Bangalore, India — “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.”
– Henry Ford.
The words of Ford might have sounded like gospel truth in the industrial economy of yester years when companies spend time and efforts on high induction, training and development costs and pretty much managed to offer life-long employment to worker and get loyalty in return. Times have changed. In the knowledge economy, the competitive mandate of “better, faster, cheaper” has totally altered the employee-employer relationship.
On one hand, in the new-age economy the only asset of successful companies that competitors cannot replicate is people. The emphasis is on information, knowledge, intellectual capital and intangible assets. To be successful in the knowledge, companies must be able to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Yet paradoxically, on the other hand, the same economy dictates downsizing, restructuring and reengineering. More and more employees are following the virtual employee model often working as outsourced specialist on contract often feeling marginalised and isolated in a work-world devoid of meaningful human interaction.
Companies, therefore, are faced with an enormous challenge as far as employee relationships are concerned, both from within and outside. It’s a competitive world out there. Customers are more demanding, business cycles are tighter, newer technologies are constantly coming up and labour markets are tougher. In response, CEOs have optimized supply chains, improved customer service capabilities and right-sized their organization but not before long competitors have replicated the processes. The emphasis, therefore, needs to shift to people – the only non-replicable resource and the way information reaches them to optimise their integrated performance as a team.
Those companies which can give their employees, managers, distributors, partners and customers information quickly and smoothly will win the contract, resolve incipient problems, uncover anomalies, spot trends, satisfy customers and keep their businesses running competitively.
Herein, comes the importance of an integrated solution like employee relationship management or ERM. Not that companies till now hadn’t realised the value of information flow in the organisation. But historically they have been unable to create an enabling environment for information sharing and collaboration either due to immaturity of technology or inability to align it to the needs of the workforce. Information has been dispersed in various systems and departments making sharing or collaboration an almost impossible task. Companies could either install integrated architecture that linked various applications with little functional depth or they could implement more robust but numerous applications that were costly and difficult, if not impossible to fully integrate.
Result: Few companies were able to realign their organisational goals and help their employees achieve them quickly and effectively leading to the classic dilemma often called the “strategy-executive gap.”
All that is now changing. Large vendors like SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle and Siebel are providing the most comprehensive technical backbone that leverages existing technology channels like mobile phones, help desk, portals and voice making it easier for employees to connect with each other, their managers, outside suppliers and everyone involved in the business. The ERM solution offers role-based capabilities for employees, line managers and HR managers connected by workflows/security mechanisms to work efficiently with each other to ensure business results are met.
For example, in an ERM-enabled company, when the sales manager wants to launch a new laptop in the market, technically he can find select the right person for the job who in turn can recruit his team based on their marketing experience; learn all about the product through web-based training or accessing product literature or chat/discussion with experienced senior, while simultaneously doing jobs like his travel booking on his own, all through the ERM system. There is a single window available to carry out different set of activities.
The tangible and intangible benefits of such an ERM strategy and the supporting solutions are several. First, the most visible and tangible gains:
- Multiple interactive platform technologies like voice, browser and mobile improve access to relevant information, services and transactions leading to increased efficiency.
- Portal technology enables the sharing of corporate vision with all and helps communicate changes in strategy quickly and consistently.
- Employee centric portals enable them not just to do jobs better but handle duties previously managed for them thereby freeing HR professionals from routine administrative duties to concentrate on strategic initiative.
- MSS capabilities enable managers to identify, retain and reward top performers
- Automated processes reduce the cycle time as well as cost per transaction
Thus overall company performance improves through increased revenues, customer satisfaction and new levels of worker productivity.
There are several intangible benefits too. When there is better communication within the organisation and teams it leads to greater teamwork and better sharing of information. Sharing and creating knowledge motivates employees to learn and think in terms of a learning community. Collective learning fosters coping skills and builds change-resilience skills in a fast changing environment. All this would result in greater empowerment for employees, increased employee loyalty and a great working environment.
Thus, ERM is not to be viewed as a technology. It is not even a product or an application. It is in fact, a strategy that aims to bring wide-ranging changes within the organisation and much beyond it.