Background to the study
The sustainability of an organization is subject to the make-up of its workforce. A study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011) in the US noted that the employees’ characteristics influence a company’s productivity and global competitiveness. The economic events associated with the recent global crisis had a significant impact on organizations’ human capital. Most organizations resorted to downsizing their labor force in an effort to cut the costs of operation. In the US, over 6.1 million individuals were rendered jobless for over a period of 27 weeks. Most of these individuals were laid off from their jobs.
The recovery of the economy through the implementation of the government’s stimulus packages has provided businesses with an opportunity to improve their performance. However, one of the major hindrances relates to gaps in skills. The laid off employees during the 2008/2009 economic recession are finding it difficult to reenter the job market, while most of the new entrants do not possess high-level skills that align with organizational demands. Subsequently, employers are experiencing a challenge in their quest to fill up positions. A report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011) in the US shows that 53% of organizations in the country are experiencing a major problem in their effort to fill up non-managerial positions due to lack of adequate skills, knowledge, and experience.
The above trend illustrates the need for organizational leaders to formulate effective management practices. In a bid to remain competitive, organizations should address the gaps in the employees’ skills, knowledge, and experience. Moreover, it is essential for organizational managers to get the right number of experienced employees. Consequently, the importance of promoting the employees’ experience through learning culture cannot be underestimated. Grint (2005) argues, “Successful leaders are those who respond appropriately to the demands of the specific situation” (p.1468). This paper entails a literature review and problematizing write-up. The paper identifies lack of experienced labor force as a major cause of organizational failure.
Competency in the workforce
The competency of an organization’s workforce is essential in promoting the effectiveness and efficiency with which a firm achieves its desired level of economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Firms that will succeed in the 21st century are those that are inclined to developing the competency level of their workforce. However, some of the major causes of lack of experienced labor force relate to failure of the prevailing educational systems to keep up with the skills needed at the workplace. Antonacopoulou (2004) is of the opinion that despite the view that management studies continue to address diverse key management issues, the business curriculum has not been proactive in responding to the complexities associated with management.
Currently, the workplace is characterized by diverse changes that require organizational leaders and managers to be conversant with in their skills. Some of the skills that will be of great significance in the workplace include interpersonal skills, capacity to adjust to change, information processing skills, and analytical skills. According to Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, and Fleishman (2000), lack of competency in the workplace has arisen from the failure of organizational leaders to apply the necessary skills in solving problems that arise in the organizations’ course of operation.
Economists have tried to measure the effectiveness of human capital based on the rate of return on investment associated with the workforces’ skills. However, most of these economists have usually relied on various proxies such as the employees’ level of education and training. Subsequently, there is little evidence on the connection between the level of competency and organizational outcome.
In a bid to appreciate the lack of experienced labor as a source of organizational failure, it is imperative for organizational leaders to undertake a critical analysis of their organizations’ needs with reference to human capital. Antonacopoulou (2004) defines being critical as a way of reflective reasoning and questioning the prevailing aspects. The demands of the workplace require organizational leaders to become critical oriented in order to assess the prevailing situation at the workplace effectively.
Skills gap is a major hindrance in an organization’s pursuit for competitive advantage. Lack of the necessary skills affects the effectiveness and efficiency with which employees execute their duties, and hence the level of satisfaction amongst the firm’s clients. In the 21st century, the level of satisfaction is not only determined with the effectiveness of a particular product satisfying the intended need, but also on the quality of service delivery, which underscores the significance of having an experienced workforce (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). Nurturing organizational learning culture is one of the most effective ways through which firms’ management teams can close the skills gap in its workforce.
Vince (2001) contends that over the past decade, organizational learning has become a fundamental element in organizations’ pursuit to implement the desired change. Traditionally, organizational learning was concerned with the technical aspect. However, organizational learning is currently inclining to the social perspective. Traditionally, organizational learning was mainly concerned with measurement of outcome, instilling specific behavior in the organization’s workforce, and nurturing precise capabilities (Vince, 2001).
One of the core purposes of strategic management theory is to assist organizational managers explore the various avenues that they can integrate into nurturing organizational learning. An organization’s competence can be determined by examining the efficiency with which the complex internal resources are coordinated, thus leading to sustainable competitive advantage. Vince (2001) further asserts that an organization’s strategic actions illustrate the level of competency with regard to organizational learning. Previous studies conducted show that there is a strong correlation between managerial competencies and business performance.
Improving the experience of the labor force enhances the effectiveness and efficiency with which organizations implement the desired change. The experience amongst employees is a key determinant in their level of motivation and enthusiasm. The emergence of the knowledge age due to the high rate of development in information technology has increased the need for improving the employees’ performance.
