Tech Insights: How New Systems Help Managers Manage in the Moment

Aug 5, 2014

Part of me still believes that workforce management systems should mirror talent management systems.

After all, both are about getting more productivity from employees. Yet, workforce management systems have evolved into something with quite different characteristics.

One of the important differences is that workforce management deals with high population jobs; another is that workforce management software is tied more closely to operations than talent management software.

More real-time information

The tie to operations has always been there. Workforce management systems could work out schedules and generate monthly reports on metrics like absenteeism and overtime. However, the systems are getting much more exciting as they move to providing real-time information.

I spoke to Frank Moreno, the Director of Product Marketing at Kronos, about the capabilities of workforce management and he painted this kind of scenario:

The head office instructs the store managers on a project such as setting up the store for the fall season. The store managers then assigns tasks to workers. Workers input their progress so that the manager can see how tasks are progressing; re-assign workers as needed and even compare how long tasks are taking compared to other stores. If checking inventory is taking twice as long as the average store the manager will want to know why.

If we move from retail to manufacturing we can imagine the manager walking around with a tablet checking which shifts are most productive, how production orders are coming, and how much they are spending on overtime.

This doesn’t sound at all like what we expect talent management systems to do. Today’s workforce management systems can provide all sorts of real-time information that help a manager manage in the moment.

What’s interesting?

  • The vision of a manager walking around with a tablet, seeing how things are going in real-time and adjusting accordingly is a dramatic change from the current situation where a manager may be sitting at a desk looking at a printed report a month after the fact, and wishing she’d made changes a couple of weeks ago.
  • The “people” work of matching tasks to talent, assessing performance, and determining hiring needs is seamlessly linked to the “operational” work of getting things done. A nurse goes home sick, a piece of equipment on a manufacturing line goes down — how does a manager adjust to minimize impact? Who is cross trained? Which area may be over-staffed and can provide labor to help? Workforce management helps with on the fly adjustments to get the work done. The people stuff is not off to side in a support role.

What is really important?

  • HR leaders need to decide if they are going to abdicate the workforce management space or try to add value. Watching over the costs and timeliness of a production order doesn’t sound like HR; yet those costs and that timeliness are very much affected by people factors. HR can’t get away with saying “we want to handle the people stuff, but don’t want to think about the operational stuff.
  • Perhaps one day talent management systems will follow this same path to being more closely integrated with day-to-day operations. A system may help a manager select teams, recognize an opportunity for a developmental assignment, give feedback and solve problems such as a conflict between two staff members. It will be a big step from thinking that manager self-service is all about letting a manager set up a hiring requisition on-line instead of using paper.
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