By: Tracy Simmons, Fleet Account Program Manager
The Current Environment
The U.S. labor force is declining as evidenced by a stagnant or shrinking labor pool and a participation rate that is falling to all-time lows in nearly every demographic. The unemployment rate has also been steadily dropping since the Great Recession (2007-2009) and has really plummeted in the last three years to an 18-year low of four percent. During the Great Recession and the seven years following, labor was cheap and abundant. Many contracting companies found little incentive to develop high-quality, innovative processes and robust infrastructure to attract, motivate, and retain a qualified workforce. At the same time, the rise of the “Low Price, Technically Acceptable” (LPTA) evaluation criteria further incentivized companies to drive down their cost by cutting unnecessary functions that typically exist to create an attractive workplace. This led directly to an insulated contracting force that operates inside a bubble at the customer’s site. Personnel have little meaningful interaction with their employer and any motivation to maintain allegiance to them is only as good as the next offer for a buck or two more an hour.
Combatting the Challenges
The labor force will likely continue to shrink over the next 50 years and the need to incentivize potential and current employees will become pivotal to maintaining and expanding the footprint a company has with its customer. To overcome this problem, utilizing an integrated approach to contracting needs is paramount. Individual expertise is obviously important, but bookending that expertise with good leadership, broad corporate knowledge, and robust back-office support will provide a tailored and personal feel to avoid the “just a number” treatment. Treating employees like “butts in seats” will divorce them from the corporate culture and support at every level as they will simply not participate. It is of utmost importance that the employee always feels valued and understands that they have resources to turn to when they want to utilize the benefits offered. This, in and of itself, will help to ensure that the corporate knowledge base is grown organically, and valuable lessons learned are passed along from current managers to future managers.
A key focus area is having clearly defined career paths for personnel at all levels and then working with these folks to actively pursue those goals. A central feature of this method is to place qualified folks in challenging positions, offer fair compensation models, communicate clearly defined and attainable expectations and goals, prepare them for their next position, and promote them only when appropriate. This ensures that employees are fairly treated, empowered, and valued, which encourages an atmosphere of trust and loyalty. Often, this is easier said than done but certainly a great target. Project and Program Managers that expect to be successful leaders must invest time in the folks that work on the projects they manage and must be part of the organizational push to focus on creating the conditions which will allow personnel to find intrinsic value in their work.
Connecting the Dots
In addition to providing exceptional service via a happy workforce, the outcomes of developing a stable workforce go beyond simply avoiding the slow death of not being able to adequately staff your projects. Success is most effectively distilled from the bottom to the top of an organization. When the base of the organization is successful, a high tide is naturally created which allows all boats to rise. Focusing on creating a fulfilling and enriching work atmosphere that encourages your employees to view their tasking as intrinsically valuable will lead to superior service to your customers and successful outcomes for the workforce. Customers that understand forward-thinking thought leadership precedes happy and motivated personnel place a premium on working with those companies. Putting all the pieces together leads to Exceeding Expectations by reducing risks, creating opportunities, and ensuring that Cost, Schedule, and Performance metrics are met.
How do other leaders engage personnel to build an environment that encourages enriching, intrinsically valuable work experiences? Do other leaders believe that promoting concepts such as value and success will inspire personnel in an increasingly tight labor market to remain with a firm because the work has meaning and value all by itself and not just because you are paying more?