Adopting problem identification tools
In a bid to nurture a culture of organizational learning effectively and close the skills gap, it is imperative for organizational leaders to implement effective tools. One of the most effective tools that can be adopted is stakeholder mapping. Stakeholder mapping refers to a collaborative research process that is focused at understanding the diverse perspectives of the organization’s stakeholders such as employees in order to gauge their operational efficiency. Stakeholder mapping is comprised of four main steps, which include identifying, analyzing, mapping, and prioritizing.
Identifying the prevailing problem can be achieved through brainstorming and involving the employees. For example, an organization can conduct a storytelling session in order to explore and understand the prevailing situation. Gold, Holman, and Thorpe (2002) are of the opinion that storytelling enables organizational managers to understand issues that would have been unattainable through other problem identification mechanisms.
During the storytelling process, organizational leaders should assess the existing level of experience amongst its workforce. This move will provide insight on the prevailing gap (Gold & Holman, 2001). Secondly, it is essential for the organizational managers to analyze the relevance of the desired experience to the organization’s performance. The analysis process should entail assessing whether the employees have the relevant expertise.
The success with which the analysis process is undertaken is dependent on the extent to which the employees are involved. The employees’ level of experience can be analyzed departmentally. Some of the aspects that can be evaluated include the employees’ expertise, willingness of the employees to engage, and the value of the employees’ experience. Vince (2008) is of the opinion that organizational managers should promote dialogue within the workplace in order to steer the organization forward. An effective dialogue process enables organizational managers to understand the differences in thinking amongst the various organizational subsystems.
The next step entails mapping the stakeholders in order to understand the employees’ position. Mapping stakeholders enables organizational managers to assess the interplay between the employees’ experience and organizational performance. Successful stakeholder mapping requires organizational leaders to integrate the concept of system thinking. This aspect arises from the view that achieving the desired synergy is influenced by the level of collaboration amongst employees, hence enhancing development of a culture of knowledge and information sharing, which are fundamental in promoting the employees’ experience. One of the major obstacles in promoting the employees’ experience is the failure of organizational managers to instil a culture of interdependence amongst workers in different departments. This aspect highlights the significance of adopting the system-thinking approach, which advocates organizations to promote a culture of convergence, goal seeking, and interdependence.
Ravens (2011) asserts that conducting force field analysis is one of the most effective ways through which organizational managers can identify the lack of experience as a major problem causing organizational failure. Force field analysis enables organizational managers to frame the prevailing problem with reference to the restraining and driving forces. Organizational managers should follow a number of steps in order to identify the problem successfully.
The first step entails defining the current situation in the workplace [which is unacceptable], and hence the need for modification. The desired situation should be defined specifically. Moreover, it is imperative for organizational leaders to determine the driving forces supporting the desired change and their relationship. On the other hand, the restraining forces advocating the maintenance of status quo should also be identified. The force field analysis strategy will enable organizational managers to formulate an effective change strategy. The change strategy can entail either strengthening the driving forces or eliminating the restraining forces. Figure 1 below illustrates the driving and the restraining forces.
After successful identification of the relationship amongst employees in various departments, human resource managers should prioritize the issues identified in accordance with the organizations’ goals.
Problem identification at the workplace can also be achieved by implementing reflective dialogue and reflexive and reflective conversation. Reflective conversation is achieved whereby an expert acts as an agent by interacting with the situation one on one, hence gaining a better understanding. This aspect provides the practitioner with insight on how best to adjust the situation. On the other hand, reflexive and reflective conversation usually entails a dialogue amongst managers in order to share their opinion on the problem. Subsequently, they are in a position to develop a common ground on how to deal with the situation (Tenkasi & Hay, 2004).
Concept mapping is another major action-learning tool that organizational leaders can adopt in assessing its workforces’ experience. During this process, the organizational managers assess the employees experience based on a series of concepts. Through concept mapping, organizational managers are in a position to assess the relationship between various concepts and organizational performance.
Using repertory grids is another effective tool that organizational managers can utilize. The grids entail a matrix of elements, which are rated in accordance with their significance to the organizations’ operations. Organizational leaders should evaluate the grid in order to determine the most relevant aspects. The repertory grids provide organizational managers with an opportunity to understand how the lower level employees perceive the workplace environment.
Organizational managers can also adopt reflective journal and metaphors. Reflective metaphor entails describing the prevailing situation in the workplace using the most appropriate metaphor. The metaphor is then analyzed in line with the desired organizational situation. Using the metaphor enables the organizational manager to develop a shared understanding of the situation. On the other hand, organizational leaders can use reflective journals in order to develop a high level of awareness on the prevailing workplace problem.
