Lynda McClelland, Workforce Management Practice Lead at PM-Partners group
No matter what your business is and what systems and technology you use, it’s ultimately people that you rely on most to get things done. A recent round table event held by PM-Partners discussed the challenges of workforce management. With businesses needing to be increasingly adaptable and agile, managing workforces has become significantly more challenging and a strong influencing force on the execution of business strategy.
People are a strategic and costly business asset that need to be properly managed in a way that gives the individuals respect while ensuring the business’ goals are met.
One of the first issues raised during the round table discussion between a group of senior managers was that traditional staff contracts were not always the best tool for managing personnel. For example, rather than arrangements where staff were hired for specific periods of time, they are seeing the emergence of “zero hours” contracts, where people are brought in when they are needed. However, that creates a new challenge – retention of institutional knowledge. That’s in addition to on-boarding costs such as training.
Keeping workforces current and at their best was also cited as a concern. There was an acknowledgement that some degree of renewal was important – one attendee noted that a company they knew of had a policy of rewarding the top 5% of their staff (as identified during annual performance reviews) with promotions and bonuses, while the bottom 5% were moved on.
This led to discussion of the challenges faced by organisations when assembling teams. As well as the management of headcount, there’s the question of ensuring skills are kept up to date. Over the last 300 years or so, the cycle time between large technological shifts has accelerated exponentially. We moved from agrarian to urban economies during the industrial revolution in roughly 18th century. But it was just 50 years between the advent of the first computers to the broad availability of the internet, and just over a decade to widespread access to artificial intelligence.
That acceleration is continuing with futurists expecting that by the late 2030s about 65% of the workforce will be doing jobs that don’t exist today.
New skills for new workforces
This means we will need workforces that can develop new skills quickly. The days of completing a degree in your early 20s and that knowledge serving you for the duration of a career are gone. This is compounded by a lack of diversity.
In trying to attract the right talent to an organisation, there has been a heavy focus on technical skills – generally as they are relatively easy to assess. But the need to find individuals who can navigate environments and situations or collaborate successfully are valued less – at least based on how positions are advertised.
Corporate culture is a major influence on workforce management. We’re still emerging from hierarchical management concepts from the 1960s. The evolution into agile, servant leadership is in progress but will take some time. That means recruitment processes, which today are often managed through procurement-type processes, need to evolve to support different sourcing models.
As one participant in the discussion put it, the focus should be on capability and not traditional roles. This includes looking for people who have a certain set of skills, rather than having specific subject matter knowledge. For example, in an agile development project, an experienced scrum master from another industry might be a better fit than a subject matter expert in running a project. Rather than focus education on delivering large amounts of data, training can be delivered ‘just in time’.
Leveraging non-traditional skill-sets
While much of the focus in ICT is on technical capability, finding the right skills to integrate into the vast volume of rapidly arriving data will require a different capability set. People with fine arts degrees, who have developed skills in rhetoric and building argument, will have significant opportunities given that they can construct arguments to query data and drive business insight. Negotiation, facilitation and networking skills, along with critical thinking, logic and problem solving, are becoming increasingly valuable.
Different generations of workers have different expectations and bring a variety of skills and attributes to teams. For example, millennials may be accused of not being able to focus, yet on the other hand, they have great ability in parallel processing various information streams. They also tend to have a heightened social conscience.
Agile development methodologies are important and require new ways of thinking, a change in corporate culture and a workforce that can adapt to shifting circumstances. Skills in portfolio management and strategic alignment remain important. However, some of that discipline has been lost as agile teams work more loosely and with flexible deliverables. As a result, things can drift off track.
With the correct mix of people, it’s possible to have effective, strategic portfolio management that can adapt to changing business imperatives. The key is having the right people, at the right time, to deliver what the business needs when it’s needed.
For more information on managing, delivering and working within an agile workforce please phone us today on 1300 70 13 14.