Engage Your Workforce to Move Past “Us Versus Them”

By Pat Heydlauff

Maximizing the productivity of staff, such as call center agents, is a huge leadership challenge today. Increased efficiency and productivity means increasing razor-thin profitability. The answer lies in connecting the communication dots by tying workforce productivity to the organization’s performance, but how?

The mentality of “us versus them” is the root cause of this challenge, and it is also where you begin to find the solution. Those who seek success without regard to relational costs to the workforce may succeed at first but will lose in the long term. Focus on what brings leadership and the workforce together, not what creates a chasm of distrust, disharmony, and disregard for everyone, including the company itself.

Engaged Leadership: Leadership’s primary focus should be on improving their effectiveness in engaging their workforce. The result is that the more engaged employees are, the more invested they are in the outcome, which means improved organizational performance, increased revenues, and profitability. When you tie workforce productivity to company performance, everyone wins.

A recent Harvard Business Review study, “Connecting Workforce Analytics to Better Business Results,” rated productivity, flexibility, collaboration, and engagement as the most important workforce attributes, noting that engagement is key. The human resources director of one of their European study participants stated, “At the end of the day, the performance of our staff can mean more money or not.”

Workforce Planning: The study further stated that the biggest difference between organizational failure and success is having a formal approach to workforce planning and optimization. While there are many considerations when developing a plan, it should include the following elements.

Focus on the Outcome: In order to maximize workforce productivity and organizational performance, the plan must be developed with focus placed on the desired outcome. The desired outcome comes first and must be measurable. Leadership from all areas of the organization, whether directly affected or not, should be involved in this step.

What one department leader might believe is the desired outcome could conflict with another leader’s ongoing operations or size of the workforce. Expose all of the negative concerns, as well as the positive possible benefits. Then, the outcome must also be supported 100% by the team. Inside sabotage will easily create unnecessary slowdowns and distractions.

For now, hold off on considering how this will happen. That is best saved for the next step.

Connect Productivity to Organizational Outcomes: Communicate, communicate, communicate! It is leadership’s mandate to communicate not only the new desired outcome, but also why it is important to the workforce, how the new outcome will improve the performance of company – and, in turn, how this benefits the workforce.

This step is critical for tying workforce performance to the organizational outcome. This type of communication must be circular or orbital in nature. It cannot be a one-way street. Leadership must have the workforce play back their understanding of the outcome and how it benefits both them and the company. When you get this step right, everything else will go smoothly.

Once the orbital flow of communication has effectively been implemented, proceed with creating the “how” by involving everyone on each team in the process. This is where the best innovations are given life. This is also the step that will provide the best employee buy-in. Be sure the “how” step includes measurable results.

Develop Programs to Enhance Effectiveness: Next, it is time for the original leadership team to reconvene to determine what training and new skills the workforce might need to enhance the success of the outcome. Some evaluation should also be done at this stage to determine if certain employees need to be mentored for future leadership needs. Develop the programs necessary to nurture future leaders and upgrade the skills of the workforce. That is part of the benefits for the workforce, and it needs to be effectively communicated once the decision is made.

Conclusion: The success of this plan is determined by how well you communicate and engage your workforce. Productivity is not based on an “us versus them” mentality, but rather a more productive and profitable “we.”

Pat Heydlauff speaks from experience. She works with organizations that want to create an environment where employees are engaged, encouraged, and involved, and with people who want to be in control, anxiety-free, and confident. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Engage, How to Lead with Power, Productivity, and Promise. She can be reached at 561-799-3443.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]