Workforce Alignment Part 2: Managing Employee Skill Sets
In my last post on workforce alignment, I suggested that each part of your company should be well-informed about all aspects of the business so they can provide excellent service at any time. Perhaps you agree with this idea but aren’t sure how make it happen.
In this second post on workforce alignment, I will review the next steps for creating workforce alignment where it is lacking by many tactics, like managing employee skill sets. We’ll look at the topics of recruitment, retention, employee cross-training and company culture, and discuss how they can be changed to make your workforce more cohesive, productive and customer-friendly.
Removing Silos in the Workplace
In my previous post, I mentioned that, due to rapid growth, some companies can develop tunnel-vision. Once the initial rush of expansion slows down, certain parts of the company may feel deeply divided from one other because no efforts towards regular collaboration have been made. This is the point where the organization has to take stock of itself and make smart decisions to maintain a cohesive group.
If there are workplace silos and neglected areas of knowledge or customer service, those weak points should be addressed. Without addressing them quickly, long-term success is jeopardized.
Review Your Employee Recruitment Tactics
As you seek out and hire new employees, focus your attention on talent that can help create the collaboration and shared ethic you seek.
The following is a list of suggestions for making your employee recruiting process a part of creating workforce alignment in your company:
- Identify neglected areas. Be sure to get a cross-sectional view on this because, if it is only a top-down view, blind-spots will occur. Customer service will not be seamless. Prioritize the neglected areas.
- Identify the employee skill sets that are most important for improving the neglected areas. Again, get a cross-sectional view on this to eliminate blind-spots. Prioritize the skill sets.
- Assess how best to supply the needed employee skill sets. It may be from transfer within the organization, or by recruiting more workers. Perform an inventory of which employee skill sets you currently have on staff to help you make these choices.
I have an extra suggestion for discovering areas of customer service that require more attention: pretend you are a customer.
I am not suggesting that you become a “secret shopper” at your organization to find out where your service breaks down. Take a “20 question” approach. Start by asking someone who should know the answers. Ask how a type of common question would be addressed. Ask where the question would likely go first, and follow it on its hypothetical path through your organization. Assume a common level of patience on the part of the customer then consider the following issues:
- How many steps does it take before the customer gets an answer, or before a sale is made?
- How can we decrease those steps?
- Does it mean transferring or hiring people?
Consider Employee Retention
Now that the initial headlong rush that gave birth to the organization is over, are there too many employees on staff who do the same thing (for which demand has now lessened)? If so, would the employees be open to employee training development or being coached to expand their skill sets?
If so, these folks with repetitive employee skill sets may be your workforce for the neglected skill areas discussed above. You must decide if the organization will be able to carry them through a downturn in demand, in the expectation that demand will again pick up. This may be cheaper in the long- run than recruiting later. If the employees are redundant and not coachable to move into other areas, there may be in-house alternatives or it may be time to have a discussion with them about leaving the organization.
Employee Training Development and Cross-Training
Cross-training employees can be simple and inexpensive. In our case study in an earlier post, the owner of the company had a passion for the widget the company made. Employees were recruited to that part of the organization who were effective at selling the widgets, even if they didn’t have a passion for the widgets.
In that post I suggested that, in a situation such as this, the employees who answer the phone could help with sales if they were cross-trained. The phone team could be given a price list or a brochure by the sales staff to guide them in telling customers what the widget does and how much it costs. And that these folks on the phone should also have an order form so they can take orders after they sell the widgets they just told the customer about.
Likewise, the production end of the widget business needs to know if the sales end makes a commitment for getting a certain number of widgets to a customer by a set date, especially if the sale is extremely large. Preferably this happens before the sales commitment is made, but we all know when a customer is ready to buy, the deal is made first and we worry about the details later. But if sales had an idea of what is involved in production, they may have a more accurate picture of what is required to ramp up production to fill an unusually large order. Don’t tick off the people who can place large orders by over-promising and under-delivering.
Workplace Alignment in Your Employee Culture
Once you’re hiring smarter and cross-training your employees, you need to ask some other key questions about your company culture:
- Does our organization have an identity?
- Does it have a niche in the market?
- Is this identity or niche broad enough to keep it responsive to the market if the market changes?
- Does it have a way of doing things that does not change, no matter what the customers want?
One of the most poignant examples of failing to develop a company culture based upon being responsive is a company that used the phrase, “We don’t have to care. We’re (name of company).” They were so notorious for this attitude that some customers once put that on bumper-stickers and customarily put them on cars and trucks owned by that company. The end of that government-protected monopoly created entirely new industries, not just new competitors.
Another famous quote that came from a poor organizational culture was, “Customers can have any color they want, as long as it is black.” That one opened a lot of doors to a new company called General Motors. Some say General Motors closed those doors when they insisted the market really wanted SUVs and big trucks instead of fuel efficiency.
Workplace Mission Statements Must Reach All of Your Employees
Assessing organizational culture is often considered substantial in gauging the amount of change an organization can tolerate before it starts to resist change efforts. Employee recruitment, retention, and cross-training efforts can affect workplace culture, and workplace culture can affect recruitment, retention, and cross- training efforts. Alignment is more effectively reached when organizational efforts are made in all these areas.
There may be other areas I haven’t mentioned that are also important for you to consider in your organization. If certain parts of the organization do not support other parts, find out why and work to change that dynamic by altering the way they operate or perceive the customer.
If the organization’s mission is not clear to all employees, create a mission statement. Again, do this in a cross-sectional way so that all of the organization can see the logic in it from multiple perspectives. For our case study organization, a mission statement in its simplest form might be, “Sell widgets.”
Vision Statements Must Explain How
A vision statement will guide employees in how they fulfill the mission. For our case study, the organization’s mission might be to, “Facilitate the selling of widgets by acting as each customer’s account representative or concierge who escorts them through the sales process.” Clearly, the way these corporate mission statements are written will likely impact staffing and other organizational choices. That is how the statements facilitate workforce alignment. They are not necessary if all staff know what the company mission and vision are without having anything in writing.
Remind Your Employees: The Rewards of Workforce Alignment
I know I have posed many questions in this article without answering them all. My hope is that in answering them for your organization you will uncover the answers for how to align your own workforce. Since each organization is different, there are no cookie-cutter answers to solve each company’s unique needs. Instead, I have attempted to provide you with possible ideas or solutions to help.
In your struggles to achieve workforce alignment, remind your employees that the pay-off to them will be higher profits – assuming you pass along the higher profits to them in some way, of course. If you do not reward your employees in this or a similar fashion, I will certainly address that in a future blog!
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