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Developing an Effective Workforce

Research has clearly show that a one percent increase in workforce productivity will produce more than ten times the financial impact as a one percent reduction in operating costs. Unfortunately, old habits are slow to die and this is evident in the manner in which corporate America approaches workforce productivity. Instead of a focused effort that would universally improve productivity, we continue to rely on a small core group of superstars who somehow get us through the myriad of crises that are a constant part of our day-to-day activities. The challenges generate by growing competition worldwide are too broad and too deep for this old approach to succeed. Instead, our survival depends on the ability to achieve and sustain maximum productivity from the entire workforce, not just a cadre of over-achievers.

Achieving a universal maximum effort from our workforce will not be easy, but it is certainly not impossible. There are four essential steps required to achieve sustainable workforce performance levels:

Develop A Team Culture

The first step is to develop a process that will integrate your superstars into a cohesive, focused team. In addition to increasing the performance levels of the over-achievers, this integration will multiply the superstar’s performance contribution, as well as provide the mentoring and training needed to raise both the skills and performance levels of the entire workforce. We learn best through imitation and without good models there is little chance that overall workforce performance will change. Integrating the superstars into the organizational team will raise the bar for the entire organization.

Align Roles and Responsibilities

In too many cases, the organizational structure and staffing do not coincide. Instead of creating structures based on the functional needs for effective planning, management and execution of the work necessary to cost-effective perform the company’s mission; they are created around the cadre of superstars. While this approach may work in the short-term, it cannot sustain the performance levels are essential for long-term survival.

The key to workforce productivity is to ensure that each worker is in a role, for which he or she is competent, or can become competent, as well as effectively and efficiently perform his or her duties. In addition to the technical skills, each employee must want to perform his or her function and have a passion to excel.

Clear Performance Goals

The workforce will function at the expectation levels established by the corporation. If mediocrity is acceptable, that is exactly the level of performance that the workforce will produce. Every employee will respond to a realistic challenge, management must establish performance goals that will stretch performance levels of the entire workforce and each of its individuals.

Universal Accountability Management must uniformly hold the workforce accountable for its actions. This does not mean punishing employees for mistakes or falling back to the well-established mentality of fixing blame whenever things go wrong. Instead, the workforce must understand that management is serious about achieving established performance levels and will not tolerate behavior that is not supportive or is contrary to them.

Relying on superstars or cost reductions for long-term survival has not and cannot work. Organization decision-makers must find a way to raise the performance level for all of their workers, from the boardroom to the shipping dock. To do so mean thinking holistically and systematically about the structure and processes that affect your ability to compete in the marketplace and ensuring that all restrictions or impediments to excellent performance are eliminated. Let your workforce do its job. They might surprise you.


There is a widely held misconception that the only factor that motivates the workforce is money. Too many corporate managers, at all levels, fail to understand that many other methods are more effective in motivating their workforce. The key to motivation is getting employees to want to do a good job. In this light, motivation is something that must come from within an employee, but the supervisor must create an environment that encourages motivation on the part of employees.

Recognizing Needs

Every supervisor knows that some people are easier to motivate than others are. Why is this true? Are some people simply born more motivated than others are? No person is exactly like another. Each individual has a unique personality and makeup. Because people are different, different factors are required to motivate different people. Not all employees expect or want the same things from their jobs. People work for different reasons. Some work because they have to work; they need money to pay bills. Others work because they want something to occupy their time. Others work so they can have a career and its related satisfactions. Because they work for different reasons, different factors are required to motivate employees.

To understand the behavior of an employee, the supervisor should always remember that people do things for a reason. The reason may be imaginary, inaccurate, distorted, or unjustified, but it is real to the individual. Identifying the reason is necessary before the supervisor can understand the employee’s behavior. Too often, the supervisor disregards an employee’s reason for a certain behavior as being unrealistic or based on inaccurate information. Such a supervisor responds to the employee’s reason by saying, “I don’t care what he thinks---that is not the way it is!” Supervisors of this kind will probably never understand why employees behave as they do.

Another consideration in understanding the behavior of employees is the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy, known as the Pygmalion effect. This concept refers to the tendency of an employee to live up to the supervisor’s expectations. In other words, if the supervisor expects an employee to succeed, the employee usually will succeed. If he expects them to fail, failure usually follows. The Pygmalion effect is alive and well in most plants. When asked the question, most supervisors and managers will acknowledge that they trust that small percentage of their workforce will effectively perform any task assigned to them. Further, they will state that a larger percentage is not trusted to perform even the simplest task without close, direct supervision. They exhibit these beliefs their interactions with the workforce and each employee clearly understands where he or she fits into the supervisor’s confidence and expectations of them as individuals and employees. The “superstars” respond by working miracles and the “dummies” continue to plod along. Obviously, this is no way to run a business, but it has become the status quo. They make little, if any effort, to help under-achievers become productive workers.


The workforce will repeat reinforced behavior more often than behavior than those that are not. For instance, given a pay increase when their performance is high, employees are likely to continue to strive for high performance in hopes of getting another pay raise.

There are four types of reinforcement: positive, negative, extinction, and punishment.

Positive reinforcement involves providing a positive consequence because of desired behavior. The majority of plant and corporate managers follow the traditional motivation theory that assumes money is the only motivator of people. Under this assumption, financial rewards are directly related to performance in the belief that employees will work harder and produce more if these rewards are great enough. However, money is not the only motivator. In fact, money can be a negative motivator. For example, many of the incentive bonus plans for production workers based on total units produce within a specific time (i.e. day, week or month). Since there is nothing in the incentive that addresses product quality, production or maintenance costs, the typical result of these bonus plans is an increase in scrap and total production cost.

Negative reinforcement involves giving a person the opportunity to avoid a negative consequence by exhibiting a desired behavior. Both positive and negative can be use to increase the frequency of favorable behavior.

Punishment involves providing a negative consequence because of undesirable behavior. Both extinction and punishment are used to decrease the frequency of undesirable behavior.


With some exceptions, employees are not self-motivated. The management philosophy and methods adopted by plants and individual supervisors determine whether the workforce will constantly and consistently strive for effective day-to-day performance or continue to plod along as they always have. As a supervisor or manager, it is in your best interest, as well as your duty to provide the leadership and motivation that is need for your workforce to achieve and sustain best practices and excellent performance.

It is not about monetary incentives. In many cases, a simple, sincere pat on the back or a handshake with a heartfelt “well-done” will accomplish more positive benefits than you think. It is not the monetary value, but the sincere recognition of one’s supervisor of a job well done that has lasting, positive motivation. Try it!

R. Keith Mobley, CMRP, MBB

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