Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The balanced workforce – 2: staff retention and right-sizing

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on February 10, 2011

This is my second posting on the balanced workforce, continuing a discussion I began with The Balanced Workforce – 1: advancement and promotions. My initial focus in this was on advancement and promotions, and balancing the needs of the individual employee, the team they work on, and the overall organization as a whole.

The need for a balanced workforce applies more widely than just to this set of circumstances, and it becomes pressing whenever the workforce on-staff is out of balance and not cost-effectively contributing to the business for its current or readily anticipated needs.

Addressing this means:

• Knowing what skills and experience are needed in-house and what might be best to bring in through consultants or other third party providers, when and as needed.
• Knowing where your cost and profit centers actually are, and who and what positions in fact do contribute to the top and bottom line, and to holding and securing market share. Note here that most businesses only have a rough idea at best as to where their line employees actually are in their systems, directly bringing in revenue and profit potential through their actions and job performance. Even services that have traditionally been viewed as support-only and as cost centers can include direct revenue and profit generation capabilities and can contribute to capturing and holding market share. Online support and enabling technology coming from the Information Technology department comes immediately to mind here, though virtually every department and service in most businesses holds potential for contributing significantly if not always directly to business profitability.
• Effective workforce balance serves to increase the proportion of workplace performance throughout the organization that directly and materially contributes to achieving mission and vision, and to strengthening the position of the business in its marketplaces.

I would address two issues here that at first glance may be viewed as in some way diametrically opposed: staff retention and right-sizing.

• Staff retention and holding onto your best and most productive employees, and your employees who show greatest potential.
• Right-sizing which is often simply cited as a euphemism for lay-offs and down-sizings. And there very often this staff reduction is simply be carried out by the numbers and without much if any particular strategic planning behind it as to how it is done or for precisely which positions or at what costs (aside from immediate payroll savings.) I focus on the word “right” and that means I would use this term to include circumstances where all possible effort is made to retain staff and even where that may create short term stress for the business, because of longer term analysis and strategic considerations.

I remember noting in an earlier posting that I am no fan of “right-sizing” and simply note that when I wrote that I was thinking of how this term is so frequently misused, and as a fig-leaf cover for staff reductions seemingly primarily just to reduce staff and with no further thought behind it. When it is placed in a larger framework of balancing a workforce with staff mentoring and development, staff retention, managing targeted staff reductions and lay-offs where employees are not working out for one reason or other, and right-sizing all fit together into a more complete single suite of coordinated approaches.

As a final thought here in this posting I turn to a point I have raised a number of times and in a variety of contexts – developing a unique value proposition. I have frequently pointed out that while this can come from offering a unique and uniquely valuable product or service, businesses can create unique value in essentially any aspect of their processes or operations where they can positively impact on their marketplace and their potential customers. It is often said that the people on staff are a business’ most valuable assets and this is true, and even when only stated as if catch-phrase or slogan. Really effective workforce balancing makes an organization more flexible and capable, and a balanced workforce can be that organizational and operational source of unique value proposition that sets a business apart. I will simply add that this has to be maintained as an ongoing dynamic process.

I will undoubtedly be adding more postings on the balanced workforce in follow-up to this in the future.

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