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Customization is now poised to revolutionize the way organizations manage their people. Organizations will no longer treat their workforce as single, monolithic entity. Instead, they will treat each employee as a “workforce of one.”
Accenture explores the implications of the “workforce of one” and identifies four strategies to help HR fulfill its role of increasing productivity and thus supporting the drive to achieve high performance.
Organizations of all types have long excelled by treating customers as "markets of one," offering them personalized buying experiences. The concept of customization and the technology that has made it possible have fueled the rise of some of the greatest success stories of the past 25 years: Dell (custom personal computers), Amazon (book and other product recommendations just for you) and Netflix (movies that fit your profile), to name just a few.
But when it comes to managing talent, many organizations still use one-size-fits-all HR practices. Standardization of such practices has helped companies to achieve important goals including consistency, efficiency and fairness and to gain a global view of their people.
Yet business and workforce trends are pushing organizations to break out of the old standard employment deal. People now expect—even demand—customization in the workplace because they have experienced it in their everyday lives as consumers. Meanwhile, changing demographics have made workforces more diverse in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, as well as life aspirations, cultural norms and core values. And with the rise of more complex knowledge work, jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to standardize, and companies are struggling to find enough qualified workers. All this will make today’s generic, one-size-fits-all people practices soon obsolete—if not detrimental to a company’s bottom line.
In today’s hypercompetitive age, striving to win the war for talent will not likely be enough. Organizations will also need to boost the performance of an increasingly diverse, knowledge-oriented workforce. To achieve this goal, leading companies are applying the same business logic to their employees that made customization so successful with customers.
Our employee survey confirms that people are more attracted to companies that provide customized HR practices, and they are more likely to stay and perform at their best. By contrast, when people practices are not personalized for employees, their performance, engagement and productivity can suffer.
The good news is that companies can now customize their people practices in a scalable way across the enterprise—but without having to resort to a series of one-off, individually negotiated arrangements between bosses and employees. With a workforce-of-one approach, organizations can bring customization into the open by adopting practices, policies and standards that make customization available to all employees and easy to manage.
We believe that managing a workforce using a workforce-of-one approach represents the next major phase of HR’s journey as a profession. One key is to customize within a structured, rules-based framework that allows for flexibility.
The following strategies can help:
Segment the workforce. By grouping employees based on specific criteria, such as value to the company, companies can tailor people practices for each segment.
Offer modular choices. Companies can also offer employees a predefined list of options for custom-configuring their own work experience.
Define broad and simple rules. An organization can create a rule so broad and simple that it can be interpreted in many different ways, thus allowing scope for the means to comply with it to be personalized.
Foster employee-defined personalization. The tools now exist to allow employees to define and create their own people practices.
To support this more customized approach to talent management, HR will have to change in the following ways:
Adopt a new mandate. In the future, HR organizations’ mandate will be to understand and serve employees with highly relevant offerings that improve their engagement, motivation, retention and performance.
Develop new skills. HR professionals will need to develop the kinds of skills that marketers use to excel at customization, such as co-creation.
Implement new roles and organizational structures. HR may have a dedicated analytics group, as well as people and resources focused on coaching employees in how to make the most of their customized work experiences. In addition, HR might need to set up new organizational structures that break down internal functional silos; doing this may mean it will have to change its own organizational structures.
Susan M. Cantrell is a research fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ms. Cantrell is the coauthor of Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management through Customization (Harvard Business Press, 2010). She has coauthored more than 30 articles or book chapters, including Elements of Successful Organizations (The Workforce Institute at Kronos, 2011).
David Smith is senior managing director responsible for the Accenture Talent & Organization management consulting practice. He specializes in designing and developing talent and organization strategies and solutions for clients and has extensive international experience working with some of the world’s largest global companies, including a number of Fortune 500 companies. Mr. Smith, who is based in Hartford, Connecticut, is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events, has published numerous articles and papers, has contributed his viewpoints on the business impact of talent to many media and industry publications, and is the coauthor of Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management through Customization (Harvard Business Press, 2010).
January 22, 2013
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