I can find no single person to credit for designing the term “The Workforce of One” but it is a concept that has intrigued me since I heard it 5+ years ago. It reminded me very much of the concepts that Todd Rose espouses in his book “The End of Average”. When you design a system, a training program, a performance management program for the “average” employee, you design it for no one, because, in fact, there is no average employee. It talks about embracing individuality and using it to our advantage in a world where everyone strives to be the same. The applications for this approach in Human Resources are enormous. Human behavior is fluid, not fixed, which means we must accommodate individuality into our programs. That uniqueness can mean different employees or it can mean the difference in one employee over time.
Companies and marketers have long understood the need to treat their customers as individuals, thus the practice of dropping cookies, so that the car you looked for yesterday shows up in ads on other websites you visit today. Your buying experiences are personalized for you. However, organizations have been primarily engaged in a one size fits all approach when developing their training programs. People now expect—even demand— customization in the workplace because they’ve experienced it in their everyday lives as consumers.
The benefits of customizing for employees are many including:
- Increases in workforce performance and productivity
- Enhanced employee engagement
- Increase in the skill set value of the existing employee base
- Attraction of the most talented employees
- Access to a more diverse candidate pool
- Use resources more effectively through targeted investments of HR dollars
- Adapt more quickly to changes in the environment
HR professionals will need to develop the kinds of skills that marketers use currently to excel at customization, and they’ll have to become just as adept at using technology to support the customization. Finally, they will need to find new ways to unite employees behind the organization even as employees have more diverse, personalized experiences in the workplace. HR may have a dedicated analytics group, just as marketing does, as well as people and resources focused on coaching employees in how to make the most of their customized work experiences. HR staff dedicated to represent the needs of each employee segment may also emerge, a guide so to speak chosen for that particular type of employees.