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The Art of Building & Maintaining An Effective Workforce

Post Date: March 16th, 2010

A Phoenix Business Journal Article

By George Cappannelli  

Starting In The Right Place – Building and maintaining an effective workforce is not an easy job, especially in these complex times when the composition of the workforce has changed so dramatically and so many of the rules of doing business are in a state of flux.   Still, easy or not, a large number of individuals in this workforce – from CEO’s to line personnel – recognize that a well functioning workforce is both a critical and an essential factor in the success of any business. 

If this is the case, why do so many organizations make the same costly mistakes over and over again in this critical area?  The first and perhaps most costly is that a lot of organizations have gotten into the habit of viewing their workforce through the same eyes and utilizing the same measurements they apply to their physical plant, inventory, materials, etc.  While this may make sense from an accounting standpoint, in the end it makes little or no sense from a productivity and performance standpoint.  A workforce is comprised of people, and people, fortunately for us and unfortunately for accountants, do not fit into neat little columns.

As obvious as this might be, too many organizations do not understand this fact.  Nor do they demonstrate an understanding of a couple of other essential elements.  Too often they forget that the primary reason they exist is to serve the genuine needs of their customers, clients and their people.   What about profitability?  Yes, it’s essential, but it is only one of criteria we should be using to measure an organization’s success.  

What’s so earthshaking about this awareness?  Everything.  If your organization wants to build and maintain an effective workforce it cannot afford to view or treat people as a commodity.  It cannot try to get by doing only what is minimal or necessary to support them.   It cannot forget that the process of developing people requires time, energy and investment.

With time at such a premium, manpower at reduced levels and the chart of accounts the primary tracking system, remembering these things is not easy.   However, calling upon the Director of Human Resources or Organizational Development to find ways to increase efficiency and profitability and then giving them a ridiculously low budget and far too few resources will not get the job done.  

Even in a world as complex and economically challenged as ours, organizations have to take the time to map workforce development against company vision, to articulate effective and realistic training and career path goals – goals that are relevant to human beings not to physical plant and materials.   Even in a business climate as competitive as this, organizations have to take the time to establish best practices and develop policies and procedures that actually support people in building strong interpersonal relationships, communicating effectively, and contributing meaningfully to the goals of the organization.  This is not “touchy feely stuff.”  This is bottom line stuff!

Who has the time and money for this?   Whoever wants an effective workforce!   In the language of navigation this means an organization has to decide on its destination, chart its course and remember why it is taking the journey.  It means the organization has to keep its eyes on the “real” bottom line by remembering that building true teaming, ensuring good working conditions, providing excellent benefits, instituting strong training and career development programs, and encouraging sufficient balance between personal and professional lives are not perks.  They are the direct correlates to profitability, productivity, performance and employee job satisfaction.   

Success Is No Accident – So if you want your organization to navigate the often turbulent currents of today’s complex business environments; if you want to create a workforce that is loyal and committed to the best and highest goals of your organization remember –  people are your greatest asset; the source of your intellectual capital, innovation, and new product and service development.   People are the means by which the needs of customers and clients are satisfied.  They are the engine that drives process improvement, new skill development and the smooth and effective implementation of change.  On the other side of the coin, organizations that fail to remember this point inherit a number of ills. They lose good people, experience low levels of trust, poor communications, poor customer service, reduced performance and decreasing profit margins.  

Let’s recap a few simple rules about effective workforce development.  

Put people first
Invest in the solid training and development programs
Include people at all levels in the decision making process
Keep communication channels open up and down the organization
Provide sufficient challenge and responsibility
Encourage and reward risk
Provide excellent benefits
Support a balanced lifestyle

Other Things You Can Do 

Ask your people what contributes most to their performance.
Include members of the workforce in all workforce design & policy issues.
Benchmark & implement the best practices in workforce development
Keep your programs as simple and relevant as possible.
Treat change and continuous improvement as your allies.
Celebrate and acknowledge people continually at all levels.

What’s the bottom line?  If you want to have a dynamic, powerful, effective and profitable workforce, start treating people as if they are your most valued customers.   And commit this old adage to memory – If you think education (workforce development) is expensive, try ignorance!”

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