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Five Steps to Better Results with a Contingent Workforce

Posted by Bill Kazman

Oct 31, 2014 1:36:35 PM

Long gone are the days of getting a job with a company and staying with that company through retirement. The average tenure of wage and salary workers in the U.S. is 4.6 years with one in five workers planning to change jobs this year. Companies benefit from the influx of diverse experiences as outside talent joins their organizations, but they can also pay a price in lost institutional knowledge when workers leave for other opportunities. Lost institutional knowledge and the associated risk of degradation to work product quality is further amplified by the shift in the workforce towards a contingent labor model.

One out of three U.S. workers are non-employee contingent laborers, and that is expected to grow to 50% of the workforce by the end of the decade. This workforce megatrend compels companies to develop strategies for tapping the flexible workforce talent pool. But contingent laborers do not have a stake in their employers’ cultures or institutional knowledge development, and are focused purely on doing a task to get paid. This absence of loyalty/ownership in the contingent workforce deprives their work of the passion and context from their employer’s overall vision and mission, and work product quality can suffer.

The pervasive adoption of mobile technologies is increasingly “virtualizing” the workforce, especially among contingent laborers. Employers often rely on third party services and software/Internet platforms to facilitate sourcing and managing their contingent labor, reducing the touch points between employer and worker. The prevalence of the remote worker model in the flexible workforce adds additional distance/time impediments to employer/worker interactions. This expanding friction to employer/worker communications makes it increasingly challenging to manage contingent laborers’ work delivery, fueling an increasing quality gap in their results.

So how can you reverse this expanding work product quality gap?

The starting place is to source and vet resources with the right experience for the tasks at hand. However, while leveraging the right resource is essential for delivering a quality work product, by itself, it is insufficient. Quality results require a persistent and systematic focus on the tasks and delivery process.  

 Results

Here are 5 strategies to help:

  1. Clearly define the task(s): Clarity of expectations is step one in achieving a quality result. Create a concrete and specific description of the task that is to be completed.
  2. Design delivery approach: There are numerous paths and techniques to get from start to desired result in a given project or program.   Some are better than others, and more than one may get to an optimal result. Either provide to or collaboratively create with your worker a detailed work plan that will be followed from the beginning to the end of the engagement.
  3. Create and integrate touch points into the work plan:   Work execution can be analyzed as a process with a beginning, an end, and steps in-between. By breaking down the work in this manner, employer/worker touch points can be designed and inserted between the steps. These can be in the form of progress on a punch list, a phone call, a meeting, a report, an electronic check-in, and more. Use the touch points to maintain visibility on progress and measure performance.
  4. Establish / enforce quality assurance methods: Touch points provide the ongoing visibility to task execution. Leverage that visibility to create concrete progress metrics that can be objectively collected and compared against reasonable targets representative of desired quality.
  5. Optimize the work plan throughout the engagement: Touch points and quality metrics are the essential input to creating an optimization feedback loop. Use this data to adjust the work plan such that results are achieved more optimally (sooner, less cost, higher quality, higher impact . . . ). For example, a routine scheduled client call may reveal that the work process is not providing enough progress communications, leaving the client concerned as to whether completion goals will be met on time; shoring up the status reporting process may alleviate this concern and improve the client experience.

iTeam’s Service-as-a-Product is one approach that encompasses these task-focused strategies within an advanced system of productization and structured management to deliver a guaranteed result. Other labor-centric services such as staffing agencies, MSP’s, VMS’s, and crowdsourcing platforms fall short when it comes to driving quality results via a task-focused process. Both a labor focus and a task focus are critical to achieve quality work product from a contingent work force.

Topics: Service-as-a-Product, contingent labor

The Flexible Workforce - Risks and Rewards for Your Enterprise

Posted by Bill Kazman

Sep 8, 2014 7:00:00 AM

A megatrend is underway in the U.S. workforce. Twenty-six percent of American workers make their living without the traditional mantle of a company paycheck, either choosing or being compelled by business and economic circumstances to work as part of the flexible workforce. As the millennials’ population in the workforce grows, their priority on work-life balance is attracting many to the flexibility of the freelancer career model, adding to the trend in flexible workforce growth. Combining this popularity of work life flexibility with the rapid adoption of mobile technologies and ubiquitous Internet access, and the result is a megatrend that is expected to exceed 50% of the workforce by 2020.People-Growth

Effectively tapping this expanding labor pool is a growing necessity for businesses in order to access the diversity of talent essential for remaining competitive. And there are many great benefits to leveraging the flexible workforce:

