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Put your employees first this year

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Mary Clarke says that this year companies will have to pay closer attention to their human capital management and that workforce planning should be top of their agenda. In this article she discusses why and how businesses can start to put their employees first.

The recession has taken its toll not only on business profits but on the workforce, as they have had to bear the brunt of cuts, redundancies and have their career development overlooked while business owners have focused on keeping the business afloat.

However, there is only so long a company can ignore their employees before the cracks start to show - either in terms of poor behaviour and attitude or in high employee turnover. This year, businesses will need to start putting their employees first and look at how they nurture and manage them better to avoid high attrition rates.

Economists are predicting limited growth of less than 1% this year and the possibility of a triple dip recession. Despite the doom and gloom, it's time for companies to take workforce planning seriously again. It is something that is often neglected during tough times. However, a business is only as successful as its people and without a happy, well-trained, competent and engaged workforce – an organisation will grow stale, unproductive and unprofitable.

On the other hand, if a business can adopt a cradle-to-grave approach to workforce planning and development so that it continues whatever the economic outlook they are far more likely to succeed. Workforce planning is an essential component in any successful business. It ensures a company has the necessary resources in place to handle current workloads and pressures. It also ensures it will be ready for the recovery, that the skills and knowledge of the workforce are being used effectively and their performance and productivity is being optimised.

To address workforce planning, some companies will need to re-think the culture that exists within their business first. As we have seen in the banking sector, a culture that is focused on profits can be detrimental to the wellbeing of employees. In recent times, the sector’s reputation has been tarnished and this will not only have had an impact on employees working in the sector, but could also prevent such organisations retaining and attracting talent. By taking steps to change their culture, companies can help improve employee behaviour, enhance their wellbeing and morale and importantly, help reduce risk by improving employee behaviours.

Understanding workforce competency is the first step

However, the core to successful workforce planning in 2013 for any organisation, whatever its size is to first understand its workforce competency. This is one area companies tend to struggle with and the truth is many managers lack insight into the skills and knowledge of their people. Whilst many companies have robust recruitment processes to put new recruits through their paces using psychometric and competency assessments, this is often the last time employees are assessed.

"Workforce planning is an essential component in any successful business. It ensures a company has the necessary resources in place to handle current workloads and pressures."

Typically, employees will move through the ranks in a company, without their competency and knowledge ever being tested again, a factor which could be placing the company at unnecessary risk. This lack of insight can lead to other problems. If managers don’t know how competent their employees are, they won’t understand their training and development needs. Managers might also overlook star performers who are able to take on greater responsibility or who could be used in other areas of the business. Worse, they may fail to spot weaker individuals who may misunderstand key aspects of their role or in the worst case scenario aren’t fit to practice.

One way that companies can gain a better understanding of their workforce is by putting in place competency frameworks for every role in the business. Such frameworks can be mapped against national standards and will define the core competencies needed for roles as well as the desired level of knowledge, motivation, behaviour and experience.

Without fully understanding what each role requires, it is difficult to generate a clear career pathway for individuals. Defining the types of knowledge areas, behaviours, skills, experiences, and motivations for each role will also clarify what resources exist already in the organisation and where the gaps lie. If a business doesn’t know this, then how can it prepare its recruitment plans going forward?

Once in place, new recruits and existing employees can be then assessed against these competency standards, in order to give managers greater insight into their performance. This information will lead to better recruitment decisions, improved talent and performance management, more targeted training and development and easier succession planning.

Measuring employee development

The next challenge is how to accurately measure employee development against these frameworks. One solution is introducing customised assessments that can help achieve these measurements because they provide accurate, factual and objective results.

The assessments that tend to produce the most accurate results are those with well-designed questions which are validated by occupational psychologists and meet international/national standards. The questions are mapped against the ‘ideal’ competencies for every job role within a company and based on realistic scenarios that an employee would encounter in their job. That way the results are meaningful and highlight accurately how well a person understands aspects of their role, how they apply knowledge, their decision making and their attitude or behavior.

Customised employee assessments work best if they test employees in work-based scenarios, asking them a series of multiple response style-questions that can't be guessed. Assessments that measure a combination of competency, knowledge and confidence will also identify quickly any knowledge gaps, areas of misunderstanding or employees with low confidence which could impact their decision making. 

The results provide rich data for managers and a rounded picture of an individual. They will reveal not only how competent a person is but their likely behaviour and attitude when performing their role. Managers will be able to see where additional and specific training and support is needed and this information could also form the basis of a future training and development plan.

By gaining such insights into their employees, organisations are able to deliver more tailored and cost effective training programmes and better manage their employee career progression. It can also help managers address and eradicate any unacceptable employee behaviour by providing targeted interventions that improve individual performance. Managers will also understand their workforce better – how they perform, behave on the job and what makes them tick.

It is not surprising that the impact of the past few difficult years has led many companies to neglect employee development. However, this year, this will need to change if businesses want to retain their core talent. 

Putting in place competency frameworks and using regular competency assessments managers can really help companies improve their human capital management and workforce planning. By putting their people first in 2013, businesses will be in a much stronger position and more able to reap the rewards as the economy starts to grow again.

Mary Clarke is CEO of Cognisco

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