Building a Frontline Workforce Ecosystem

Aug 30, 2022 5:37:05 AM . Julia Walsh

The modern workforce is shaping up to be very different from the traditional understanding of a workforce and how it should function. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be an inflection point for the reconfiguration of the modern manufacturing frontline paradigm. Disrupted supply chains, lack of external support on the shop floor, and the absence of specialized and task-oriented workers all changed the core perception of how a typical manufacturing workforce should operate. The pandemic made it clear that manufacturers need to empower their workforces and use the best possible digital means to do so.

The pandemic created adversity, which required resilience, and the concept of a Workforce Ecosystem was born. Deloitte shared a detailed report on what constitutes a Workforce Ecosystem and what companies can do to establish thriving ones. Here, we will examine the core recommendations of that report and introduce the concept of a workforce digitization platform that augments management efforts and underscores the very creation of the Workforce Ecosystem itself.

Workforce Ecosystem Explained:

A Workforce Ecosystem is a community of internal, external, and robotic workers who create value without being affected by traditional departmental or functional silos. These workers are digitally enabled, connected, and networked into task- or project-oriented teams. They work on multiple tasks, often cross-functionally, to deliver the maximum possible value and to meet the strategic goals of the organization. Digital tools do not only help workers within the ecosystem perform their tasks better. They also collect data in the process that can be analyzed by workers to augment and drive their decision-making. Such an ecosystem of workers is by default more flexible and resilient than a traditional setup governed by strict controls and separated by functional or data silos. The Workforce Ecosystem puts collaboration and shared value creation ahead of task-oriented efficiency and targets maximum value creation through the best possible use of workforce efforts. Process efficiency and improvement are the drivers for such an ecosystem, and shared victories through collaborative action are the norm. However, this deviation from current practice will require, at a minimum, initiative from top management, a clear understanding of what a frontline ecosystem should look like, and the right digital platform to deliver the best possible version of the ecosystem.

The Difference between the Traditional Workforce Approach and the Workforce Ecosystem Approach and How a Digital Platform Helps Create the Ecosystem in a Manufacturing Organization: 

Workforce Planning: Traditionally, workers were recruited for specific tasks and sourced from known talent pools to fill both full-time and part-time positions. The pandemic and the resulting digital revolution proved this method to be flawed, because available workers had to quickly gain cross-functional skills and use the technology available to do their best given the circumstances. In the new Workforce Ecosystem, talent is not restricted by tasks, and workers are encouraged to acquire new skills through digital training and support.

The right frontline digitization platform not only enables cross-functional training; it also allows workers to learn on the job through digital instructions on their mobile devices. A digital platform that allows workers to complete training and learn on the job fits the Workforce Ecosystem paradigm perfectly, as it helps create networked teams and allows skill acquisition to happen on the fly. Recruiting managers can access a larger talent pool knowing that the platform will allow current workers to train, motivate, and deploy fresh talent in areas that require some degree of skill.

Talent Acquisition: Manufacturing companies usually hire workers based on their experience executing a particular task or managing a particular functional area, and the requirements are handled on the basis of FTEs (full-time equivalents) in silos. The Workforce Ecosystem paradigm, however, bases recruiting on work types, and analytics play a major role in creating a consolidated view of the workforce.

Manufacturing hasn’t been the most popular mode of employment in recent years, because manufacturing jobs are associated with a lack of appeal. Manufacturers need to leverage their digital platforms and IT infrastructure to create appeal for manufacturing jobs. A workforce platform that allows workers to create their own apps, use them to not only perform tasks but also engage and connect with the whole enterprise across functions and expertise barriers, and learn on the job, will not only attract talent but act as the best retention tool available. 

Performance Management: Traditional methods dictate that the performance of an individual be measured retrospectively against set personal goals for output and KPIs, without any team focus. In the Workforce Ecosystem, however, goal-setting is continuous and performance evaluation is based on individual and team metrics.

A good digital platform changes metrics-based evaluation to fully data-driven activity, taking perception out of the equation. Workers are empowered to review their own performance as individuals and teams and to configure their future performance goals based on real-time data collected from their activities. Managers are provided with data about their entire team’s performance and have the ability to drill down and review each worker’s contributions. This makes goal-setting and evaluation a dynamic and real-time activity instead of a reactive once-a-year sort of process.

Compensation and Rewards: Most manufacturers follow salary bands based on industry benchmarks for specific tasks and roles. Compensation adjustments happen once a year, and standard benefits are provided. The Workforce Ecosystem paradigm disrupts this way of compensating a workforce. It considers not only current performance but also adaptability, contributions, and potential for growth. Worker preferences are given weight during compensation structure setup, and micro benefits are added as incentives alongside traditional benefits.

With a world-class frontline workforce platform, creating compensation models based on performance and potential for improvement and growth is easy. The platform not only provides data on individual tasks performed by workers but also captures contributions to collective endeavors and projects that require cross-functional skill. Managers can assign tasks to workers in different areas and check their performance based on actual shop floor data, which allows compensation packages to reflect both current performance and future potential as dictated by Workforce Ecosystem norms.

Learning and Development: Even in the most modern manufacturing companies, training is often specific to a worker’s assigned role and learning is siloed by functional areas. In the Workforce Ecosystem the setting of skills, capabilities, and competencies is aligned with future strategy and organizational needs. Learning is driven from the bottom up and takes into consideration workers’ needs and expectations. Analytics play a major role in determining learning and training needs.

At the very least, a digital platform gives a voice to the workers, allowing them to share their views on improvement initiatives, process execution, and training needs. This same platform also collects and contextualizes process data for management to correlate with workforce input, which helps them structure new training programs to engage the workforce and deliver on organizational imperatives.

Career Paths: Linear, hierarchical career paths are the norm in most manufacturing companies, with ad-hoc mentorship and limited job rotation. The Workforce Ecosystem approach changes this age-old methodology by creating talent marketplaces where worker interests can be aligned with an organization’s need for talent. Career opportunities are multi-directional and project-based, allowing workers to choose preferred assignments while making positive strides in their individual careers.

An intelligent workforce is the primary requirement of a modern Workforce Ecosystem. A workforce’s intelligence depends on the digital platform deployed by its organization. Unless workers are provided with deep insight into their own jobs, their ability to develop informed preferences based on their skills and capabilities is limited. Project-based opportunities can only be provided when an organization knows how individuals on a project team will perform, and this can only happen when they have the right platform in place to monitor and deliver this intelligence.

Organization Design: Functions, divisions, and hierarchies dictate the organizational structure in most manufacturing companies. In a Workforce Ecosystem, however, the structure is more inclusive and considers dedicated partners as internal resources. Silos are eliminated, and the structure is more networked than hierarchical, which reflects itself in decision-making and role assignments.

Reshaping organizational structure is a massive challenge for companies and management apparatuses that are set in their ways. Instead of making radical changes, the right digital platform can make iterative and well-thought-out changes that can help companies move from traditional structures to more open, Workforce Ecosystem-type structures. This happens when the whole process is integrated end-to-end. The first step is to make the information flow seamless, and then the next step is to increase cross-functional projects and reduce hierarchical boundaries. All of this is only possible when an overarching platform allows careful planning, diligent control, and proper data-driven execution.

Webalo is the platform you need to establish a thriving Workforce Ecosystem. It digitizes entire workflows and helps manufacturers create Workforce Intelligence Centers. A Workforce Ecosystem requires an intelligent, connected, and empowered frontline workforce. Manufacturers can achieve this with Webalo and move to Deloitte’s dynamic, data-driven, and digitally augmented model!