  • Staffing level flexibility – the ability to quickly add and eliminate staff in response to demand fluctuations can have a large, positive impact on efficiencies and cost. Staffing for work load peaks yields excess utilization capacity and cost during slower times. Staffing for work load valleys stretches your staff during peak times, leading to potentially unacceptable service and performance shortfalls. Relying on contingent labor for work demand spikes can mitigate this tradeoff as long as the contingent resources can deliver effective business results.
  • Geographic flexibility – for the enterprise with multiple locations, having the right resource at the right location can prove challenging. Expanding beyond the employee workforce to tap local talent where and when it may be needed can reduce travel costs for transporting HQ staff, while increasing resource availability and responsiveness at the remote locations.
  • Access to skills not available internally - A new customer opportunity, project, or strategic initiative may demand skills that are not available in-house due to other workload commitments or simply an absence of the required expertise among internal staff. The flexible workforce can fill this gap.
  • Tax, benefits, and long-term compensation savings – As long as the contingent labor is not comprised of misclassified employees, businesses can save on taxes and benefits which are not paid to independent contractors.

However, there are also significant risks:

  • Limited visibility and control over geographically disbursed resources – Staff that are not working in your office with you exhibit management challenges that are exacerbated by their independent relationship with your business. How can you ascertain (before it’s too late) that they are working on your agenda within your time frame? What accountability tools do you have to rectify substandard performance?
  • Lack of context and company-specific experience relevant to successful work product delivery – Contingent staff can bring industry experience and skills to their employers. But they don’t have the company specific knowledge of products, methods, communication styles, and culture that are invaluable, and possibly even indispensable, in many work situations.
  • Absence of loyalty to company – Conscientiousness is not exclusive to employee labor. However, contingent labor is less likely than a regular employee to exhibit extraordinary effort and sacrifice in completion of a goal. The regular employee is motivated by loyalty that has accumulated over years of company relationship investment. Different motivational tools must be utilized with the flexible workforce.
  • Administrative burden of securing / managing hybrid workforce – The administrative aspects of leveraging contingent labor can be significant and include sourcing from one or more vendors, reviewing resumes and interviewing, training, payment processes, and more. And by definition, the labor is temporary, meaning the costs will be repeated for every new worker. Software tools (vendor management systems) are available to help manage the administrative costs, but they do little to ensure intended business deliverables/objectives are being met.
  • Remediation costs from performance inconsistencies – Onboarding a new resource invariably introduces performance risk until startup hiccups are overcome and the resource proves it’s capability in your environment. Inevitability, some things will go wrong, the magnitude dependent on the experience and vigilance applied in the procurement process along with a sprinkling of luck. And associated remediation costs can vary widely depending on your business’s exposure to the results of the resource’s work product – from the cost of repeating some work to potentially losing a customer’s confidence and follow-on business.
  • Liability risks – Businesses can create substantial liability exposure by using “independent contractors” that are actually misclassified employees. Compounding this risk is the fact that there is no single definition of the term “independent contractor”, and the interpretations by courts and enforcement agencies to a wide body of state and federal labor laws must be considered when evaluating a particular situation. The Supreme Court has ruled under the Fair Labor Standards Act that there is no single definition that pertains to the employer-employee relationship, and have described a series of six significant factors of which no single one is controlling. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement starts with the presumption that a worker is an employee and then considers eleven factors dubbed the economic realities test to assess a worker’s status. State and federal tax collectors have targeted worker misclassification as an area of substantial loss of tax revenue, and seek out audits that have the potential to recover these losses and assess penalties. Worker injuries can lead to workman’s comp and misclassification claims with similar associated financial risks.

Despite the risks, the flexible workforce has become an indispensable element of operations for many businesses.  Those that use contingent labor on a small scale typically lean on their internal HR resources for support.  For a more significant hybrid workforce, vendor management systems (VMS) can help facilitate sourcing, vetting, contract management, and payment administration.  The HR duties associated with management of the contingent workforce can be outsourced to a PEO (professional employer organization), sharing some of the risk via this co-employment relationship. Liability risk can be minimized by the use of SOW (statement of work) focused outsourcing, with solutions such as Service-as-a-Product able to provide guaranteed, repeatable business deliverables without the overhead, risks, and headaches of do-it-yourself approaches.

Topics: Service-as-a-Product, flexible workforce, contingent labor

Picture This!

Posted by Bill Kazman

Sep 2, 2014 8:00:00 AM

So you’re doing a site survey, installation, or support call and you’re tasked with taking lots of digital photos to document your visit. Photos might include the condition of the site at various locations, physical attributes of locations where equipment may be mounted, condition of wiring closets, type and orientation of racked equipment, building access for lifts and ladders, electrical panels, patch panels, wall construction, ceiling construction, partial or completed installations, and more. The photos are going to be used by remote solution engineers and project managers to create bills of materials, define scopes of work, validate work performance, communicate with their clients, and more.

The Challenge:

You are going to send a gallery of dozens of photos to your client. How can you quickly and easily label and organize them so the client understands what they are?

