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New game-plan in hire n’ fire

Recession has completely changed the way employees are hired and fired, making it harder for businesses to plan their resources in the immediate and long term. But whatever the weather, workforce planning must remain constant. Advises Mary Clarke, CEO at Cognisco.

The truth is that workforce planning is commonly neglected in a downturn, but a successful business of any size needs to take workforce planning seriously and adopt a cradle-to-grave approach to workforce planning so that it continues, whatever the economic outlook. One problem often stems from the fact that whilst many companies have robust recruitment processes that put new recruits through their paces using psychometric and competency assessments, this is often the last time employees are assessed. Typically, employees move through the ranks in a company, without their competency and knowledge ever being tested, which could be placing the company at unnecessary risk.

Companies can gain a better understanding of their workforce and improve their planning by putting in place competency frameworks for every role in the business. The frameworks can be mapped against national standards and define not just the core competencies needed but the desired level of knowledge, motivation, behaviour and experience. Defining the types of knowledge areas, behaviours, skills, experiences, and motivations necessary to build and manage a successful workforce in alignment with business goals will also clarity what resources exist already in the organisation and where the gaps lie. New recruits and existing employees can be then assessed against these competency standards, in order to give managers greater insight into their performance. This information will lead to better recruitment decisions, improved talent and performance management, better targeted training and development and easier succession planning.

Some organisations, particularly local government departments, are also introducing universal competencies for certain roles in the business, such as management positions, and this approach is proving highly successful. Universal competencies make sense on many levels. There is no reason a line manager in logistics shouldn’t have the same core competencies as a marketing manager. They may operate in different business areas, but they will have similar management and leadership so general competencies should be working to a consistent standard. There are big benefits to be gained from introducing universal competencies. Firstly, it means that employees will be more transferrable and flexible which can be a huge advantage given the shaky business climate. With a more flexible workforce in place, businesses can be more nimble, responding to increases and reductions in demand. Companies that can redeploy their workers in response to supply and demand will optimise employees more productivity, eradicate unnecessary recruitment and make workforce planning more accurate. It could also lead to a more consistent and higher level of performance at each level as an element of competition will be introduced in the business.

However, for companies with competency frameworks in place, a common challenge is determining how to accurately measure employee development against these frameworks. Introducing customised assessments can help achieve these measurements because they provide accurate, factual and objective results. Assessments that tend to produce the most accurate results are those with well-designed questions which are validated by occupational psychologists and meet international/national standards. The questions are mapped against the ‘ideal’ competencies for every job role within a company and based on realistic scenarios that an employee would encounter in their job. That way the results are meaningful and highlight accurately how well a person understands aspects of their role, how they apply knowledge, their decision making and attitude or behavior. Good assessments measure employee knowledge and correlate this with their level of confidence, enabling managers to know just how confident employees are about the application of their knowledge and understanding in the context of their job role. Customised employee assessments work best if they test employees in work-based scenarios asking them a series of multiple response style questions that can’t be guessed. Assessments that measure a combination of competency, knowledge and confidence will also identify quickly any knowledge gaps, areas of misunderstanding or employees with low confidence which could impact their decision making.

The results provide rich data for managers and a rounded picture of an individual. They will reveal not only how competent a person is but their likely attitude or behaviour and attitude when performing their roles. By revealing skills and knowledge gaps, managers can see where additional and specific training and support is needed, information that could also form the basis of a future training and development plan. Such insight will enable organisations to deliver more tailored training and development programmes for every individual and manage their entire career with a company. It can also help managers address and eradicate any unacceptable employee behaviour by providing targeted interventions that improve individual performance. Managers will also understand their workforce better, how they perform, behave on the job and what motivates them.

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