In the Part I and II of this series we talked about the opportunity to support our need for flexible work cultures with a solid business case. We outlined the fact that the majority of our employees require flexibility at some point in their careers. Research increasingly points to flexibility as one of the most important career considerations of staff, emerging leaders and even our seasoned leaders. If we do not offer this flexibility in our organizations we will lose productivity in our top talent pool and we may lose this top talent completely to our competitors. In addition to flexibility as a requirement for top talent, consider the possibility that flexibility can actually improve your organizational results.
We also outlined four key business strategies that can be supported by flexibility in the organization. These are:
1-Employee Attraction and Retention
3- Improved Customer Service and Satisfaction
4- Effective Operational Management
This third posting will cover the last two strategies. Why are these strategies key to a business case for building a flexible work culture?…….or said another way…… How will flexible work cultures actually help to accomplish these business strategies?
Improved Customer Service & Satisfaction
Flexibility can improve client service in a variety of ways that include extended hours, deeper bench strength, improved employee engagement and improved back up service. When customers need extended hours of access to service providers this does not always mean that the hours need to be served by one person. Flexibility promotes stronger service by the team as a whole. Putting flexibility in place regarding work hours can be an improvement for customers and teams simultaneously. This pertains to internal and external customers. With a little planning and good communication, a flexible work culture can extend the amount of hours we are available to our customers and the quality of that response. For example, a team can agree that one individual desires to begin work very early in the morning and wrap up late afternoon while other team members prefer to begin work late morning and wrap up in the evening. With both of these team members covering customer communication- the customer is covered for a 14 or even 16 hour day on a regular basis while still matching the desired work hours of those on the team. Multiple time zone issues are also impacted positively by these arrangements. Flexibility creates a powerful productivity enhancer and barrier to exit within the team while simultaneously improving customer service and building stronger continuity and relationships. In addition, the team members share customer coverage and communication and develop stronger skills for future advancement. If there is turnover in the team at some point, the relationship with the client does not rest in the hands of one person. The team relationship protects the customer relationship and increases continuity which will directly improve customer retention which is a top concern of many organizations today. Customer satisfaction and retention is a number one concern according to a 2009 PCPS survey. Serving current customers is much more profitable then acquiring and acclimating to new clients. Customer retention is a significant bottom line issue for all organizations and one that can be improved by well executed flexible work culture efforts. Employee engagement is improved when desirable career components such as flexibility are available. Flexibility fit is a powerful predictor of employee engagement for employees of all ages. Increased employee engagement has been proven in research to predict increased customer satisfaction.
A flexible work culture can positively impact the effective management of an organization which is most significantly a bottom line issue and important component of the business case. Flexibility improves organizational management by impacting the costs related to the peaks and valleys of work flow, both predictable fluctuations such as seasonal changes and unpredictable fluctuations such as timing issues, growing and shrinking practices or markets, sabbaticals and absence leaves. Consider the following scenario. An organization requires a 40% increase in hours to complete seasonal work each month for four months. Company #1 deals with the increase by requiring individuals to increase their hours to cover this gap in hours and may be required to pay overtime as a result. Organization #2 hires additional resources who work forty to fifty hours per week to cover these additional seasonal hours. Some of these individuals work part time during other seasonal flux periods, others are completely non active in the slower seasons which works with their family and/or personal life considerations. Other team members make themselves flexibly available in the slow period should any periodic project work arise that requires additional hours over and above those available with traditional staffing. In Company #1 most individuals are required to work significant overtime during the seasonal work period which limits the talent pool that is willing to work with Company #1 and increases turnover and burnout among those who do. The turnover, burnout and stress related ailments increase costs in recruitment, training, medical leave, and health insurance. In Company #2 those individuals with traditional full time schedules in the Firm are not required to work significant amounts of overtime unless they wish to do so. Moderate levels of overtime are compensated properly. Unsustainable levels of overtime are not encouraged as this creates poor role modeling and misconceptions about what is required to advance in the organization. In each individual case, compensation is adjusted accordingly to ensure company metrics are met.
Flexibility enables customized career and life integration design while simultaneously providing depth in staffing for planned and unplanned contingencies. Flexibility is a two way concept. Individuals who are able to access flexibility when desired are very often willing to respond when the organization requires flexibility of them to accomplish business needs and/or meet unusual or unpredictable customer needs. Decisions are not static and therefore morph as individuals move through different stages of their lives. This adjustable model increases the number of years of employee retention which decreases recruitment, and training costs. With a flexible work culture and deeper bench strength, changes in practice/market volume and other volatilities in business are more easily staffed at a lower cost with less negative impact to the customer such as delays or poor work due to stress and burnout.
Building a flexible work culture is a business tool that supports the accomplishment of other business strategies. The business case for flexibility is supported by a deep connection with many common business strategies in play today in most organizations. The business strategies include: top talent attraction and retention from almost all pools of workers, productivity gains, improved client service & satisfaction and improved business effectiveness. It is not difficult for any organization to create a strong business case for flexibility that is tied directly to its primary business objectives in a very specific manner. The organizations that begin to approach the building of a flexible work culture in a determined, systemic, and strategic manner will be building a strong competitive advantage.