Solomon Bruce Consulting Blog

Monday, February 22, 2016

Workload Alignment Results in Harmony

     Educators love to talk about alignment.  Curriculum alignment, core competency alignment—whatever-needs-improvement alignment!  As a recovering college dean, I understand and respect the importance of alignment.  Nowhere is this more critical than with workload staffing.

     Having the right individual in the right job at the right time is crucial for organizational success.  When the individual, time and job all align, is optimized.  However, when any one factor is out of alignment, don’t be surprised at the resulting turmoil, difficulty and lack of organizational harmony.

     Review your organization for proper workforce alignment.  If you have one or more factors out of alignment, take the necessary actions to bring everything back to a synchronized order.  Actions can range from redefining the job, changing the tasks or having a different individual performing the job.  Don’t be afraid to make changes. This can be difficult. But when alignment is completed, you will be amazed at the results and corresponding workforce harmony that results.

When the Difficult Conversation Is Required

         A new client recently called and asked how to have a tough conversation with an employee, a valued individual contributor to the firm for several years. Unfortunately, during the prior six months, the team member had become more and more confrontational and argumentative each and every week.  My client had not documented expectations or the weekly issues. He neglected to advise the employee about career counselling or to have the disciplinary discussions when the issues transpired. He lamented both how he got there and anguished over what to do next.  To avoid this in your business, try this:

          First, be sure to clearly detail duties and expectations.  If the organization is large enough to have an employee assistance program, immediately upon learning of or experiencing an issues, refer the party for assistance.  However, if your firm is a small one, and if you call the employee on the behavior and suggest improvement, then none occurs, you may have to have additional conversations. 

          Should you be in a position to have to deal with an untenable situation, one in which no improvement ensues after those direct conversations, you must offer the employee the opportunity to find more suitable, gainful employment elsewhere. Yes, these are difficult conversations. But they are necessary. Then, when you have to discharge an employee for failure to conform to organizational expectations, provide the following:

  •        A week of severance pay for each year of employment. 
     ·                     A time and place for the individual to turn in all keys, credit cards, computers and any other company issued equipment immediately. 
  •          Immediate assignment to change all access codes, locks, combinations to safes, doors, computer passwords and email accounts.
  •           An escort from the premises.  Once the employee has left the premises, review the workload that he/she was responsible for.  See which other individual contributors on the team can pick up the work in the short term.  Review the workload for restructure or reorganization.  Often times, you will find that work reorganization was what was needed all along; the situation at hand was the catalyst for implementation. 

     I know. This is neither pleasant nor fun.  But it’s necessary. At the end of the day, you, the leader, are responsible for overall corporate profitability.  Removing an unproductive employee or a bad apple is often the sole antidote to improve effectiveness and overall morale in your organization.

Feeling Overstuffed? Maybe You’re Overstaffed. Start from Zero, and Find Out.

     Two months into 2016, and we think, “Where has the time gone?” With the economy in a turbulent, oscillatory state, the days seem even fuller. Concerns are amplified. Costs loom large. Business leaders are even more apprehensive about expenses when turmoil reigns than in more tranquil times. Recurring questions loom large: Are we running this enterprise as efficiently and effectively as possible?” “How can we increase profitability, efficiency and effectiveness and stay in business?” To find your answer, use a zero-based budget. Doing so will expose clearly the two most significant costs [RR1] of any business -- direct and indirect labor.

·              Direct labor includes the individuals who are actually making production happen—the folks that who physically do the work, from welding and truck driving to packaging. Without direct labor, there is no product, no sales, and no profit!

·              Indirect labor centers in the back office—the accounting, marketing, human resources and executive staff that are needed to create the environment within which the product is produced and support the direct labor force.

     Start from zero. Identify all of the contributions that each individual on your team provides to the overall enterprise.  Be honest and forthright, giving credit where credit is due.  A zero based budget approach will identify areas in which staff are not productively engaged for an entire work day and areas where additional resources may be required in order to perform at optimum levels. You’ll yield the data that managers or senior leaders can mine to realign resources which are best suited for organizational efficiency. By identifying individual contributors who are overworked and others do not have enough work to be productively employed all day long, you can make intelligent changes, effectively reallocate the resources and yield savings.

     In some instances, you might cross-train employees may be able to learn new tasks and assignments so they can stay on the job.  In other cases, the skill set that a current employee possesses and the new skill set required for accomplishing needed tasks may dictate either more extensive job retraining or additional skill acquisition. And remember mentoring. Often, baby boomer employees lack the digital dexterity of many millennial employees. Millennials lack institutional knowledge. Mentoring helps both employee generations.

     A recent Business Week article addressed how some companies are adapting using mentoring to mine existing resources and prepare millennial generation employees for company leadership roles. By the year 2020, millennial age employees will be the primary workforce members. Get them ready! Baby boomer employees with years of institutional knowledge can share it with newer, the millennial generation employees. Those millennials will help baby boomers understand and utilize new digital technology, from computer programs, tablets, and phablets to the plethora of digital devices and inter web assets that are the lifeblood of the workplace today.

     A zero-based budget workforce audit provides a data-driven construct to reorganize and restructure the current organization.  You will make best use of additional human resources, find areas where workload demands have changed, and enable additional capacity for identified employees who can segue into adaptive roles, those with the ability to take on more work within a lean organization. Keep in mind that if everyone on the team starts working 80-hour work weeks, either you will need more staff or further redesign the work. Of course, if an employee is unwilling or unable to learn new skills or take on more, he or she might be directed to find an opportunity elsewhere.

     Rather than being overstuffed, your team will be best served running “one person short.” Don’t carry underutilized or unnecessary extra staff. The goal is full-engagement:  everyone knows what is expected of them and what has to be done by days’ end.  This demands a balanced, rational approach. To be prepared, carefully review your workload, review the team assignments, and you may find that with creativity and realignment, you can trim the ship, increase profitability and ensure organizational effectiveness.