!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Value of Ambitious Employee Development

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Value of Ambitious Employee Development

I recently came upon a paper (pdf) presented in 2004 at the 12th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) that offers an illuminating pair of case studies of how firms in a particular industry — banking — have pursued the goal of effectively using information technology and the Internet to accommodate diverse customer needs and preferences and, concomitantly, adjusted their employee recruitment and development efforts to build the type of workforce needed to execute their updated strategies.

Yvette Blount (Macquarie University), Tanya Castleman (Deakin Business School at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia), and Paula Swatman (University of South Australia in Adelaide), adopt a model which distinguishes three stages of work organization. The stages center on "Fordism," named after the assembly line method of mass production used by Henry Ford.1

The three stages are:
  • Pre-Fordism — the era of craft production in which skilled laborers fabricated products using small-scale production methods. Individual buyers could routinely order on a bespoke basis.

  • Fordism — selling standardized products, manufactured using large-scale production methods, into a mass market. Organizations in this stage "are rigidly organised, their processes are determined by their use of technology, and jobs are highly differentiated and typically deskilled."

  • Post-Fordism — using flexible production to manufacture a range of versions of a company's products for sale into a segmented market. Organizations in this stage "are decentralised, participative and have flexible employees with differentiated and multi-skilled jobs."
The specific question Blount, Castleman, and Swatman (BCS) investigated was:
What are the employee capabilities and qualities retail banks must develop to satisfy both more sophisticated customers (who demand flexibility of interactions, responsiveness and convenience) as well as the organization's own needs (including expanded sales opportunities, cost containment or reduction and customer loyalty) when implementing eCommerce technologies?
As this question indicates, BCS are particularly concerned with the role of technology in driving the transition from pre-Fordism to post-Fordism. My own focus is on the schema of evolving employee development goals that BCS associate with this transition.

I would argue that this evolution in the goals of employee development can and should be facilitated in all industries that lend themselves to flexible production methods. By moving in the direction of upgrading employee knowledge and skills, firms enable productivity gains that are essential for long-term health in a competitive global economy, and they make it easier to respond with agility to changes in the market environment.

BCS enumerate the shifts in employee qualities and capabilities associated with transition from pre-Fordism to post-Fordism in banking as follows:

Pre-Fordist banking — reliance on a network of branches, local knowledge, face-to-face interaction, traditional sociability.

Qualities of customer-facing employees
  • Loyalty

  • Honesty

  • Fitting in with the community

  • Deference to superiors
Capabilities of customer-facing employees
  • Manual accounting

  • Branch management

  • Local knowledge

  • Established relationships with customers; interpersonal skills
Fordist banking — streamlined, IT-dependent, automated, mass banking; centralized back offices; workplaces organized as factories; closure of bank branches; do-it-yourslf telephone and Internet banking.

Qualities of customer-facing employees
  • Interchangeability of tasks and locations

  • Responsiveness to direction

  • Discipline

  • Ability to deal with routine
Capabilities of customer-facing employees
  • Knowledge of IT related to back office processes and systems

  • Generic skills

  • Banking skills (product knowledge)

  • Speed and efficiency
Post-Fordist banking — strong reliance on IT and Internet banking; adoption of IT applications such as decision support and customer relationship management (CRM); focus on individualized products, responsive customer service and relationship building, positive customer experience across all service delivery channels.

Qualities of customer-facing employees
  • Loyalty and organizational commitment

  • Customer focus and responsiveness

  • Maturity

  • Flexibility, adaptability

  • Independence and initiative in organizing work

  • Diversity of background
Capabilities of customer-facing employees
  • Individual problem-solving skills

  • Interpersonal skills geared to an IT-mediated environment

  • Understanding of Internet-banking and other sophisticated technology

  • Understanding of context and complexity in products and customer characteristics

  • Selling skills
Based on my own experience working on training projects for banks, I cannot emphasize too strongly how much potential there is for creating value by hiring and training skilled front-line employees. I'd also say that I have been happy to see substantial improvement over the years in how well many banks are handling their employee development.

1 It should be emphasized that BCS are using the pre-Fordism, Fordism, and post-Fordism stages as a heuristic device. These terms are also used in some Marxist analysis to characterize successive stages of capitalism. See, e.g., the Wikipedia entry on Fordism.