Today, traditional understanding of “workforce integration” is evolving and expanding to meet rapidly changing business needs. Once simply defined as joining two companies’ workforces after a merger or acquisition, workforce integration now also is understood in a more proactive, value-generating manner.
More complex work environments (especially in areas such as sales, operations and customer service) lead senior executives to ask how they can integrate their most important workforces more effectively to meet common goals and achieve high performance.
This isn’t just “workforce collaboration” under a new name — the challenge extends beyond the usual notions of workforce collaboration. What’s required is an approach to development and a mode of working together that are more systemic, moving beyond ad hoc opportunities for collaboration.
Organizations want to embed integration into the definition of work and processes, the development of individuals and teams and the support of workforce performance.
Supporting Integrated, Cross-Functional Knowledge and Performance
Consider, for example, the capital markets industry. As markets for all types of financial products have become more global, capital markets have expanded to help fuel this growth. Today, investment banks offer more types of financial products in more international markets than ever. This expansion presents numerous opportunities to create integrated and global operational infrastructures.
Goldman Sachs, a global investment banking, securities and investment management firm, knows this as well as any enterprise. Over the last decade, the firm has experienced tremendous growth in both the range and complexity of its products, as well as the breadth of its global footprint.
To support this, Goldman Sachs’ operations division created a three-year, global program to train new analysts in both the specialized skills needed to support a particular business’ operations and in the generalized knowledge needed to support broader cross-product and cross-functional client needs.
The firm enlisted its own Goldman Sachs University to create a program that covered financial markets and products, risk management, relationship management and leadership. The program includes an initial two-week orientation, an annual cross-operations continuing education week and formal business-unit training throughout the three years.
One particularly innovative element is an action-learning team project that takes place during the orientation program and is led by line managers, who act as coaches and role players. Cross-functional and cross-product analyst teams are given three typical operations business issues to solve over the course of the two-week orientation.
Through these projects, the analysts learn much more than just the specific technical skills needed to support their businesses — they learn the problem-solving, client-relationship, communication and teamwork skills needed to integrate across geographies and across the operations’ business units.
Integrating Service-Related Workforces
For Symcor, a North American provider of business process outsourcing services for the financial services industry, workforce integration has been a mandate tied to its continuous-improvement goals. Committed to continuously improving its customer service capabilities, Symcor redesigned core business processes to better align to shared service goals.
Part of the answer to this challenge involved redefining related core processes — receiving customer inquiries and issues, assigning them to resolution teams and managing the customer experience and relationship.
Symcor established intra- and inter-team skills and behaviors of two of its critical workforces: service desk (help desk) workers and the approximately 800 assignment specialists who address technology and business service issues and enhancements.
The objective was to strengthen the integration point between the service desk workforce that receives a customer inquiry and the assignment group workforce that resolves and enhances service.
Although the information system can handle part of the support for the new customer service process, the technology by itself will not produce the behavior change needed.
So, Symcor’s ongoing customer experience transformation program also involves a change management and training program. The training is focused not just on skills but on new ways to integrate the work patterns of the two groups, encouraging more open communication and responsiveness as they work together to resolve a common issue or challenge.
The training targets each group’s understanding of the importance of each other’s function, as well as how to make the connection points stronger so customer inquiries do not fall between the cracks. The training assessment and measurement programs explicitly test the knowledge each group has of the other.
Supporting a More Complex Sales Environment
Most industries have been affected by the trend toward “solution selling” — moving the sales force up the value chain to sell total packages of products and services to meet a customer’s business needs.
Implementing a solution-selling strategy relies on successional workforce integration because designing, packaging, selling and servicing a total solution most likely will involve cross-functional teams made up of individuals from sales, sales support, marketing, information technology, customer service and legal.
The rapid expansion of the basic catalog of products and services, the changing technical environment and the requirement to sell in new ways to new customers can place a burden on the sales force when a solution-selling strategy is implemented.
Often, the sales force’s existing knowledge and traditional approaches to training simply are unequal to the task. Psychologists call this condition “cognitive overload,” and the response is often a retreat into well-known areas.
For sales professionals, that means going back to selling a fairly narrow range of products and services in which they have a good grasp of the knowledge, as well as experience selling to people with whom they’ve had success.
CLOs striving to respond to the complex training needs in a solution-selling environment increasingly turn to portal solutions or “performance workspaces” to deliver knowledge and support at the point of need. Advanced sales portals can meet the unique needs of customers, develop distinctive solutions to meet those needs and support the extended sales team through the entire sales process.
Cisco Systems, for example, developed an e-sales portal to help it improve the productivity of its field sales force. The portal has embedded workforce integration principles into a Web-based sales management tool — a collection of sales information and forecasting applications that help sales people work more effectively and efficiently.
Salespeople can specify the technologies, products, markets, customers and other information they would like to see on their customized Web portal. Based on tags in all new information posted to the internal Cisco employee Web site, only the information each salesperson wants to see is made available on his or her customized page.
Global Workforce Integration
GE Money (formerly GE Consumer Finance) has responded to rapid global expansion with several innovative learning initiatives. The company has operations in 54 countries along six major business lines.
As a result of numerous acquisitions over the past decade, 75 percent of the GE Money workforce is outside the United States. GE Money is using learning to create a common culture with shared capabilities to bring these different workforces into the GE family.
Ginny Ertl, global head of training and development, is the executive who ensures the company’s global workforce is integrated and equipped with the capabilities and skills to execute a global strategy.
One of her key tasks was to build a common approach to sales training that transcends geographies and businesses and teaches successful sales behaviors among the 20,000 members of the global GE Money sales force. This approach differs from many sales training initiatives, which focus on only product features or process steps.
Ertl and her team identified the top sellers throughout each geographic region and across business lines, and then they built training around the particular traits, skills and behaviors that made those top sellers so successful.
A series of design workshops with these experts enabled Ertl’s team to uncover the top sellers’ best practices, expert stories, lessons learned, key ways they understood and dealt with customers and any other differentiating behaviors.
The results of these design workshops were striking, Ertl said. More than half the successful behaviors identified were common across geographies, sales forces and lines of business. Based on this initial work, the team was able to create a common sales model that could be replicated across sales forces.
Ertl and her team then designed a blended training delivery model, using instructor-led training, workshops and performance simulations. The latter aspect has been especially important because simulation-based training is more effective at changing sales behaviors than other learning methods.
Growing Sophistication in Learning and Talent Management
This new face of workforce integration — where organizations seek to embed a more coordinated and integrated mode of development, performance and knowledge sharing across workforces — is yet another step high performers from every industry are taking to more effectively plan and execute advanced learning and talent management strategies.
Tracey Malcolm is an executive with Accenture, specializing in workforce transformation. Craig Mindrum, Ph.D., is a visiting research fellow with Accenture Learning. They can be reached at email@example.com.
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