Workforce Planning: Do More with Less

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The latest criticism to come out of the Affordable Care Act relates to the idea that the law is motivating workers to work less in order to retain their eligibility for federal subsidies. Conversely, some companies – particularly small businesses – have been reported as claiming that the ACA may force them to either halt their hiring/growth strategy or cut their employees’ hours, both in order to avoid the penalty for not offering health coverage under Obamacare.

And to top it off, the prospect of minimum wage increases now has several employers squeezed between having to absorb increased costs or raise prices, either of which could lead to a reduction in labor and/or consumer demand.

The debate rages on and whether the widely anticipated workforce reduction will come from workers’ decision, the aging of the population or a drop in businesses’ demand, the fact remains that numerous organizations are now faced with the conundrum of having to do more with less in order to remain competitive and relevant in today’s highly globalized marketplace.

Here are 3 solutions to consider:

Don’t reinvent the wheel; learn to use it better

Research shows that when dealing with limited resources, companies find more benefits from repurposing their existing processes, rather than attempting to create new ones, which too often only serve to further weigh down operations.

Case in point: Performance reviews are a time-consuming chore for both your managers and employees and while many argue that it is quickly becoming a dated practice, our experience shows that the main challenge of performance management resides in understanding its true value and purpose: i.e., not just evaluating past performance but mainly improving an individual’s productivity, which in turn, leads to improved organizational performance. (Read more about how performance reviews can actually add value for your company.)

What’s more, since the financial crisis, many mid-level employees have been assigned additional responsibilities in light of their employers’ cost-cutting strategies, and most now claim they can’t physically sustain the pace at which they have been working. This is extremely unhealthy for companies because while your bottom line may not yet suffer the consequences, the resulting costs can be exponential over time, namely in terms of healthcare, as well as the impact of stress and fear of layoffs on employee morale and productivity.

One counter measure to this scenario consists in combining processes, for instance, by merging your performance reviews with your recruiting strategy. The concept is rather simple: Performance reviews, when done right, serve to assess your current workforce’s output and plan for future actions that will allow you to reach your business objectives. By using the data gathered through performance reviews to pinpoint the specific areas where you are lacking talent, you can quickly identify the very competencies that are necessary to your future success. Your performance reviews could therefore be used to support your coaching and professional development needs, as well as identify those competency gaps that are preventing you from achieving an optimal output rate, i.e., your recruiting needs.

In other words, combining your workforce planning and management processes into one globally strategic practice is a much more cost-effective solution than requesting that your already-overloaded mid-level managers attempt to define your company’s needs – a costly hit-or-miss strategy when not based on real insights. In fact, by using the data already gathered through an existing process, rather than handling recruiting, reviews and development separately, companies are more likely to observe an amplified workforce planning, reduction, and management ROI for minimized and more targeted efforts – a win-win strategy for both employers and employees.

Achieving this isn’t all that complex, but it does require a thorough understanding of the variety of competencies and what they mean for your organization and business sector.

If you already have a competency-based recruiting or evaluation approach in place:

  1. Start with your most comprehensive competency model
  2. For every position, combine the skills, behavioral traits and objectives you may have spread across different documents (performance evaluation, recruitment, salary revisions, succession planning, etc.)
  3. Eliminate duplicates and remove obsolete data
  4. Streamline the competency descriptions with the use of a competency dictionary, and try to narrow it down to a maximum of 10 competencies per position (the higher the responsibility level, the more competencies you may require)
  5. Stress test your new model across different processes with the use of resource panels and event interviews
  6. Implement!

If your company doesn’t use competency models, first begin by determining the approach that is best suited to your needs. Then make sure you have the right tools at your disposal; generic competency dictionaries are often times crucial to the development of such a framework, and they allow you to build and implement integrated talent management systems. But beyond the dictionaries, you may also want to look into acquiring competency development tools, such as eDeveloper™, 360° survey instruments and interview guides. Many of these tools can be purchased or licensed, and can prove to be indispensable to your modeling process.

