Creating Workforce Opportunities
While historically, the employee life cycle has focused on recruiting the needed employees, developing them with career paths, and keeping them as long as possible, a new approach is emerging. In this approach, the traditional life cycle has turned into a workforce ecosystem cycle, shifting the mindset to “access, curate, and engage” employees.
Videoconferencing companies like WebEx, Skype, and Zoom have been around for more than ten years, when the market for it was in full swing. But when the world went into quarantine last year due to the pandemic, and businesses and schools were forced away from their buildings, everyone learned to Zoom. While Zoom CEO Eric Yuan and his team had trained by responding to natural disasters before they went public in 2019, the increase in demand was something they never imagined. Despite the situation, the company was prepared. Zoom’s data centers were prepared for traffic surges up to 100 times their normal usage. The number of downloads nearly quadrupled in one day, from about 90,000 people worldwide before the pandemic, to almost 350,000 early in the pandemic.
It wasn’t all positive, however. Zoom experienced security and privacy breaches early in the quarantine, and Yuan acknowledged them early and worked to address them. While doing so, he learned a lot about his customer base. Before quarantine, the typical Zoom client would be a chief information officer from a company, but with the pandemic came several first-time users. These users, though, wouldn’t think anything of posting a gallery view from a Zoom call, which included a meeting room and password. This led to “Zoom bombing” as strangers would crash these videoconferencing calls. In response, with he and his team realizing that this customer base didn’t know about Zoom’s security features, Yuan shifted to focus on how to make it easier for first-time users. “We changed our practice,” Yuan explained. The Zoom team’s ability to navigate such an environment illustrates the types of challenges in which humans excel – and artificial intelligence does not.
Companies that are able to successfully redefine their work in order to focus on human qualities enable their employees to engage in four types of activities. They are better able to identify unseen problems and opportunities, develop approaches to solve problems and address opportunities, implement new approaches, and iterate and learn based on the impact achieved. The Zoom example powerfully illustrates how human beings did indeed excel in each of these four activities.
Because of all of the available technology, such as robots and robotic process automation, as well as artificial intelligence, companies have many opportunities to improve efficiency and productivity. However, many of these companies are focusing on redesigning jobs rather than redefining work. When companies redesign jobs, workers represent a way to save costs, rather than a way to create new value for the business and customer. Their narrow focus is on productivity, which would have the same output, only faster, cheaper, and with fewer errors. Ideally, the goal is to both redesign jobs and redefine work.
An important shift for business leaders is to balance the focus on productivity and efficiency with innovation and value. Innovation doesn’t occur unless teams, managers, and employees can recognize that better work means new value, products, services, and experiences. Cost savings and efficiency can have more value when leaders use those cost savings to invest in new products and to strengthen customer relationships.
As the workforce has grown to a much broader spectrum of employment models who are working in new ways and in new places, the traditional mindset of “attract, develop, and retain” employees is yielding to different approaches. While historically, the employee life cycle has focused on recruiting the needed employees, developing them with career paths, and keeping them as long as possible, a new approach is emerging. In this approach, the traditional life cycle has turned into a workforce ecosystem cycle, shifting the mindset to “access, curate, and engage” employees. Accessing employees includes sourcing from internal and external talent pools, and leveraging talent both on the payroll and off. Curating employees includes providing work experiences to employees that are integrated into the flow of their work, careers, and even personal lives. Finally, engaging employees includes interacting with and supporting workforces, teams, and partners to build compelling relationships inside and outside the business. Leaders can provide insights to improve productivity and impact while also taking advantage of new ways of working.
When it comes to setting goals, business leaders can reach beyond cost and efficiency in order to include value and meaning. They can analyze, redesign, and redefine work options that take advantage of the value of automation, different talent sources, and collaborative workplaces. Finally, they can align the leadership, organization, and workforce development programs in order to access skills, curate experiences, and engage workers in long-term relationships, and engage business leaders in new ways of working. We live in a world of paradoxes, speed, complexity, and machines, so leaders need to lead by doing things that only humans can do. People imagine futures, and people also activate curiosity, passion, connectedness, and belonging. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that people invented all of the technology as well.
About the author
Arthur Mansourian has a 12-year track record as both a management consultant and investment banker, advising clients on valuation, capital markets, structured financing, mergers, acquisitions and divestitures and general corporate strategy.
Mr. Mansourian served as Vice President while at NMS Capital Advisors, when the company achieved cumulative sales growth of over 5,100% with annual compounded sales growth in excess of 120% from 2012 to 2017.