Unleashing the High Performance Workforce
By Bray J. Brockbank
Nov 21, 2002 - 3:21:00 PM

Today what is omitted from the corporate balance sheet is often worth considerably more than what is on it. As far as non-financials go, listed below are some of the most important determinants of organizational value:

� Innovation
� Employee Commitment
� Customer Relationships
� Ability to Attract Talented Employees

Organizations are facing some overwhelming challenges, such as key skills shortages, new flexible work patterns, an emphasis on work/life balance and an increasing need for virtual teams. Addressing these issues is just as important as having top management, the right product portfolio, the best processes, and the most effective marketing campaigns.

Employees are the only true agents and determinants in business; all assets and structures, whether tangible physical products or intangible relations, are the result of human action and depend ultimately on employees for their continued existence.

It's clear that a strong focus on enhancing employee performance needs to be at the top of any corporate agenda. As the parallel between people practices and business results becomes more distinct, developing and sustaining the right conditions to allow a high performance culture to flourish must become a number one priority. It is no longer simply an attractive option; it is a business imperative.

Learning to Unleash

In the 'knowledge economy' people are expected to become proficient 'knowledge workers', performing effectively in virtual teams, while being both innovative and flexible. They are expected to network and share knowledge with their colleagues.

However, evidence suggests that organizations have generally failed to enable employees to work in this manner. In fact, some organizations unintentionally build barriers to high performance by implementing disparate technologies that don't communicate with one another, databases that can't be readily accessed or are out of date, and systems that overload employees with irrelevant data. All of these factors can reduce overall performance, hinder decision making, limit customer service and frustrate the workforce.

But there is hope. A new generation of eLearning technology can now be readily harnessed to maximize employee performance, while making the appropriate knowledge available to them, in the right amount, at the right time. eLearning technologies enable organizations to support the complete Human Value Cycle (HVC): recruit, assess, train, test, certify, and retain.

The key to eLearning success is maintaining a focus on everyone working in the organization, not just direct employees � modern organizations are an amalgam of employees, contractors, business partners, suppliers, etc.

By putting the right combination of eLearning, collaboration, knowledge, communications and processing tools in the hands of employees, many of the barriers to high performance can be overcome.

eLearning tools ensure that a skills gap identified in one part of the solution can be solved by tools in another. Similarly, eLearning management tools that support collaboration focus on one outcome � improving the performance of the workforce.

High performance organizations are innovators that invest in tools that will give them a competitive edge. They don�t wait for widespread business acceptance � they are the �early adopters�.

This early adopter mentality enables their employees to become more responsive to customers and more flexible. These organizations are also better at adapting to change. They use web-enabled administration extensively and are quick to take advantage of eLearning, integrated collaboration tools and management information applications.

These technologies must be firmly supported by a sound technical infrastructure, a focus on change management and a mobile communications strategy, so that access is available to those who need it.

Growing Intangible Assets

More and more organizations are now laying claim to a world-class workforce. Unfortunately, most fall short of measurable standards that would validate their claims to a 'world-class workforce�.

Today, it�s evident that a substantial gap in workforce performance exists between the most and least successful organizations.

Many of today�s e-Businesses are lagging behind due to a lack of people with the skills and abilities to execute. Execution requires people who are innovative, fast, decisive, determined and focused.

Although many CEO�s now openly acknowledge that their employees are the key differentiator, most fail to follow through in supporting such visionary proclamations. Whether it�s an issue of cost or simply a lack of conviction, employees are becoming cynical of such management proclamations.

Research shows that benchmarking results between the top performing and median performing organizations differ widely:

� Profit per employee can be 50% or higher in some cases.

� Highly effective organizations have a lower absence and employee turnover rate than their lower performing competitors.

� Company market value is affected by good people practice.

� Poor workforce performance leads to high wastage, low levels of commitment, high turnover, and increased levels of customer complaints.

Admittedly, performance impact issues go even beyond employees. Additional determinants include:

� IT Infrastructure
� Policies and Procedures
� Economic climate
� Marketing activities

Nevertheless, strong evidence suggests that employees can and do influence business results drastically. Research suggests that organizations with a clear human capital (HC) strategy, aligned to the overall business direction, and with high quality HR practices, enjoy enhanced performance, directly impacting their bottom line.

Think Outside the Technology Box

When employees have the right tools for their jobs, they are less frustrated, and feel more valued. Organizations that have implemented eLearning technologies report higher levels of employee satisfaction, and this increases retention and recruitment.

The ability to provide mobile, distributed workers organized access to the applications, knowledge, and information they need for sound decision-making has become vitally important for businesses striving to be productive, agile and profitable. The attractiveness of Web-based computing, combined with the need to expedite information access and learning, has fueled adoption of eLearning.

However, technology alone can't produce a highly effective workforce. Technology must be viewed as an enabler and a driver of high performance. Organizational success will only come from aligning the strategic intent with people, processes and technology. Technology decisions must be fundamentally rooted in business and functional strategies and learning practices, if they are to realize the hidden benefits.

Clearly, the culture and environment in which eLearning technology is introduced makes the difference between success and failure. eLearning components, for example, will be useless unless the culture encourages and rewards knowledge sharing and personal development.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, the eLearning system will become part of a broad base of technologies that enable and support improved performance across the enterprise. The convergence and integration of these technologies around performance issues, rather than departmental administration, will be critical in positioning eLearning technology as the heart of a people focused, high performance organization.

The key to unleashing a high performance workforce is implementing a �holistic� approach to training, developing, and empowering the workforce.

Bray J. Brockbank is a business, marketing and technology consultant for Learnframe, a leading KnowledgE-Commerce and eLearning infrastructure technologies corporation. Bray has over 12 years experience in enterprise consulting, management, strategy, technology integrations, organizational development, sales, and marketing. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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