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Intranet resources aid in work force management

Posted online

by Peta G. Penson

for the Business Journal

The recent new wave of mergers among big players in almost every industry has revived the interest in new ways to manage employee performance in an undulating environment.

Back in 1991, GTE acquired Contel in order to become the largest telephone company in the U.S. It got an extremely challenging management assignment in the bargain: how to combine two large work forces, retain the top talent, and redeploy other personnel in a way that kept productivity and morale humming.

GTE pioneered the concept of personal career management workshops for employees during times of mergers and acquisitions. Led by outside consultants and corporate HR staff, the workshops got employees thinking about their career experiences, skills and goals, and how they relate to the corporate changes under way, although much of the emphasis was on how to present themselves successfully to the new leadership team.

The workshops were beneficial to GTE, especially at the top end of the organization chart, where functional managers, division directors and vice presidents used the tools to identify what spots in the newly merged organization were the best fit for them.

Some rank-and-file employees also found the workshops useful, especially those who used the information and training to find new positions outside of GTE.

A lot has changed in the past few years, including performance management during times of major organization change. It is no longer newsworthy for a company to just offer career management services they must be presented in an innovative way that employees perceive as being beneficial to them personally, as well as to the company.

The latest wrinkle is the use of the corporate intranet to offer online career management development software that is employee-driven rather than company-driven.

The difference between employee-driven and company-driven is significant.

"The company's primary focus is on work force planning how to get people with the right skill sets in the right place at the right time," said Andy Chan, CEO of MindSteps Inc., whose firm created software now in use at Toronto Dominion Bank and several other organizations involved in major transitions.

"These priorities may or may not match what is important to the individual employee," he added.

"The company is saying 'Take more responsibility for managing your own career' but then adding, 'But we really need you to learn this or become that.' Employees can feel like they're a ball bouncing around in a pinball game unless they have a solid sense of themselves and their career plan to act as an anchor," Chan said.

By providing intranet access to career development services and assuring employees that all data will be private and confidential the companies are giving employees respect along with a valuable service.

Rather than being told by their managers that they should report to a workshop next Tuesday, employees are able to work on their self-assessments and career development plans anytime and anywhere.

The career development site often links to other areas, such as training, job opportunities, and other assistance available to them within the company, maximizing convenience and effectiveness.

From a manager's point of view, these latest technological wonders are a big help.

You are not losing people away from the workplace while they attend workshops that bore or frighten them. More importantly, what employees learn about themselves during self-assessment often increases morale and productivity and uncovers new areas of potential contributions.

How? Here are a few examples:

?Employees feel in control, which reduces their anxiety about workplace changes. The urge to "do something" is given a positive outlet.

?Employees feel equally and universally valued. There are fewer feelings that certain favored groups of employees are getting more or better help with their career management.

?Employees, who have a better understanding of what gives them personal satisfaction, gravitate to special teams and assignments that they enjoy. They are aware of which are their "best work" skills (those they like and do well), which are back-up skills (those they do well but don't enjoy), and which are weak on execution ability and/or personal satisfaction.

What manager wouldn't prefer to lead a team of individuals all engaged in "best work" assignments?

"Increasingly, information is converging on the desktop corporate business information, HR resources, training databases, skill-set descriptions for jobs, self-assessment tools, career development planning templates everything that is needed for employee ownership of careers," Chan said. "It is penetrating broader and deeper into the organization than ever before."

Another hot new venture-backed start-up, Illuminate, in Oakland, Calif., is building a suite of web-based work force management applications with the specific goal of improving management of the contingent work force.

"There are many technology tools to manage, train and educate full-time, permanent employees, but the percentage of contingent employees vs. traditional permanent workers is increasing every year," said Cindy Padnos, CEO of Illuminate.

"The next step is to create technology that integrates the extended work force (independent consultants, contractors, suppliers, even customers) into today's virtual companies," she added.

We've been wowed so often in the past few years by new tech-nology's bells and whistles, it's easy to ignore the advances that are truly significant in changing the way we live and work. Online work force management software is likely to become one of those products that, in a few years, we can't imagine how we managed without.

(Peta G. Penson, EdD, is a management consultant with Teams Inc.)

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