By: Marigrace McKay on June 16th, 2017

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Contingent Workforce Change Management Strategies

Business Management & Strategy

There is great interest in the topic of Change Management (CM) among my clients these days. I always tell them for a moment, forget the angst that goes along with a new organizational management buzz concept, new models, acronyms, and the "OMG something else to learn anxiety!"

Consider this Simple 3-Step Change Management Model:

  1. What will you change?
  2. What will you change something to?
  3. How will you affect the change?

Easy right? Let’s walk through a brief business case from a small supply chain operation...

Facts:  Company A needs a seasonal workforce of 200 employees for a period of 90 days. Due to high turnover, it takes nearly 600 employees to fill the season’s contingent workforce needs. Mathematically, every worker is currently only a 1/3 full-time equivalent (FTE). Calculating the cost of this inefficiency includes agency fees, supervisory oversight, additional trainers, HR processing activities, and workers compensation claims (inexperience).  This is a budgetary ‘perfect storm’.  Let’s return to our simple model and apply it to Company A.

What needs to be changed?

The answer is the process of acquiring seasonal labor. Usually, the ‘what’ of change is associated with operational concepts such as out-of-plan financials or a leaking faucet, or a new product or growth opportunity.

Included in this first question of our business case are additional elements, such as:

  • How well are the jobs defined?
  • How are applicants selected?
  • And how well do potential workers understand the true nature of the work?

Filling these gaps may result in keeping employees for a period of 0-30 days, but what about the 90 day season? The day-by-day uncertainty of how many contingent employees will return to work is nerve-wrackingly imprecise. This leads us to our second question.

What will acquiring season labor be changed to?

The answer is clearly from its current inefficient process to something much improved. Those improvements are derived from articulating a desired future state and using various data analyses to identify specifics. The future state is defined as ‘a full 90-days of seasonal workforce close to the 200 count needed.’ Some supporting data analytics include:

  • the cost of poor quality;
  • the cost of rework;
  • the cost of lost orders; and
  • the cost of claims, etc.

Research indicates that employees generally leave jobs because of their manager/supervisor, but they stay because of co-workers – so a more socially-connected environment may be of assistance. Leading to the third question.

How will you affect the change?

Using one piece of research (above) combined with data leads to a cocktail-type solution. In this business case, some change levers included:  a buddy-system, employee lockers, trivia contest, and agency recognition of employment at 30-day hooray intervals, matriculating to 90 days of seasonal work, but most importantly, the advanced role of the supervisor. Supervisors are essential to the employment experience as they are the face of the company.  For supervisors to appreciate employees more seems simple enough, but it can require a mental shift. The notions that employees are ‘replaceable’ and/or that they share common work ethic no longer applies.

The Change Management Business Case Results

In this business case, supervisors welcomed workers daily, opened themselves to more direct training oversight/coaching vs. directorials, and included the seasonal workers in regular employee pre-shift activities. These changes (improvements) were instrumental in building a more socially inviting environment for workers with which to look forward to – one more day, tomorrow, at a time.  The post-script to this business case is that the next year, seasonal labor dropped to a ½ FTE – some measure of progress sustained, improving and as with all change initiatives – iterative in nature.

So change management doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require a methodical approach and inclusion of data and research.  Simply start by answering the first question:  What needs to be changed?  When there’s agreement on the dissatisfied status quo and negative consequences the next question can be considered. What does something need to be changed TO? Clearly articulating new desired outcomes is invigorating and engenders hope that negative circumstance can be transformed into a new, positive reality.  And lastly, and the most difficult is deciding how to affect the change?  Who will be involved? Who leads? What obstacles need to be removed?

“Managing with the Brain in Mind: Neuroscience research is revealing the social nature of the high-performance workplace” article by Dr. David Rock in Strategy and Business magazine identifies how employee rejection (feeling different) in the workplace is registered in the brain as physical body pain, just like a pinch.  This article and Rock’s ensuing body of work is a significant finding for employers to embrace workforce/workplace socialization.

This blog article used a short business case to step through three simple questions about change management basics to improve the dynamics of acquiring, keeping and benefiting from a contingent workforce. In this case, socializing worked! And we now know from brain research why. The brain avoids pain and seeks pleasure – such as job satisfaction, the pleasure of co-workers and supervisor appreciation.

Final Tips for Change Management Basics

Research workplace areas for improvement well, follow the three guiding change management questions referenced above, and remember, you're working with real human beings here!