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By 'workforce management' I mean the things they do to help their employees be the best they can be in an organisational setting. Organisations that are serious about this have a clear direction, developed via a workforce management strategy or a broader people strategy. They have asked themselves fundamental questions such as: what kind of organisation are we? What are we here to do? Who are we here to serve? What is our purpose? After they have thought about the processes they need for effective workforce management, they can start to think about the technology it will require.
Some organisations utilise HR technology brilliantly — although, for others, it's a development area. HR professionals need to be more digitally aware because this is an area that is full of innovation which can help them in so many ways.
Organisations have to start with the basics and think about which processes, interactions, activities and policies will be made easier with technology: for example, basic transactional activities such as time and attendance. Once the basics are covered, an organisation can start to think about how it might use technology to develop a more strategic approach to HR.
An organisation that is more flexible with its communication policy is likely to be more comfortable working with employees in the area of engagement and motivation. So it might use platforms such as social media to enable its people to communicate with each other inside and outside of the company. Those companies are also more likely to be flexible about how, when and where their people work — and treat them like adults. They understand the connection between employee motivation, satisfaction and productivity.
For example, Cafcass, the biggest employer of social workers in the country, has used technology to drive performance management in a very inspirational way, linking good performance to a reduction in sign off of work. Which means that if you're a really high performer, you won't have anyone signing off your work. Now that is very rare — but what a motivator! Employees feel rewarded by the trust placed in them.
Some organisations will run a staff survey once every year or two, which is pointless because by the time the data is analysed, it's out of date. Use of real-time data allows trends to be identified that could result in changes in direction or the introduction of new approaches.
It can be used to enhance communications within a company in so many ways, be it top down, sideways, or bottom up. It's great for real-time communication, so that people know what's happening immediately within their organisation, link to it and share their opinion about it.
It drives collaboration among employees — particularly with mobile workers or workers who are not in the same geographical location — because it helps bring them together.
It's also a great learning tool — a way for people to ask questions and get quick answers in return; and, for recruitment, it's an opportunity to create communities of interest. Plus it's useful for research purposes.
Organisations are less fearful of social media these days. I remember when it started to become commonplace and there was panic in the boardrooms because of the worry of what employees might say about their employers. But leaders have found that if they treat their people as adults, most are relatively sensible.
People like working for organisations which have a good brand reputation. Now, this can't be window-dressing: it has to be more than just use of social media and a bit of brand management. Fundamentally, it's about how employees are treated. This is important because today's technology allows employees to talk openly about their experiences at work on sites such as Glassdoor, for example. As such, staff either become advocates for the organisations they work for — or assassins. If people talk a company up it helps it become more successful and more influential in attracting talent. But organisations have to be aware: it can work the other way, too.
The article first appeared in HR Technology, November 2016