New workforce is on the horizon

Playfulness. Creativity. Stimulation. These are the demands of the new workforce, and human resource professionals are going to have to change their way of thinking if they hope to meet them, according to one expert.

“We need very much to be prepared for an environment where disorder becomes order, where the unexpected is appreciated with incredible delight and the prevailing rule is there are no rules,” said Cindy Gordon, associate partner with Toronto-based Andersen Consulting.

Gordon, along with David Smith, associate partner with Andersen Consulting in Hartford, Conn., spoke recently in Toronto at the 1999 Learning and Development Conference, where they explained how companies can leverage human performance in the digital age.

This topic is particularly relevant to the IT industry, Smith said, because “the rate of change is even hitting the IT organizations faster as the technology changes. I think in the future one of the things they have to do is look at new ways to retain people. ‘Attract and retain’ is going to become absolutely key.”

According to Gordon, the new workforce is on the horizon, and with it, a whole new approach to human performance.

“We need to look at these values and recognize them and celebrate a new culture where certainly innovation and creativity and doing the unexpected (are areas) we take tremendous joy in.”

For IT organizations finding themselves with an increasingly younger workforce, this means looking at new environments that accommodate the desires of a generation who “work in very different ways than the ways people have traditionally worked,” Smith said.

Similarly, Gordon explained, optimizing human performance now represents a fundamental change for industrial-era organizations that will need to relinquish their old ideas.

In fact, Gordon said, improving knowledge management ranked second by CEOs among the important issues facing their organizations.

The knowledge work-reality is that the half life of knowledge is shrinking and formalized processes and training need to be leveraged with more agility to allow for effective communication and a changing environment.

For the human resources professional, Smith explained, this means understanding both the business practices and HR practices of the organization as well as having the ability to manage culture and change.

“The ability for us to manage culture, manage change and to have personal credibility becomes a very big combination for a human resource organization. It’s all about aligning business strategies with people,” he said.

In light of new knowledge workers and the knowledge-based economy, Smith said it is essential to create new human-performance systems.

One way to maximize human performance is with a new optimization framework that addresses five levels: the individual, the organization, operations, strategy and environment.

At the core of this framework lies the individual.

“The problem is that the motivation of tomorrow’s worker is very different from the motivation of you and I. We, as human resource professionals trying to impact change, have to first understand the customer of this new human performance model,” Smith explained.

Once an understanding of the ability and motivational factors of the individual is gained, it is necessary to examine the organization, including structure, resourcing, performance management and support, leadership, communications and culture. And, of course, management of these elements requires an understanding of the necessary changes at the operational level.

According to Smith, “technology will leverage people. Technology can bring knowledge to individuals like it has never done before. And I think organizations that are taking advantage of that are beginning to see true performance…the real challenge is to create that infrastructure through technology and processes.”

This necessitates an alignment with corporate strategies and vision, business unit strategies and organization strategies, he said, with the ultimate goal of creating an environment that aligns with these strategies.

Smith said one successful strategy is business simulation, which allows people to learn in a realistic, virtual replica of their work environment.

Just as flight simulators teach pilots to learn to fly, business simulators teach workers best practices and processes by achieving simulated business goals.

Smith said this strategy works because putting people in experiences before hand means that “by the time they get on the job they’ve learned the experience of this new changing business model.”

By allowing individuals to get the experience of the real world through simulation techniques, many organizations have achieved higher levels of performance, Smith said. Business simulation begins to drive a model for creating knowledge, which will be simulated with knowledge management systems.

And, he explained, “failure is okay with some of these approaches because our premise is that…fail these experiences rather than fail the real-life experience. You begin to see the future and you begin to live with the impact of the future.”