With globalization and technology, skills become obsolete rapidly. The traditional approach of performing specialist work is less effective. This hack advocates establishing the multi-skilled, multi-colored Generalists, i.e. the Rainbow Workforce. Rainbow Organizations nurture the continuous creation and enhancement of multiple competencies of employees, creating an adaptable and high performance workforce.
With globalization and technological change, the needs of the organizations are becoming fluid. Existing capabilities and skills are not sufficient. Organizations have to hire or retrain employees constantly.
It is a challenge to do manpower planning, hiring, employee utilization and staffing. Moreover, obsolescence of skills makes returning to work after long breaks and retention of employees, either voluntary or involuntary is difficult. This necessitates a need for us to re-look at the practices associated with talent management.
I have proposed two parts to the solution: eliminate specialization and redefine competence building.
Eliminating the Concept of Specialists and fostering the concept of Generalists
I challenge the traditional approach of specialization by Taylor and Adam Smith. Limiting people to their functional domains was sufficient only for productivity improvements. Cross functions were not prevalent then as it was a need that evolved over a period of time.
Skills can be compared to colors. "Unskilled" worker can be compared to natural light comprizing a wide color spectrum. Unskilled worker are naturally endowed a minimum range of skills. We highlight these skills by bringing workers over a threshold.
Most skills could be developed with time and exposure. If every worker can be naturally endowed, every employee can be developed into a rainbow with multiple-skills by exposing them to the threshold of the desired skill to be developed. Tying an employee to a specific job function restricts their horizons to skill development and in turn, limits innovation in various domains.
When once color i.e. skill becomes obsolete, the employee becomes temporarily not utilizable until another color is developed. Time to time, workers should be exposed to different functions thereby making him/her multi-skilled generalist as against the traditional definition of specialist. This results in a rainbow workforce where each employee is associated with a spectrum of multiple colors like a rainbow. With a rainbow workforce, temporary obsolescence of talent due to obsolescence of skill can be eliminated.
Redefining Competence building and Performance Management
Performance management of a rainbow workforce is like working with a color spectrum of different sources of light. Competence is a function of three parameters: skill area, knowledge level and attitude. These are comparable to the properties of colors: hue, saturation and lightness.
Skill area – It is the area of expertise needed for a specific job function.
Knowledge level – It is the depth of expertise gained in a particular skill area.
Attitude – It is the motivation level for a particular skill. It could be positive or negative and increasing or declining.
Competence building is a continuous process where a spectrum of competencies is developed by means of a combination of goal setting and training. Multiple competencies are built in iterative cycles over a period of time. This enables creation of a workforce which is up-to-date with the evolving changes with respect to technology, skill and awareness. Similarly, performance should be measured by assessing for each skill area for the knowledge level, attitude and results produced.
The proposed solution has tangible benefits for both the Organization and the Workforce.
Due to the high demand fluctuations, the demand forecast for skills and manpower planning is inaccurate. A workforce with well-rounded skills helps in mitigating this risk as they do not have the need for project specific recruitment. As the employees in the workforce are multi-skilled generalists, there would not be any sporadic spikes in training needs attributed to sudden developments in demand for specific skill.
Rainbow organizations have a well prepared workforce to meet unanticipated needs. Role fitment will no longer be a nightmare for project managers and hence, project staffing will be easier to fulfil. Transitions into and out of projects are shortened due to faster and better grasp of the needs demonstrated by employees due to their well-rounded skill-set. Business continuity is unaffected in cases of Employee Attrition, Absconding, Disaster Management.
Project teams with rainbow workforce do not have the issue of dependencies on their team members due to their unavailability or absences as the skill/talent is well distributed to all the project staff. Work does not suffer and work product will be delivered with no time delays or defects.
Rainbow organizations foster building of a high performance work ethic. Due to presence of multi-skilled generalists, the aggregate competence levels for each skills in higher in the organization, making it more result oriented.
Rainbow Organizations provide opportunities for employees to be multi-talented. This enables to demonstrate higher level of technical competence as compared to the traditional organizations. Due to the nature and requirement of the organizational culture, employees display adaptability and are attuned to quick learnability.
Working in multiple areas helps the employees discover the unexplored capabilities and develop new aspirations. They also provide opportunities for employees to achieve them. Rainbow Organizations enables the switch roles easily based on needs/aspirations/opportunities.
Rainbow Organizations instil a performance driven mind set, enabling display of creativity, innovation and formulate best practices. Due to the understanding of the multiple components of work, the culture fosters employees to empathize with the rest of the functions and mould them into better team players.
1. Identify all the Job Levels where Rainbow workforce could be applicable.
2. Identify functional areas where Rainbow workforce can be implemented.(There may be some exceptions where specialist skills are must-have like R&D)
3. For each Job level, develop a Performance Spectrum Framework
4. Develop Multi-functional Training programs for each job level
5. Design an employee allocation plan with cross-posting based on the training areas for each employee.
6. Choose one unit and Pilot the model. The duration of the pilot should be for a period of one year or 2 performance management cycles, whichever is longer.
7. Measure the program effectiveness based on talent utilisation, savings on effort and improvement in employee performance levels.
8. Make any modifications to the existing program based on the effectiveness study.
9. Communicate the Rainbow Framework to the entire organisation in phases.
10. Roll-out the program throughout the organization
Prof. Ricardo A. Lim, Associate Dean, W. SyCip GSB, AIM