The State Of Workforce Management… And Those Responsible For It

It was pointed out to me recently I’ve written 100 Linked In posts. That calls for an assessment of whether anything of value has been offered or if it just involved filling the digital space.

At least no trees had to be sacrificed.

I have decided to create this post by using some of the themes covered over the last two years, but focusing on what those responsible for workforce management should be competent to do well and what they should actually be doing.

  • First, they should possess business acumen. 👔 In order to serve an organization it is necessary to address the issues it faces and to contribute to mission fulfillment. If one does not understand the business of the organization this is not possible. Practitioners in the Human Resource function must know what the organization needs and be able to help meet those needs. But so must every manager, supervisor and lead person, and each must recognize their responsibility for workforce management and to invest the needed effort on making their people effective.
  • Second, they must base recommendations/decisions on an analysis of all relevant evidence. 📊Historically this meant applying the skills and knowledge gained through education and experience, supplemented by an appropriate dose of intuition and creativity. Of late the emphasis is on the use of workforce analytics. Certainly the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning can augment human judgment… but it cannot replace it. Applying analytical tools to databases can disclose relationships, such as correlations. But these correlations may be statistical artifacts… sufficiently tortured data will confess to anything. And the need to innovate in today’s competitive world may limit what analytics can do. Trying to predict the future based on data that is limited to what was and what is a high risk endeavor. The effective integration of technology and people has been a theme since socio-technical systems thinking came on the scene decades ago… and it has become even more critical with the advent of new technology.
  • Third, they must understand cognitive bias and its impact on the perceptions of employees. 👨‍💼 Research in Behavioral Economics and Neuroscience have disclosed almost 100 types of bias that are within us all. Though bias removal cannot be done surgically managers can recognize what impact biases are likely to have and can create a dialogue with employees that may lessen the unwarranted employee dissatisfaction biases cause. For example, we all think we are better than we are. This impacts employee perceptions about what their contributions are and what their rewards should be… and their perceptions are their reality.
  • Fourth, they must understand the impact of cultural diversity in workforce management. 🙏Even organizations operating in one U.S. location will be likely to have employees who originated somewhere else in the world or be the product of another cultural heritage. Cultural diversity will result in different values and beliefs, which will impact what employees believe to be appropriate. The widespread focus on individual performance in the West may be seen as wrongheaded by people from a more collectivist culture. Hierarchical, top-down management may be viewed as inappropriate by those who are more egalitarian in their beliefs. Managers must recognize cultural differences when they exist, they must respect that people have a right to hold different beliefs, and they must reconcile the issues caused by cultural differences.
  • And fifth (not going to do ten), they must understand: 1. The scientific method, 2. What makes research sound and relevant, and 3. Statistical and mathematical tools relevant to workforce analytics. ⚙️This may require going back to school, but there are a wealth of online training options that can be used to augment knowledge and skills. An example of how critical this knowledge is would be the recent proliferation in the pop literature of claims that extrinsic rewards destroy intrinsic rewards. These claims are based on lab studies, such as a popular one involving throwing tennis balls at targets. Even though a lab research study is well designed and passes the internal validity test it may not be generalizable to the field (have external validity). That means the context within which the study was done must be consistent with the context within which one tries to apply the research results to. This attempt to generalize lab findings to the field is a failure and results in wrong conclusions…there is extensive field research that contradicts the lab result. Without the necessary knowledge to evaluate the validity of research practitioners may draw erroneous conclusions and make poor decisions about workforce management. The fact that so many read material espousing flawed research is evidence that there is inadequate competence in this area.

One additional thought on the debates that arise relative to sound workforce management. Most of them should not be debates at all. We live in a Quantum Physics/Fuzzy Logic kind of world today, where “both – and” replaces “either –or.” The current proliferation of articles debating whether year-end performance appraisals or continuous measurement and feedback are necessary could all be combined into one that says you have to have both. That would save lots of tree and free up a lot of digital space.

This author believes an organization’s people are its most important asset. Workforce management therefore is one of the most critical responsibilities given to those who manage people. The quality of managers given that responsibility and the adequacy of investment in their training will have a profound impact on the organization’s performance and its viability in the future. Training may be expensive but cost out the alternatives.