The Answer:

Before taking a picture or series of pictures of your subject targets, take a picture of a piece of paper in which you’ve jotted down in heavy marker the description of what you are about to take pictures of . . . e.g. "patch panel in manager’s office before install"; "patch panel in manager’s office after install"; "bank teller digital sign – completed install"; "customer waiting area digital sign – completed install"; and so on. Several pictures may follow each “description”. Before you start taking pictures of any target subjects, label the entire gallery with a title description . . . e.g. "Branch 401 Digital Signage installation, 7/20/2014".

This approach adds a few minutes to the total time required for the photo taking, but saves many hours on the back end trying to figure out which pictures are what, and trying to manually sort and rename files after you’ve left the site.

To save even more time, use an e-writer like the Boogie Board shown here.

Boogie_Board

Topics: technology, Service-as-a-Product, pictures, site survey, photos, documentation, installation

Time-lapse Video of a Video Wall Installation

Posted by Bill Kazman

Aug 25, 2014 8:00:00 AM

They are showing up everywhere . . . tiled arrays of full-size digital displays splashing eye-catching, larger-than-life, motion graphics across walls.

Did you ever wonder what it takes to install one?

Watch iTeam Inner Circle technicians perform an overnight install of a 4x3 video wall in a Fortune 125 corporate headquarters cafeteria.

 

Topics: technology, digital signage, Service-as-a-Product, installation, video wall

Get a Handle on Customer Experience with Engineered Touch Points

Posted by Bill Kazman

Aug 11, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Every business wants their customers to have a great experience so they tell their friends and come back for more. Every time your business interacts with your customer, you are contributing collectively to their experience . . . from the first marketing communication through the sale, delivery, invoice, and satisfaction follow-up . . . the end-to-end process collectively creates an impression. Throughout this process, every customer touch point --- be it in-person, by email, by phone, or by social networking --- is an opportunity to deliver a great or mediocre experience. An outstanding performance at one touch point can be negated by a calamity at a different touch point.

Engineering your customer touch points provides the opportunity to design, measure, and continuously optimize your customer’s experience.

finger_touch_(touchpoint)Start by making a list of all of the current interactions across your customer lifecycle. Include every step of the process from a quote, to a scheduling phone call, onsite visit, follow-up calls, invoice, etc. Then examine each touch point to assess how it is experienced by the customer and if it is a great experience. Something as simple as a scheduling phone call can be handled poorly or with finesse . . . who is making the call? what are they saying? could they be provided some training or a script that would improve how the customer receives the call? if a call goes to voicemail, what is the follow-up process? if you were the customer, how would you like to be spoken to and pursued?

Performing this type of analysis on every touch point shines a bright light on your customers’ overall experience. More importantly, it gives you the handles to change and improve your customers’ experiences. You can easily identify which touch points are providing a sub-par experience, and make one-by-one changes in delivery process to each. You can close experience gaps in your customer lifecycle by designing and adding new touch points . . . e.g. a how’s-it-going phone call, or project summary email.

Collectively, a bunch of small changes across numerous touch points can dramatically transform the customer experience your business delivers. And knowing and managing your customer touch points gives you the handles for continuous improvement.

Topics: technology, digital signage, Service-as-a-Product, customer service, deployments, touch point, customer lifecycle, customer experience, optimization

Streamline Your Technology Deployments . . . Productize First!

Posted by Bill Kazman

Feb 11, 2014 3:16:00 PM

Productization is typically thought about in the context of making the results of an R&D effort suitable for commercialization --- design for assembly, cost reduction, supplier optimization, manufacturing process design, QA procedures, UI optimization, and so forth.  Product companies allocate many engineering resources and extensive calendar time to bring their products from the lab to their customers. 

So how does this help when you're responsible for rolling out 1000 PC's across your enterprise, or deploying 200 digital signs at all of your retail locations, or hanging 30 projectors across your school campus?

During the specification and planning phase of your project, ask yourself some of the same questions that a product engineer might ask: 

  • How does all of the hardware and software fit together?  Are there alternative components that could simplify or shorten the deployment tasks?Man_and_Lego_Blocks
  • What are the precise steps that must be taken by a field engineer to execute a single installation?  How long does it take?
  • When multiple configuration alternatives exist, what are the best practices and "best fit" for my environment?
  • What skills and knowledge are required by the field engineer?  Is it possible to simplify the field requirements via staging strategies and/or pre-configuration?
  • Can any portion of the field installation be performed remotely?
  • What are the detailed steps to fully validate and document that the installation is complete and fully functional?
  • What are all the possible things that can go wrong during the installation (faulty network wiring, missing parts, physical access denied, . . .) and what is the most effective escalation strategy for each?

Applying the methodical thinking of a product engineer to your rollout projects sets you up for a consistent and repeatable field event with every location installed and tested to your standards.  And at the same time you can get a leg up on controlling remediation situations before they ever happen.

Topics: digital signage, field engineer, PC, productize, projectors, rollout, Service-as-a-Product, technology