“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
─ Andy Warhol
Think back to the last time your organization was involved in a process change-based initiative. What was the outcome? Were the results lackluster, or did they hit the bulls eye? Change is difficult, and process change is even more challenging. Add in the implementation and deployment of new technology, such as a workforce management platform used by hundreds or thousands of employees every day, and the complexity of the change increases exponentially.
"Optimization does not have to be a difficult process and, often time, it can be built in to an engagement with a vendor so it does not represent a separate capital expense"
Often times, the selection and implementation process can be a long road. A common mistake made by organizations over the last two-plus decades is they think that the work is done when the solution goes live, with focus then shifting to employee training and ongoing maintenance/updates. After all, steps to ensure the solution is optimized are generally built in to the implementation cycle, so what more is left to be done?
Optimization shouldn’t be approached as a one-time event–the highest performing organizations understand when real optimization begins, how often it should take place, and its connection to employee engagement.
The Optimization Window Closes Quickly
Post-implementation, organizations tend to wait for a triggering event before they set an optimization strategy into motion. It could be months, or even years, but eventually a determination is made that the system is not supporting business goals, or the early gains in efficiency that were achieved have plateaued.
Best practices dictate that optimization initiatives must begin at 90 days following implementation. At this stage, managers and employees finally feel comfortable navigating the platform, and there is now three months of usage metrics to examine. This data can tell the organization a lot about user engagement and whether automations are being circumvented in order to continue completing tasks “the old way.”
Another reason of why 90 days is so important. That is when bad habits begin to set in. Users under-utilize key functions they don’t fully grasp or build in workarounds, defeating intended process changes and undermining organizational goals.(Did your organization miss this window? Or worse, let the technology stagnate for two or three years, or longer? A similar but different revitalization effort can get organizations back on track.)
Following the 90 day optimization exercise, optimization initiatives should be completed at six months, one year, and then annually to ensure that as organizations continue to mature with their employee engagement initiatives, maximum value is still being extracted from their workforce management platform.
Areas of Optimization
There is a subtle difference between measuring success, and measuring performance. You can judge whether an ongoing project is or continues to be a success–that tends to be fairly black and white. Where real gains can be achieved is when you measure performance.
Even if the project is a success, there are always areas of performance which can be adjusted to achieve even better results. Here are three areas that organizations should consider evaluating during an optimization initiative for a workforce management platform:
• Automation: When some organizations think about automation, they still think about the very basics: for example, can this system calculate pay practices? As technology continues to grow more intelligent, the conversation should shift to automating workflow processes. Consider scheduling requests. Too often, organizations think about whether or not an employee can ask for time off or request a shift swap electronically–but there is little consideration to the workflow that comes next. It continues to be highly manual. By standardizing, centralizing, and automating schedule request workflows, pre-determined business rules can be included to allow the system to review and approve the request, allowing the manager to spend more time on value-adding activities that build engagement and support business goals. As part of an optimization strategy, a roadmap can be created to determine which processes are automated, and how quickly that takes place.
• Accessibility: For many employees, the mobile phone is now an extension of their hand. It lives in their pocket or their purse and is instantly available to search or share data. Why can’t it be used to give them access to important work-related information and a voice in work-related decisions? Accessibility via mobile and tablet applications also frees up managers from a desk, allowing them to spend more time with customers and team members. Optimizing accessibility with self-service tools is an effective strategy for boosting engagement levels, as it allows everyone to feel increased ownership in daily decisions, such as scheduling.
• Education: Education, similar to optimization, is not a singular event. Many times, an organization will host a training session, or series of training sessions, and believe they have fulfilled a commitment to properly educating the user-base. This is not enough to make sure those users, whether employees or managers or executives, are equipped with the knowledge to be successful in executing the organization’s goals. Speed of adoption, utilization, and proficiency are just three sample areas that should be measured on an ongoing basis in order to design an annual education strategy that will ensure employees continue to utilize workforce management technology to its fullest capabilities.
The Ultimate Goal: Optimizing Engagement
Optimization isn’t just about technology; it is more about supporting the people who use the technology. One roadblock any optimization project can run in to is that internal stakeholders at the organization deploying the technology may fear change; they feel as though the need for improvement is an admission of shortcomings. This could not be further from the truth.
Combining systems, processes, and people to achieve meaningful change–especially when the intended outcome is to improve productivity and support employee engagement–is a complex task that must be nurtured. The outcome is critical to organizational success, though. In chapter two of The Workforce Institute’s latest anthology, ‘It’s All About Bob (bie): Strategies for Winning with Your Employees,’ the connection between engagement and technology is addressed:
“Simply providing tools is not enough. Providing state-of-the-art technology that enhances the experience at work is the goal…It not only enhances the productivity of the tasks, it improves employee engagement that drives even better performance.”
Optimization does not have to be a difficult process and, often time, it can be built in to an engagement with a vendor so it does not represent a separate capital expense. If it is not nurtured, the technology–and employee engagement–will suffer. When done a little at a time, step-by-step, optimization is able to drive continued successes in the form of more rapid ROI, ongoing gains in operational improvements, and better employee engagement.