Kim Lewin: Overcoming the five roadblocks to workforce management success

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A roadblock to success
A roadblock to success

More than 17 percent of new technology initiatives fail, sometimes, according to McKinsey, generating large enough cost overruns so as to put an organisation’s future in jeopardy. Even successful projects often fail to achieve the full range of intended benefits. In the case of a technology project seeking to hit its mark – from staying on budget to achieving the desired results – these failures can often be traced back to shortcomings in how the human element of the project was managed.

For example, workforce management systems bring substantial benefits to how the workforce is scheduled, managed and paid. Implementing a new workforce management solution affects stakeholders throughout the business, from line employees and management to human resources and from payroll administrators to senior executives.

Stop thinking change

Before implementing a workforce management solution, it is critical to make the distinction between change and transition. Change management has been the mantra for years; but masks a fundamental problem. The focus is on the change when it should be on the transition surrounding the change. A subtle distinction but one that makes all the difference for a successful rollout.

Change is situational; transition is psychological. Letting go of familiar processes can be stressful. Transition encompasses much more than an adjustment to strategy, system or process; it requires individuals to replace what is comfortable and familiar with something that is new and foreign.

Further complicating the matter, individuals move through transitions at different speeds and exhibit different comfort levels when facing new challenges. Organisations invest significant time and resources when making a workforce management technology selection, but it is important to not lose sight of how the new solution will impact individuals.

Roadblocks to Successful Transition

Managing resistance is a key component of change, but there are other barriers to a successful transition.

Taking a centralised approach

A global workforce management initiative requires sensitivity to different cultural, regional and language requirements as well as different ways of working. Beyond communicating in local languages, pay close attention to how information is presented and requested. Where reading comprehension or language barriers may be further challenges, consider using graphics to communicate information. In instances where feedback is being solicited, bear in mind that some employees will be comfortable sharing their opinions openly whereas others will only express their thoughts privately or not at all.

Furthermore, not all employees will be starting from the same systems and processes. This initiative may be the first time some have used web-based workforce management solutions, or possibly the first web-based means of self-service in general, whereas other employee groups may be more advanced. Preferences for mobile access may be higher in countries that have exceptional 3G and 4G networks or among millennials who are accustomed to accessing everything from a smartphone or tablet.

Failing to address stakeholder needs

Successful transition requires selling the problem to the various stakeholders and answering questions such as why do we need a workforce management solution? How will it perform better than what we already have in place? How will it make us more effective?

All stakeholder groups must acknowledge the initial problems and the cost of not addressing them before they can begin to let go of the status quo. Creating a shared understanding of both the problem and the solution helps individuals let go of legacy processes and accept new ways of working.

Illustrating how the solution delivers better insight into work hours, pay and time off requests can frame the implementation of a new workforce management system from an employee’s view. It can also help managers to ensure they do not schedule workers beyond hours that are deemed safe, thereby demonstrating further concern for worker safety through a proactive approach to fatigue management.

The executive committee wants to know how the solution will impact the bottom line. Communicating the benefits of workforce visibility for improved productivity and more effective workforce planning can increase confidence. Furthermore, the inherent assurance of risk mitigation goes a long way with this audience.

Communication plays a large role in creating a shared understanding of the problem, the opportunity and the solution. Focus your communications on an individual perspective and illustrate how the solution will solve a problem, improve productivity or deliver benefits to that specific individual as well as the organisation.

Underestimating the magnitude of change

The leap from a manual to automated process creates a radical shift in how works gets done and can often create major upheaval as organisations take the opportunity to rethink and redesign processes. Employees can feel stressed or anxious because of the ‘loss’ of familiar processes that the change represents.

Not understanding or addressing the feelings of loss can increase resistance and delay the transition process. Instead, demonstrate empathy for employee anxieties and communicate transparently about what is going to change, what the process will look like and how it will solve problems.
Failing to address changing job requirements and responsibilities

New workforce management systems – and the accompanying changes in processes – will, understandably, be hard to absorb without understanding why the solution was implemented. The most critical information to convey early and often is how the new solution will change workforce management tasks and workflows for each stakeholder group.

Provide training and performance support on the job through the use of integrated business process and functional tasks, job aids, checklists, process flows, short tutorials and other learning enhancements to speed mastery and help users gain confidence with new processes and systems. Make sure to highlight where the new processes represent improvements in convenience, time, simplicity or other ways for the respective audience.

Not tackling privacy concerns directly

Workforce management enables the tracking of how much time is spent on a particular project. This granularity of detail is essential for employers but, wrongly communicated, reinforces Big Brother concerns. Yet, most employees will already record their time and, whether they realise it or not, managers and colleagues already notice whether they are in the office or not.

In most cases, the new solution is not introducing the concept of tracking hours and activities but lending more transparency and consistency to those existing processes. In addition, employees will be assured that their payslip is accurate, overtime pay correlates with hours worked and, potentially, employees will even gain more control over their schedule.

Conclusion

If you want to transform your workforce management processes in a lasting way, the best bet is to foster a sense of participation and involvement among all stakeholders.

Celebrating small wins can engender that sense of participation. While your strategic goals may be improved workforce productivity and performance, short-term wins must be visible and unambiguous. For instance, if timely recording of work hours is a goal, celebrate employees’ roles in accurately recording their time using the new system. Let them know that their participation is a defining element of success.

Clear improvements help discourage critics and turn reluctant sponsors into enthusiastic champions. More broadly, an informed team is most likely to feel involved in the transition, excited about the benefits and ready to embrace new best practices.

As organisations grow, so do the advantages of using labour data to inform business strategy. If the need for better labour data requires your organisation to implement a new workforce management solution, think ‘transition,’ not simply ‘change.’ Effectively managing the transition can keep a technology initiative on track, help employees focus on the benefits of the new solution and support a positive rollout with lasting results.

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About Kim Lewin

Kim Lewin is the Vice President for Sales and Operations at the leading workforce managment software provider WorkForce.

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