According to Pedler (2008), organizational change is a critical element in organizations’ pursuit for excellence. Failure to implement the relevant change can affect an organization’s long-term excellence. However, implementing change in an organization is influenced by the effectiveness with which learning is incorporated. Pedler (2008) posits, “People and organizations flourish when their learning is equal to or greater than the rate of environmental change” (p.22). In this context, learning is comprised of two main constructs, which include the programmed knowledge and questioning insight. Programmed knowledge refers to traditional instruction, while questioning insight refers to the process of critical reflection and questioning of the current situation.
Currently, organizational leaders face diverse problems at the workplace that require sufficient experience in order to address them successfully. These problems progress from being critical, tame, and wicked as illustrated by figure 2 below.
Critical problems are within the realm of command and they require swift action. Examples of such problems relate to response to life threatening situations such as train crashes and natural disasters (Pedler, 2008). On the other hand, tame problems entail complex situations that require effective decisions, for example, planning a heart surgery or preparing a school timetable. These decisions are within the management domain.
Wicked problems are usually messy and they may lead to increased complexity due to the high level of interdependency. Nurturing a high level of collaboration amongst the various departments at the workplace is a classic example of wicked issue in the workplace. Therefore, dealing with a wicked problem requires effective leadership. Pedler (2008) proposes that as the problem progresses through the three stages, the degree of uncertainty increases, and hence the need for higher collaboration.
Freedman (2011) contends that different reasons explain the motivation behind organizations’ quest to implement organizational change. Some of the driving forces of organizational change include dissatisfied customers, decline in an organization’s level of profit, reduction in the level of satisfaction amongst employees, and high turnover. Most organizations find themselves in unfamiliar grounds in their quest to deal with unprecedented problems. Additionally, the organizations’ problem-solving mechanism might not be effective in addressing such situations. This aspect underscores the importance of incorporating new problem solving approaches.
Despite the view that the organizations’ management teams might understand lack of experience in the labor force as the problem causing organizational failure, the managers might not have the knowledge on how to change the situation (Rigg & Trehan, 2004). Freedman (2011) is of the assumption that the problem faced might be complex such that it is beyond their ability to formulate and implement realistic change plans and at the same time take into account all the relevant stakeholders. Freedman (2011) argues that action learning plays a fundamental role in addressing diverse workplace problems that form the basis of organizational development and change.
The objective of action learning is to assist organizations to deal with critical situations that can threaten the existence of a team or the entire organization. Action learning is mainly applicable in situations that provide an opportunity for learning through knowledge building and nurturing specialized skills (Vince, 2004). Lack of experienced labor force is a classic example of a critical organizational problem that can cause organizational failure.
Organizational leaders can adopt different action learning techniques in order to understand their employees’ skills. One of the techniques entails developing an action learning team comprised of 4 to 8 participants (Holmes, 2008). However, the participants should have diverse work experiences and backgrounds. The team may be comprised of professionals.This move improves the effectiveness with which the participants perceive lack of labor force experience as a major challenge in the organization.
Freedman (2011) accentuates that the problem identification and analysis process through action learning should lay emphasis on insightful inquiry and reflective listening. This goal can be achieved by formulating a comprehensive set of questions intended to clarify the exact problem faced at the workplace (Marquardt, 2014). This aspect provides the organizational leaders with insight on the most appropriate solution and implementation plan to deal with the problem. Action learning is very essential in assisting organizations to deal with the problem faced in addition to promoting an effective organizational culture.
Freedman (2011) opines that action learning enhances team cohesiveness, nurtures system thinking, and reflective inquiry in the workplace. Moreover, action learning leads to the development of team learning culture, and hence the level of innovation in an organization.
Lack of experience in the workplace is a major problem that can derail an organization from achieving its desired goal. In order to deal with this problem, it is imperative for organizational leaders to identify the real problem in the workplace. Problem identification and analysis are paramount in improving the effectiveness and efficiency with which the organizational problems are addressed. Fostering organizational learning, for example, through employee training and development, is one of the action plans through which organizational managers can deal with the lack of experience in the workplace.
Subsequently, the likelihood of implementing the desired change successfully will improve. The concept of action learning is of great importance in assisting organizational leaders to understand the prevailing problem, and hence its effect on organizational performance. The literature review has identified diverse tools that organizational leaders can utilize in order to implement action learning.
Antonacopoulou, E. (2004). Introducing reflexive critique in the business curriculum: Reflections on the lessons learned. Advanced Institute of Management Research Paper. Liverpool, UK: University of Liverpool.
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