Is Your Workforce Your Competitive Advantage?

In Wisconsin, our unemployment rate is 3.4%.  While that speaks well of efforts to return jobs, it also causes problems for businesses.

In most communities here, help wanted signs are everywhere.  They are hanging on fences, are in store windows, and on signs stuck in the ground at intersections.  Many businesses struggle to find workers and when they do they lose them to other businesses who increase their wages.

How is a business to compete in an environment like that?  Is it time to recognize the competitive advantage your workforce can bring?

Believe it or not, there are many ways to do that.  It starts with a strong commitment to organizational leadership to change the way your workforce is utilized, viewed and ultimately developed.  It is a process that is done before Lean, Before Six Sigma, before any other initiative or undertaking, you have to improve your business.

The first step in the process is to understand and accept that your workforce is directly responsible for the success of your business.  Further, in order to ensure your workforce executes everything in your business strategy flawlessly, you have to do all you can to generate a workforce with the culture, mindset, competencies and strategic behaviors to do that.  Sounds like a mouthful but with a properly skilled human resources team, or the external support to help your current team, you can, in fact, make your “people are our most important asset” slogan a strong reality.  This is done by changing the focus of your leadership, management, and human resources.  The focus must be changed to that of workforce performance.  What?  Not focus on production of providing quality service?  Exactly.  The reason is simple.  Your workforce accomplishes those things and if the workforce is successful, then your production and service will be too.  Further, the workforce will achieve that always sought after employee engagement that the pundits have been telling you are important for the last 15+ years.

The three areas you need to focus on are:

  1. Leadership and workforce behaviors – these are nothing more than those things your leadership and workforce need to do, the performance they must demonstrate, in order for your business to achieve success.
  2. Workforce skills and competencies – The Knowledge, Skills, and abilities your workforce must have to execute your strategy. That means not only doing their jobs but excelling at it.  Sometimes this also includes their having the right personality to do the work.
  3. Workforce values and culture – This means that you and the workforce understand that some jobs in your business have a greater influence on your strategy than do others. That your high-performance culture is not just words but that it is executed and managed effectively.  This is how you differentiate your business from your competition – and win.

None of the above is a cheerleading exercise involving new slogans or campaigns to rally everyone around a new initiative.  This is a committed effort developed, planned and executed by skilled professionals that drive success in your business.

All of these things not only must be identified, planned for and executed, they must also be measured.  While this is a team effort between management and HR, much of the measurement design will fall squarely on your HR team.  HR’s primary focus will not be on administrative efficiency and compliance.  Rather, it will be on developing measurable workforce performance that creates a sustained competitive advantage for the business.  This means investing more in your employees with a keen eye on ensuring that an ROI is achieved from that investment.  That ROI is not achieved through staffing level manipulations.  It is achieved through the improved performance and productivity of the workforce with the increase in profits being shared, in part, as a reward for that increase.

What Comes From Your Workforce?

Your Workforce must clearly identify your business capabilities.  According to Dave Ulrich in a December 1999 survey in his book Best Practices in Leadership Development and Organizational Change, these things are:

  • Speed to market
  • Talent Acquisition
  • Capacity to learn
  • Innovation
  • Shared Mindset
  • Accountability

Your leadership must not only have the tools and skills to do this, they must also have the selfless behaviors to do this.  In other words, they have to be able to be self-critical too.

What Should HR Deliver?

The key elements that your HR must deliver in this are:

  • Identification of those things that drive strategy execution,
  • Identification of the gaps between what is and what needs to be,
  • Development of processes and methods to close the gap, and
  • Measurement of the outcomes.

An initiative such as this will improve performance and productivity, reduce turnover, make recruiting easier and position your business as a leader in its industry.

So why not start on it now?  Get your leadership and HR moving forward on this.  If they don’t know how I know someone who can help.  It’s your business – you decide.