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Understanding and Enhancing Workforce Effectiveness

OPINION PIECE: A Formulated Guide to Understanding and Enhancing Workforce Effectiveness in the Pandemic-Impacted Digital Age

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Most progressive organizations have faced the challenges of increasing the effectiveness of their workforce, especially, due to the fast pace of the Digital Age that is brutally unforgiving of complacency in fulfilling strategic imperatives.  The respective challenges are often directly proportional to the combination of key compounding factors, e.g., size, complexity, geography, regulations, unions, internal power/succession struggles, organizational politics, multigenerational talent, etc., that can test the very best of leaders.  All types of organizations are impacted in the respective context, e.g., a Startup embarking upon the ‘scale-up’ stage and hiring new team members, an established organization trying to expand into a new market and seeking local talent to boost its ‘human’ assets, an ambitious business seeking vertical expansion through strategic acquisitions of allied corporate entities while going through right-sizing exercises and dealing with cultural alignment issues, etc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a ‘wake-up’ call to even the most robust corporate entities as prevalent business models have been upended by the primal fear of unforeseen situations due to ‘surviving in uncertainty’ gaining a profound new meaning with faltering customers/clients/stakeholders who have been forced to alter their lifestyles/expectations under a deluge of restrictive conditions, e.g., staying indoors during multiple lockdowns, taking necessary precautions with mutating viruses, interpreting mixed signals from bumbling government authorities, absorbing the backlog of supply chain impediments, etc.  This has galvanized progressive organizations to further strengthen initiatives relating to increasing the effectiveness of their workforces as the frantic calls for ‘all hands on deck’ reverberate throughout the corporate hierarchies with renewed urgency.  The following Workforce Effectiveness (WE) equation is being presented as a guide for optimally harnessing the realized/unrealized potential of available talent to achieve desired strategic imperatives:

WE = Workforce Constitution + Workforce Deployment

WE = E1(D+I(B+E2)) + W(R+E3(P1+P2))

E1 = Engagement, D = Diversity, I = Inclusion, B = Belonging, E2 = Equity, W = Wellbeing, R = Resourcefulness, E3 = Empowerment, P1 = Proficiency, P2 = Productivity

Workforce Constitution

This is the first part of the Workforce Effectiveness (WE) equation.  It focuses on the infusion of diverse talent throughout the organization as a baseline for astute talent management that is further strengthened by inclusivity which bolsters a keen sense of belonging in addition to amplifying the ‘felt-fairness’ element of organizational justice driven by equitable employment practices.  Such a makeup of the workforce is reinforced by a value-driven corporate culture manifesting in the form of steadfast engagement from a self-motivated workforce that revels in displaying organizational citizenship behavior to propel the organization through the good times and uplift it during the bad times.

Let’s test some extreme situations on the respective part as follows:

  • When E1 = 0, the whole part loses its significance as Engagement is the key amplifying factor for all the constituent elements
  • When D = 0, Inclusion amplifies the Belonging and Equity elements, however, the nature of such initiatives is only focused on the prevalent homogeneity within the workforce by elevating the marginalized/neglected talent
  • When I = 0, Diversity exists as primarily a marketing ploy without any form of Inclusion. Some Belonging might exist due to a natural affinity for the organization as a ‘paying’ employer, whilst, the existence of some convoluted form of Equity is more likely a manifestation of the whims of a nepotism-prone leadership that is inclined towards showering favors for loyalty
  • When B = 0, the organization becomes highly susceptible to ‘talent poaching’ by opportunistic competitors as the employees are merely sticking around for a better offer from outside the organization. Significant attrition levels, especially, within highly competitive industries, e.g., Tech, are generally a good indicator in the respective context
  • When E2 = 0, there is a dreadful lack of organizational justice  and the psychological contract is frequently broken while discontent reigns supreme within a large segment of the workforce that is unable to gain a favorable footing within the corporate hierarchy from the regressive leadership at the helm. Significant attrition levels are also observed in this case as a glaring consequence

Workforce Deployment

This is the second part of the Workforce Effectiveness (WE) equation.  It focuses on the astute channelization of the inherent human capital to boost the organization’s ability to stay relevant and competitive in the tricky dynamics of the Digital Age  especially, in terms of navigating through precarious situations emanating from the impact of catastrophic events, e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic.  It combines the skill levels and efficiencies of the employees with the amplified impact of empowerment and beckons the complementary ability to come up with innovative solutions through the prudent use of available resources while signifying the augmenting impact of wellbeing being critical for achieving the desired outcomes.

