Tell Me Again What You Do, Exactly?

I made a passing comment in my post “Anatomy for Business Success” about business being in one of four states. This generated a number of emails asking what the four states were. I was of course speaking in the context of staff supply at the operational level. Put another way, using a well known phrase or saying, it is about having ‘the right person, at the right place, at the right time’ – though how one defines “right” in any one of those contexts is a complex combination of no problems.

One HR professional told me all workforce scheduling is about is standard supply and demand. I agree. I also think with a 30% satisfactory outcome in most cases we are not very good at it.

Every organization has an operations function, whether or not it is called ‘operations’. Operations in some form have been around as long as human endeavour itself, certainly a lot longer than HR. The term embraces all the activities required to create and deliver an organization’s goods or services to its customers or clients. And at the heart of operations lies a demand for management skill to schedule and deploy staff resources efficiently and effectively – whatever size of business.

One popular story in folklore tells about the day Larry Ellison (Oracle’s CEO) after listening to a stream of consciousness from one of his employees about what their job was, retorted “You aren’t building something, and you’re not selling something. So tell me again real slow – what is it you do?”

For the operations manager people are a key transforming resource (they create and deliver things). This is where the greatest gains in efficiency and effectiveness are achieved. Workforce scheduling is an essential part of the operations function. It is not an IT problem and not even an HR problem. It is an Operations problem. When operations managers’ dismiss workforce scheduling as part of their management skill, their ability to deliver efficient and effective operations is compromised and will make even a 30% satisfactory outcome look good.

And the four states? First we need to quickly define what we mean by efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency measures the amount of time and cost required to achieve a goal; and effectiveness measures the goal to be achieved.

Here are the four states with their respective likely cost-benefit outcomes:

1. A business with more staff at higher cost will be effective but not efficient
2. A business with fewer staff at higher cost will not be effective or efficient
3. A business with more staff at lower cost will be both effective and efficient
4. A business with fewer staff at lower cost will not be effective but efficient

The Operations Managers’ ability to delivers the planning, co-ordination and control so often squeezed out by business re-engineering will by and large determine which of these four states the business finds itself. Even though it may find itself in one state, does not mean it has to remain there.

That’s why one of the first things I do, is deliver workforce scheduling to the Operations Manager’s desktop – the power behind the corporate throne. Once you enable the operations manager to have more say about how they deploy their human resources (hiring and firing – well OK that is an HR problem), a rapid and significant improvement to the business will follow.

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