Workforce Optimization is the next frontier in the evolution of business.
What exactly is workforce optimization? In essence, it is the process of focusing on your people (workforce) to achieve optimal productivity, profitability and employee engagement. It is focused on creating an increasingly more effective and healthy organization by applying what is already known about how human beings operate.
This utilizes years of research in the areas of positive psychology, human potential and neuroscience as well as the real-world, practical outcomes of organizations that are transforming their results by applying these principles. Workforce optimization is an art and science that focuses on what actually works with people rather than what we want to work because it wouldn’t require us to change.
Basically, organizations have two options available to them:
- Continue to do the things the way we were taught in the hope that with more force, discipline and precision, our habitual ways of leading and managing will suddenly break through the hard-headed resistance of our employees.
- Apply the lessons that have been learned over the past 50+ years from both research and experience with how people learn and develop.
In essence, we can either choose to work with the reality of how human thought, emotions and behavior occur or continue to fight this reality in the hopes that people will suddenly wake up and morph into a new species.
Understanding the shift
Before going further, let’s review a little history to better understand how monumental the shift in focus to workforce optimization really is. Over the years, there have been many stages in the evolution of society. Each of these stages has created transformational change in how we do things. Without going through the millennia of human evolution, let’s consider two of the transformations in modern times that affect how society and thus organizations operate.
- The Industrial Revolution supplanted the agricultural economy. Its focus was on mass production of products/goods for distribution to the growing population.
- Postindustrial society has supplanted the Industrial Revolution. It is characterized by the shift from the production of goods to the focus on information and services.
This is our current socio-economic stage and it is increasingly competitive, with change occurring at an accelerating pace. An organization can be “at the top of the world” today and bankrupt tomorrow. In order to successfully compete in the postindustrial era, businesses must focus on three major elements: People, Process, and Technology.
Process and technology efficiencies
The reality is that the majority of companies have invested a significant amount of money, time and effort into improving the process and technology pieces. This has resulted in tremendous efficiencies and increases in productivity. In the technology area, most companies are utilizing effective computer/software systems and are harnessing the internet. The focus on process improvement has been ongoing for decades and most companies have identified and improved their processes significantly due to this effort.
The bottom line is that absent some monumental development (which can occur), the majority of businesses today have squeezed out a great deal of the benefits from improvements in process and technology. Increasing the bottom line from further improvements in these areas is likely to be incremental. In summary, it is very difficult to achieve a competitive edge in today’s business environment via improvements in process and technology alone.
Where are the ‘people’ in this?
Let’s talk about people since this is the only one of the three areas that has lacked the investment of time, money and effort needed to even begin to harness the enormous potential in each one of us!
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Those organizations that put a sincere focus on their “human-potential resources” rather than simply their human resources stand to gain an enormous edge in our current environment. This is magnified by the demographic shifts that have led to the expression “The war for talent” because it is becoming more and more difficult for companies to find the talent they desire. This challenge is likely to be more pronounced in the future.
In summary, those organizations that are willing to move beyond the standard human resources and talent acquisition paradigm to a paradigm focused on developing human potential will be in a favorable position. Additionally, those who make the appropriate effort to unleash the enormous potential that lies in group collaboration with a desire to encourage a diversity of characteristics, stand to gain a significant advantage over their competitors. These are two key issues that workforce optimization addresses.
OK, admittedly, this may sound like a nice theory, akin to the utopian society ideas of the past; ideas that when attempted have failed miserably. Where is the evidence that application of these principles really works? Google is one example of what is possible when one makes this shift. What is even more exciting is that an organization does not have to be large to capitalize on these principles.
Management is stuck in the 20th century
The reason that “people” are the next frontier is that for the most part, companies still manage their workforce much as they have for decades. There is a hierarchical management structure that is in charge of determining the direction of the company and setting the rules, guidelines, and consequences (rewards and punishments) related to employee behavior and results. This hierarchical structure typically mirrors the parent-child relationship. We can think of this structure as the traditional way of doing things. Terms like top-down, superior-subordinate, command and control, apply here. In essence, power, influence, ideas for improvements, freedom to express opinions, resolution of differences, etc. are heavily weighted in favor of the boss over the subordinates.
Unfortunately, this structure runs afoul of what is needed for human beings to even start to unleash their potential. It is disempowering and tends to create dependency upon the hierarchy to think and create. It also tends to trigger people to focus on surviving and “looking good” — the very things that stifle human potential and collaboration.
In summary, the first and most important decision for most organizations who have struggles with the productivity, profitability and employee engagement is the decision to question how they currently work with their employees.