Let’s test some extreme situations on the respective part as follows:

  • When W = 0, the whole part loses its significance as Wellbeing is the key amplifying factor for all the constituent elements
  • When R = 0, there is a debilitating lack of ingenuity within the workforce and employees generally follow a prescribed and rigid set of policies/procedures/practices while possessing the necessary credentials to do the assigned role(s). Such an organization becomes a prime target for marginalization/obsolescence by ‘disruptive’ competitors
  • When E3 = 0, the organization is highly centralized and bureaucratic with a high power distance that is frequently manifested in chronic delays of critical operational activities due to ‘pending’ decisions. This is a common trait of an organization that stubbornly refuses to ‘delegate’ authority while sitting on the laurels of past accomplishments with an insecure leadership and/or occupying a dominant market share due to very high barriers of entry for ‘troublesome’ competitors
  • When P1 = 0, there is an appalling lack of skills within the workforce to do the assigned role(s) which leads to exorbitant costs of producing a product and/or providing a service complemented by an avalanche of customer/client complaints due to profound concerns pertaining to quality. It might be an indication that the principle of ‘right person for the right job’ is being flagrantly violated. Furthermore, this could also play into the hands of shrewd leadership that is looking for a pretext to automate operations as much as possible since ‘humans’ are simply deemed incapable of performing at the necessary level based upon the ‘available’ evidence
  • When P2 = 0, the efficiency levels within the organization are woefully inadequate and there is excessive ‘waste’ generated in relation to producing a product and/or providing a service. Additionally, a plethora of non-value activities become part of the business processes that become an unnecessary burden on the employees leading to highly stressful working conditions

The aforementioned Workforce Effectiveness (WE) equation embodies the needs and expectations of employees who have been rattled by the onslaught of challenges pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It has shaken their confidence in terms of sustaining ‘professional worthiness’ as jittery employers struggle with optimizing the headcount to remain a viable ‘going concern’ while actively seeking automation solutions to decrease the complexity of maintaining a ‘human’ workforce.  Meanwhile, job specifications seem to be getting increasingly meaningless despite the accumulation of necessary degrees /qualifications/certifications complemented by having the ‘right’ personality traits. Additionally, mental health issues continue to rise and are still a ‘taboo’ topic across the corporate landscape despite assurances by the leadership of progressive organizations that such challenges will not affect ‘career growth and progression’ of deserving professionals.  This is akin to the dilemma faced by professionals in terms of taking the ‘poison pill’ of being a ‘whistleblower’ due to the prospect of extremely negative repercussions on them and the terrible toll on their loved ones.

Interestingly, organizations that are in the process of recovery from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations are finding that the consequential/contingency decisions taken earlier in haste/panic to furlough/reduce the headcount have resulted in an unexpected situation as the affected employees have moved on to other options and are not available anymore to rejoin their previous organizations in the desired numbers.  Such a loss in the ‘intellectual capital’ and the associated ‘knowledge bank’ has also raised the hiring costs since new employees are looking for better pay packages from organizations racing to fill their ranks as the economic climate continues to improve and the foreboding clouds of a stagnant/shrinking economy yield to sunny outlooks for the foreseeable future.  This has also been observed with the current employees who continue to embrace the phenomenon of the ‘Great Resignation’  due to untenable situations at the workplace, the ‘delightful discovery’ of the freedom related to working from home, recalibration of personal/professional priorities, and/or the lure of better options elsewhere.  Furthermore, the hiring of new employees by ‘rebounding’ organizations is also being hampered by the rejection of qualified candidates due to poorly written job descriptions and the deployment of error-prone hiring software.

Consequently, Workforce Effectiveness (WE) needs to be unshackled from the confines of fancy corporate jargon and utilized appropriately for ensuring congruence between the desired objectives of the organization and its workforce for an affable and synergistic employment relationship between the two parties.  The formulated guide given above in the form of a Workforce Effectiveness (WE) equation elucidates a path for such an approach that can provide a robust solution to the foreseen/unforeseen challenges of the future without jeopardizing the long-term survival of the organization.  It is an ‘ode to proactive action’ that is designed to resonate with the conscientious leaders who have the mettle to frequently engage in an honest self-reflection and are bold enough to drive and institutionalize efficacious talent management practices, while facing passive/active resistance from influential quarters, that can serve as a reliable buffer against the daunting challenges of the pandemic-impacted Digital Age.  Are you that leader?

Author: Murad Salman Mirzalinkedin.com/in/muradsalmanmirza

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This article is part of the MEA HR Contributor Series. The author is an expert in their field and contributes to MEA HR & Learning. We are honored to feature and promote their contribution on our website. Please note that the author is not employed by MEA HR and the opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect official views or opinions of MEA HR.