Experience shows that technology can be extremely effective in driving operational efficiencies, particularly in organisations that employ large numbers of people. Yet as more and more time, attention and money is spent on technology, there’s a danger that the real company assets – the employees – may be overlooked.

Few would question that people are fundamental to the global economy. Likewise, it is people who are at the heart of the most critical, loyalty-building customer interactions and people that remain fundamental to most business processes. Failing to treat employees as a valuable asset or getting the balance of technology wrong can therefore have disastrous consequences. Invariably, these include high attrition levels, disengaged employees and high stress.

Recent years have seen a trend in service operations for technology-led capacity and workforce management initiatives which centralise the planning and control of work, often taking responsibility for key management tasks away from front-line team leaders. Rather than rely on technology alone to manage capacity and improve operational efficiency, service operations in particular need to put highly engaged and capable managers at the heart of a people-led performance strategy. Over-reliance on technology risks disempowering front-line leaders and losing their key influence on staff performance.

Working in harmony

In any large business, most staff will perform well if given the opportunity to do so. This relies on the team leader to create the conditions for successful performance as much as it relies on the ability and willingness of the individual staff member.

This is why, from a service operations standpoint, when it comes to making business-decisions around capacity management and workforce optimisation, focusing on the behaviours and skills of front line managers and staff within service operations is key to achieving sustained productivity improvement and delivering operational excellence.

For these reasons, to drive greater operational effectiveness and efficiency, organisations need to combine software with the right management practices. This can, in many cases, require a change in mindset.

Specifically, managers and directors should understand that, while organisations may be based out of offices and commercial buildings, their function and identity doesn’t revolve around their bricks and mortar premises. Rather, organisations are made up of – and rely on – complex human systems. As such, any strategy to make the workforce more productive needs to strike the right balance on managing relationships within the enterprise.

Active approach to operations management

Training line managers to be good at managing operations brings a cycle of benefits. First and foremost, it creates a more stable platform from which to build. This reduces firefighting and improves the organisation’s control over its environment, which then typically releases useable internal capacity.

Having control and released capacity will, in turn, make it easier to extract the benefit from investment programmes. This could be anything from new technology to new products, office relocation and outsourcing. Crucially, the head of the organisation also benefits from having greater levels of choice over which strategies they should pursue to gain competitive advantage.

Conversely, spending large sums of money on workforce management technology without management training is unlikely to deliver lasting change. This is principally because the advantage comes not from the technology but rather, from how well it is used.

Understanding and methodology

To develop and focus the behaviour of managers requires skills training. It is pointless to expect people to do things differently unless they understand why different is important and are trained so that they have the appropriate skills. For example, a new piece of technology might allow a task to be completed 20 percent quicker, but a staff member won’t necessarily do this if they are not 100 percent engaged.

At an individual level, this means considering the behaviour of each and every manager and leader in the business. What do they do to inspire, motivate and direct the efforts of the people who actually deliver your service to customers?

At an organisational level, management method is critical. Organisations perform best when they have a common language and a common approach. Yet, as organisations evolve over time they often seem to suffer the fate summed up in the expression about England and America: of being divided by a common language. In some organisations, there are even different definitions of productivity on different floors of the same building – clearly not a good starting point for managing performance.

Working to a common goal

The term ‘workforce optimisation’ is often seen as shorthand for a set of technologies. Keeping in mind that the ‘workforce’ is people, this means that, rather than looking for a tool, organisations need to look for a full solution. In turn, it is critical that this tool is borne out of method – and not the other way round.

Getting the best from staff requires a cohesive approach to managing operations that will help its leaders to develop. This enables the organisation to differentiate itself from competitors and helps them develop talent, the one thing they will typically be least able to copy or buy.

Time and time again, experience shows that success relies on paying attention to the whole system and having the right combination of methods skills and tools that will drive and then underpin real and lasting change. Organisations that realise this – and make the transition – will benefit from greatest competitive advantage of all: agility.

For more information, please visit www.activeops.com





Neil Bentley is managing director, AOM International Ltd based in Birmingham UK.