Once you have determined your approach and selected the tools to help you, follow the steps highlighted above.

At any time, you may contact us for advice or the development of a customized solution for your business. You may also attend one of our popular competency model building events, or book one of our expert consultants to visit your head office for a tailored onsite workshop.

Let go of the control

Silos can be destructive to a company’s productivity and as stated in a Forbes article “it is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier”.

Over the past decade, numerous organizations have restructured specifically to avoid this very configuration, mainly because it created an unbalanced workload at the conjunction point of the silos, which was generally at a managerial level (e.g., approvals, sign-offs, strategic planning, etc.).

Such a blockage caused by an individual’s time constraints has dire consequences on the rest of your operations. When your mid-level managers cannot find the time to properly evaluate, review, optimize, and support their teams, they get caught in inefficient labor-intensive processes, and the benefits of having recruited great strategic thinkers are practically – if not entirely – erased.

Instead, try redistributing some the workload in a manner that allows your best non-managerial performers to oversee, or at the very least help manage, your recruiting and development processes. A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses how Amazon has implemented such bar-raising practices, which lie on the following premise:

Bar raisers are skilled evaluators who, while holding full-time jobs at the company in a range of departments, play a crucial role in the hiring process by interviewing job candidates in other parts of the company.

By empowering your top employees to select and coach new talent, you help ensure that your workforce planning, recruiting, reviewing and professional development processes (now that it’s all combined into one) is:

  • Cost-effective (your top performers being ‘on the clock’ already)
  • Fitting to your organizational culture (who better to understand the behavioral traits that will strengthen or harm the welfare of other employees than those who take your success to heart)
  • Optimized to the task at hand (top performers understand what others lack and what is required to get the job done right)
  • Productive (freeing your managers and HR staff of some responsibilities to focus on areas of more pressing importance)

Many companies feel reluctant to implementing such a process when it is first brought to their attention; after all, letting go of the control means giving your employees the opportunity to fail. Yet, keep in mind that those you are giving power to are the same individuals who, day in and day out, exemplify the ability to change, accept extenuating circumstances, ask the tough questions, and earn a reputation for success… all without expecting extra compensation.

When dealing with having to do more with less, this delegation of responsibility opens up a whole new level of job performance, on which it is difficult to place a price tag.

Make time for strategic thinking to boost productivity

According to Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn and Associates and best-selling author of The Fred Factor and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader, most executives don’t think as much as they react to their environment.

The ability to think strategically is one of the most prominent competencies sought out in leaders, surpassing innovation; yet, a survey published on Talentlens.com reported that the competency most next-generation leaders lack the most is strategic thinking, followed by vision and the ability to understand the total enterprise, i.e., how the parts work together.

It may seem counter-productive to invest time each day to rethink operational processes when you are struggling to do more with less but remember that if you want to remain relevant with less resources, you need to fully leverage your executive expertise with the objective to draw up more cost-effective solutions.

In fact, a certifiedceo.com article reminds us that:

“Critical thinking enables leaders (…) to understand the impact of their decisions on the business as a whole, and ensures both alignment with organizational goals and accountability for results.”

If you’re not focusing on the big picture, there are very few chances that others will. What results from this are inefficient and outdated processes and reduced productivity for less-than-optimal results.

If there are always 3 sides to a story, there are always 3 solutions to a problem: your way, your competitors’ way and the right way. Critical and strategic thinking allows you to play the devil’s advocate to your ‘old’ ways, critique your competitors’ choices, and gather these results to find opportunities to carve your way forward. Creativity may seem to be key to doing more with less but in order to concoct creative solutions, you first need to sit down and think.

If you find yourself unable to make time to think, consider delegating some of your responsibilities to one of the employees you have identified as a potential successor. Of course, this requires you to have a valid succession planning system in place already, but we can help you with this as well. Click here to read a recent article about the development and implementation of a succession-planning program that ties into your competency-based multi-purpose approach described earlier.

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