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Tips offered to strengthen a workforce

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By Lou Schultz / For the Enterprise - “Your employees are not assets to be bought and sold, but treasures that must be preserved at all costs.”

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W. Edwards Deming would use this statement to make a point about the fact that you have made a big investment in hiring, training, coaching and enduring mistakes on the job while employees are in the learning phase of the job.

Rather than writing off that investment, if you have an employee whose performance is not up to your expectations you are almost always better off investigating why.

Have they been put in poor processes or systems? Have they been given adequate training? Are they unqualified for the job? As the manager, you hired them and are responsible for them being in that position so if they are a total misfit, you should find them a position where they can do good work, whether it is in your organization or not.

Deming and others agreed that 90 percent of the time, it is not the employees’ fault.

It is interesting to look at a matrix comparing workforce capability to process capability. If we have a low process capability coupled with a low workforce capability, the organization will struggle and the future looks bleak. If we have a high process capability matched with a low workforce capability, the organization will coast and get by.

If we have a low process capability coupled with a high workforce capability, we have a situation of instability where the employees are dissatisfied, frustrated and likely to jump to another job at the first opportunity. If we have a high process capability matched with a high workforce capability, we are on the high road to success.

Many of the previous columns of Basic Business Cents dealt with the 90 percent category and were focused on process improvement.

In this article we will focus on the workforce element. To achieve that high capability ranking, we need to examine four elements of the focus on workforce ­- ­ environment, development, engagement, and management.

Environment

Looking at the environment, first and foremost it must be safe; safe from physical harm and safe from mental harm like harassment and bullying.

The employee should be secure that the organization is as loyal to the employee as the employee is to the organization. To that end, management and co-workers must be supportive and helpful.

Organizational values should be consistent with the personal values of the employees so that they are comfortable and proud of what they do. A former employer once sent me to a seminar titled Work/Life, taught by a psychologist and was all about getting your work life and personal life in sync with each other.

It was probably the best seminar that I ever attended.

The position and the organization should fulfill the employees’ social need or responsibility of being worthwhile to society. The organizational direction or aim should be consistent with that of the employee. It is helpful if the organization provides recreational and cultural activities that build teamwork throughout.

Last but not least the employees should see clear career opportunities that lie ahead.

Development

Performance is due in a large part to basic education, skills training, coaching, ability and motivation. Education opens up our mind and makes us curious about learning more. We should never stop learning our entire life, as the world continues to change around us.

Training should be formal and consistent and followed by coaching to ensure the implementation of lessons learned is correct.

The organization needs to have a regular system of sharing knowledge throughout the organization.

Skill training should not only be for the present job but for the next one, which has been identified as a possibility by proper career counseling. The employee should practice new skills and consider learning as a part of daily work. The employee’s ability should have been identified during the hiring process.

Motivation comes from within and needs to be viewed by management as what can be done to provide more satisfaction and pride in work so as to create intrinsic motivation. Attempts to provide extrinsic motivation rarely succeed and can backfire.

Engagement

Employees are more likely to be engaged in their work as we stated above if they have consistency with their work/home life, if they get great satisfaction from their work, if they take pride in meaningful work and get joy and happiness from their efforts.

Mutual trust and respect, up, down, and across the organization are necessities for an highly capable workforce. They should be customer focused, both on internal and external customers.

The employees should be provided with clear direction, both for the organization and their position so that they understand their role in achieving the company’s goals. Constant innovation and flexibility in the work tend to make it more exciting and interesting.

Management

In order to achieve high workforce capability, management must do their part. They need to be honest, fair, consistent, and committed to the employees’ well-being.

They should act consistent with the organization’s strategy and action plans. They should be effective in problem and grievance solving.

Prior to the employee’s placement in the position, management must have good human resource planning and hiring practices to avoid mistakes.

As mentioned above, these mistakes are very costly. Once hired, management must be committed to the employee success.

Proper focus on the workforce as outlined will result in more engaged, satisfied and versatile employees that stay with your organization.

Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently works wit h area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@process

management.com.

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