By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D.
Part 1 - THE PROBLEM:
Organizations continue to downsize, yet our research shows that 6 out of 10 employees say there are not enough qualified employees to do the work in their department. Are they right, or are they lobbying to prevent layoffs? Here are some reasons why they may, indeed, be right:
Business Models Change
For example, one of my clients operated a (now "dot-gone") web-based Internet commerce company. It helped small businesses establish shopping carts on their web sites to sell merchandise to their visitors. Their business model required that the process of acquiring new customers and servicing them should be 95 percent automated. But, the Customer Satisfaction Survey we conducted for this company revealed that customers wanted more personal attention, not more on-screen documentation or FAQ web pages.
Their sales staff did double-duty as customer service agents, but the company needed them to be selling, not servicing existing customers. Because the only way they could attract and retain new merchants was by providing time-consuming handholding, their sales staff began to spend more and more time servicing customers and less time selling. In short, their business model had changed and they didn't have the right staffing for it.
Demand Often Changes Faster than Supply
Another one of my clients is an office manager of a busy, large group medical practice. She is responsible for five office workers who handle medical records and deal with the paperwork required by the insurance companies.
One day the senior partner told her they would be adding a new physician to the practice. That day, she also learned that one of their larger HMOs was changing their procedures and that her office would now be required to complete additional paperwork for each patient.
She knew that she would need more staff immediately, but to hire and train them would take months. The demand for staffing occurred faster than the supply and her existing staff was overtaxed until new staff could be trained.
Staff Cuts Go Too Far
In the spirit of fairness, one of my clients implemented an across-the-board layoff. Each department was required to reduce their staff count by one.
We conducted an Employee Survey of "the survivors" and found that the workload problems were particularly severe in the smaller departments.
Required Skills Change
One of my financial service clients has many dedicated, long-tenure employees. To improve efficiency this company has been gradually upgrading their internal systems. Many functions previously performed by hand are now fully automated. Our Employee Survey found that, as a result, the technical staff feels overworked and the old-timers feel under-utilized.
What they now needed were fewer of the do-it-by-hand employees and more programmers and computer savvy workers. The required skills had changed.
Part 2 - WHAT EMPLOYERS CAN DO:
Conduct Periodic Staffing Audits
Staffing levels evolve over time but don't necessarily match the needs of a changing company. A systematic audit of the volume of work to be performed and the needed skills can identify the mismatches.
Many organizations talk about retraining staff, but few do anything about it. Once an audit identifies shortages in skills, retraining of existing staff can often fill the gap. You CAN teach old dogs new tricks.
Employees are often the best source of information about the need for more qualified staff. Simply ask them their opinions through confidential interviews and employee surveys.
About the author
Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D., is president of Discovery Surveys, Inc. and author of 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers.