People Power

Organizations can only go so far to improve performance before they must address their most important asset: the workforce. Competitive forces are pushing managers to look beyond HR and ERP systems and embrace performance management.

Align. This step is about ensuring that the recommended actions and plans are put on a clear path toward reaching the goal, objectives, and initiatives set out by executives and management. This enables you to align the workforce with performance goals, which means clearly defining, communicating, and coordinating targets. You'll also need to establish a means of scoring the workforce on their performance, and use rewards and incentives to encourage alignment with goals. With good definitions of performance targets and rewards, you can then inform the workforce and employ key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics systems to automate notification of how employees and other members of the workforce are doing in terms of alignment with strategic goals.

You can adapt the PerformanceCycle idea to create your own direct method of quickly but effectively establishing a process for continuous performance improvement. The cycle notion can help you put into context many current applications and systems relevant to workforce performance and see where you have gaps that demand attention. You can examine if applications are simply automating existing management processes and methods that need to be altered to improve alignment and performance.

Providing management with the tools to manage performance and giving employees a method with which they can understand, optimize, and align their efforts will benefit your organization. Over time, management will spend less time on simple measurement and more time on using this cycle process to determine the best direction in which to proceed toward better optimization and alignment. Organizations will have the bandwidth to take a more strategic and intelligent approach to workforce management.

Performance, Not Automation

Most HR and IT executives accept that workforce management is a problem, and that new processes are needed. However, we must make sure that the technology isn't devoted only to automating processes for cost efficiency. The new focus must be on the larger goal of ensuring that people operating with their specific business processes are well motivated and prepared to meet business demands.

A workforce management process consists of the following set of activities, which have supporting subordinate processes:

  • Recruit and hire
  • Employ and compensate by setting goals and objectives
  • Train and monitor
  • Reward and provide incentives according to some time interval, such as annual, quarterly, or monthly.

This breakout of the workforce process gives us the outlines of a framework. You can customize such a framework to assess how well your organization manages each of the steps in the process and determine where investment is required to automate and/or improve the outcomes.

Too often, organizations make investment decisions by trying to address everything at once, rather than auditing each of the current processes and steps and finding the precise areas that demand attention — and can bring the largest return. Of course, most organizations are looking at performance management to address the workforce already in place and making use of some level of training and other improvement systems. The cycle approach will help in refocusing goals and objectives; the system of rewards and incentives is the most likely area where workforce performance management can make a difference.

Software Directions

Increasing interest in workforce performance management has brought into the market a variety of applications and tools to support the critical points in the process and performance cycle. Much of the new software is coming from application providers that have been operating under the big enterprise application system radar and have quietly established a following in many global organizations. The movement toward service-oriented applications will surely bring more interesting solutions into the market, including solutions tuned to outsourced and offshore workforces, as time goes on.

Here's a quick profile of four providers that haven't had the high profile of the big HR and ERP application providers, but are becoming key contributors to workforce performance management:

  • Softscape. Providing the larger context of the workforce process is the contribution of this hosted solution provider. Softscape has built out its case management and consulting to provide deeper project-based workforce analysis solutions. The vendor achieves consistency in its applications by integrating them on a common platform.

  • Integrated Performance Systems (IPS). Targeting common workforce process applications, IPS provides a common management and information platform, called IPS iPerform. This application suite provides a common platform and approach for organizations looking at improving human capital performance.

  • Synygy. Driving the theme on "pay for performance" and a heritage in incentive management, Synygy builds out from core offerings focused on employees and incentives and to support strategic objectives. The company has expertise in sales performance areas, like quotas and territory management. However, the company is expanding its Synygy solution suite to support the entire workforce.

  • Workstream. Just as the bigger enterprise applications vendors have focused on consolidating tools and systems into suites, so to have some of the more specialty vendors, such as Workstream. The company has put together an impressive roster of applications under a single portal called TalentCenter, which is focused on recruitment, performance, compensation, and transition management. Workstream believes in an economic and mass adoption model that brings you all of these applications at a very low price.

Time to Get Started

No matter whether you're in finance, operations, or HR, rapidly utilizing your workforce and employees as a strategic human capital asset is critical to competing in the market. Merely operating under the conventional wisdom of HR processes like hiring, benefits, and review management won't enhance the full potential of your workforce. It's time to look at leveraging workforce performance improvement processes and employing the means of leveraging information to support processes, as you have in other operational areas.

Take a good look at hosted, service-oriented applications as a way around the massive resource investments and long deployment cycles typical of enterprise applications. Hosted services don't require upgrades to your existing HR and ERP systems. Don't fall victim to the strong industry and cultural forces against examining new alternatives for adding workforce performance management to your portfolio. The better approach is to do the economic analysis and calculate the risks of not applying IT smarts to improve workforce performance and align it with business objectives.

Workforce performance goes beyond simply HR; it's about building a management practice that addresses human capital assets. The time has come to get on the right path toward addressing an area that has an enormous impact on overall financial and operational performance.

Email the editors at [email protected]

Mark Smith is the CEO and senior vice president of research at Ventana Research, an advisory services and research firm providing insight and education on best practices and technology in performance management.

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer