Be Flexible to Modern Staffing Challenges

By Tom Harnish on 28 March 2011 (Updated 19 April 2011) 0 comments
Photo: AtomicSparkle

Recent research by the pollsters at Gallup shows that 54 percent of American workers don’t have their head in the game, and 18 percent are “actively disengaged” — blocking other worker’s drive for accomplishments. Workers are burned out, bummed out, and, according to researchers Right Management, more than 80 percent are ready to go play on a new team.

Baby Boomers who haven’t already left the field soon will. Gen X-ers who watched their parents work themselves into the ground, aren’t following. The Gen Y crew grew up independent, tech savvy, and were taught to question authority.

This is not your father’s workforce. What they all want more than a steady job is the flexibility to determine for themselves where, when, and how they work. They want to come and go when they please, and they want to work at home, in a coffee shop, or even on the beach when it suits them.

"Well, that’s nice for them," you say, "but I have a business to run. Exactly how am I supposed to manage my people if I can't see them?"

Have you looked around lately? Elvis has left the building, and so have your employees. They’re working at your customer’s office, on an airplane or in hotel room, or overseas. The ones who haven't left, if they aren’t standing in front of a customer, are sitting in front of a computer screen.

The fact is, whether your employees are down the hall or thousands of miles away, if you aren’t measuring results, you really don’t know who’s working and who isn’t.

For a technologically adept workforce in a global, mobile workplace old management styles don’t work. “While carrots and sticks worked successfully in the 20th century, it’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people today,” writes management author Dan Pink in Drive.

Once considered just an HR strategy, companies are embracing results-based management and flexible work as an essential business strategy. They’ve learned that when they ignore the where, when, and how work is done, and focus on results, their people are more productive, more creative, and more successful.

What’s more, this new way of working allows companies to do more with less — less buildings, less pollution, less overtime, and less waste. Employees are doing more with less too — less stress, less distractions, less commuting. For companies, that all translates into greater loyalty, engagement, and productivity.

Cavemen understood the concept. You find food, you eat. You don’t, you starve. Pre-industrial revolution artisans, farmers, and merchants understood it too. You work, you eat. You don’t, you starve.

Then came the industrial age. Huge capital investment in machinery offered new capabilities and efficiencies, and factories were born. Suddenly, there was no longer a direct link between how hard you worked and how well you ate.

According to Peter Drucker, management techniques introduced in the early 1900s, including assembly lines, were responsible for the “tremendous surge of affluence (that) lifted the working masses in the developed countries well above any level recorded before….” And they also turned satisfying work produced by skilled craftsman into simple, boring tasks with no room for creativity.

Today’s workforce is better educated, more diverse, and more demanding. Routine manufacturing jobs have taken a back seat to knowledge jobs. Low-cost technology has removed the barriers to remote work.

Dan Pink again, in Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working For Yourself, “In an age of inexpensive computers, wireless handheld devices, and ubiquitous low cost connections to a global communications network, workers now own the means to production.”

What that means is you can now use “just-in-time” human resource management techniques, the same as you do for inventory management. Outsourcing allows you to obtain the best people for the job, when you need them, without taking on a fixed cost.

Meanwhile, the majority of Baby Boomers are at or near the highest rung of the corporate ladder they’re likely to achieve. The raises, promotions, and accolades that once motivated them have been replaced by thoughts of retirement, aging parents, mortality, and “what do I really want out of life?” Seventy percent want to continue to work, but they want to do it on their terms. Many are eyeing self-employment as an option.

Gen X, the first latch-key kids, watched their workaholic parents climb the corporate ladder. They learned the reality of employer loyalty from the layoffs of the early 80’s. They grew up with technology. They’re independent souls because they had to be. As a result, they value freedom — they want to do things on their terms.

Gen Y, grew up questioning their parents, and now they’re questioning their employers. They’re confident, tech-savvy, happy to communicate virtually and eager to be part of a team. They question authority, and have high expectations for their employers. They’re not in it for a gold watch.

Winning companies understand this transformation and the cultural changes it demands. They’ve already taken steps to:

  • make work flexible;
  • manage their salaried, hourly, and contingent workforce by what they do, not where, when, or how they do it; and
  • adopt the tools and technologies that make flexible work possible.

Have you?

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