we want to make them happy. This is where excellent service and products along with superior communication intersect. If we continue to do an excellent job on their current products or services, and we are open and honest about why we can’t add services or new products, our customers won’t leave us. It is better to get some excellence than go somewhere else and risk all of their needs being unmet. But, of course, when you do staff up, their needs should be your priority.

5.  Keep the wins top of mind with your team.

They feel the pressure too. They want to grow and meet the client’s needs. They want to please. We need to celebrate the wins with our team and show them that even though we can’t do it all, our prioritization is keeping our company winning and helping our customers in the best way we can. Even though not optimal, it is the best option. No one wants to feel like they are treading water in a sea of mediocrity.

6.  Be creative with expanding your resources.

I am not a fan of using a lot of contract workers, freelancers, and temp workers. Not that they are not capable of excellence individually, but it is hard to create a cohesive team around short-term commitments. But, if it helps to keep your team from burning out or shores up resources you need to keep your current clients receiving the quality and services they have come to expect, then it is a solution to consider.

7.  Prioritize your team.

To prioritize your clients, you must also prioritize your team. We wouldn’t be in the situation if people and talent were not fundamental to our business. Small business owners are genuinely learning that people are our greatest assets. I find it frustrating when I hear that a business owner is jumping through all kinds of hoops to get new people on board and ignoring their loyal current team. This sometimes includes paying more, providing more vacation, adding signing bonuses, yet not doing anything for their existing team to reward them for their hard work and loyalty and keeping them from looking elsewhere in this crazy market. So, don’t forget to add bonuses to your team that is carrying the extra load. Make sure their salaries are keeping up with the ever-changing market rates. And help them to balance the extra work with their health so they don’t burn out.

The situation isn’t ideal right now for business owners in the war for talent, but it is what it is. We are all in the same boat, so we must be wise. We must prioritize our current customers. We must prioritize our existing team. We must stay true to our quality and our core values.

And we must keep forging ahead wisely because as others don’t prioritize, now is a time when we can thrive.  

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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