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The Secret to Workforce Management Success

bob clements smallToday's guest post was written by our board member Bob Clements.  Bob is a senior vice president and chief workforce management evangelist at Axsium.  In his post that follows, Bob reflects on the change management conundrum that often accompanies software implementations.  Change is hard, but "change management services" are often an early budget casualty.  Coincidentally, I had a similar conversation this week on DriveThru HR radio.  You can listen to that conversation here: DriveThru HR Radio Interview 2.3.14

Can I tell you a secret?  I hate change.  This is hard for me to admit since I've largely built my career on change.  I started my career riding waves of technology change, first from DOS to Windows and then later from client-server to the web.  These changes in technology created opportunities, which allowed me to develop and launch new products and services that helped organizations automate complex, manual processes like scheduling and timekeeping.  And, today, I am an agent for change, helping companies implement new systems and new ways of working to help drive greater productivity and profitability through their workforce.

It's one thing to drive change, it's another thing to have change thrust upon me, and when facing change, I get uncomfortable.  A road closes for construction forcing me to take a more scenic route to work; I'm aggravated even if the new route doesn't add time to my drive.  The grocery store stops carrying my favorite line of cottage cheese; I get frustrated guessing which brand will taste most like the old one I like.  My wife changes her hair style; it looks great, but I keep getting startled at the “new” person sitting next to me.  Even though I seemingly thrive on change, life's little changes can throw me off-kilter and have a big impact on my mood and stress level.  I'm not alone.  We may have our own hot buttons, but I know we all feel some amount of stress and fear when we are faced with unexpected change.  The bigger the change, the bigger the stress it creates.

For most people, one of the biggest causes of stress is change at work, and for employees, the implementation of a workforce management system can be a particularly scary change.  It changes the way that they get scheduled for work.  It changes the way that they request time off.  It changes the way that they report time worked.  It changes the way that they get paid.  It leads to stressful questions. Will my hours get cut?  Will I make less money?  Will I lose my job?  Will I be able to provide for myself and my family?  These fears are much bigger than changes to your commute to work, the brand of cottage cheese you buy, or your spouse's new hairdo.

I am often asked, “What is the most important thing to do when implementing a WFM system?”  My answer is always the same: change management.  A strong change management plan not only informs the employees that a new WFM system is coming but tells them why the system is being implemented, what the organization is trying to achieve, and most importantly, how it will affect employees.

The problem is that change management is the often first thing to get cut or scaled back when pencils need to be sharpened on WFM budgets.  Cutting back on change management means that those questions that employees are asking about the WFM system and its effects (e.g., Will my hours get cut? Will I lose my job?) will not be answered.  They will assume the worst.  Rumors will abound.  Fear will keep them from using the system.  Interestingly, this creates another problem: you will not achieve the benefits you expected from WFM.  So, if your success is dependent upon the success of your WFM project, don't skimp on change management.  I recognize this is easier said than done.

It is easy to downplay the importance of change management when you are at the start of a WFM project.  Your employees are scheduled today, they request time off today, and they report time today.  “Why does a new system cause angst?” you'll ask. Later, it is easy to deprioritize change management when you are heads-down on the implementation, worried about meeting your next deadline.  Taking a few hours from change management tasks to put into configuration or testing won't have much impact, right?  It is at times like these that it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the employees, to remember how much you hate change, especially when it is not of your own choosing.  Empathy will help you keep change management in the right perspective, and change management will be the secret to your success.

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