Welcome! | Log in
Visit our Sponsors

Developing Workforce 4.0 Is Critical...and Simple

Back to Innovation Intersection articles


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Industry 4.0 will succeed when developed in parallel with Workforce 4.0—a.k.a. millennials. The impact that these 76 million people, born between 1980 and 2002, will have on the workforce is well-documented. And when it comes to talk of smart factories—where cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create virtual copies of the physical world, and make decentralized decisions—tech-savvy millennials are well worth pursuing and retaining.

Being an employer of choice for Workforce 4.0 millennials means that employees are willing to dedicate themselves to the firm’s success, and will stay at the firm even when a competitor comes calling. Becoming such an employer is challenging and means shifting an organization’s focus from control and cost containment, to agility and speed. It parallels the move of equipment from defined and dedicated, to connected and flexible. And it means rethinking the skill sets and work focus of production employees and plant leaders, as the Employee Focus chart shows.

These four steps describe how management can engage employees on expectations and performance.

Step 1–Build Alignment

Best Practice: Build your vision as a leadership team and document it concisely.

Alignment results when employees get onboard with the company’s vision, which should be clearly written, shared and understood. This may require a weeklong offsite meeting, or a series of meetings, but in the end the leadership team must own the vision in order to effectively share it, achieve buy-in and drive the team forward.

Best Practice: Raise the vision often with employees by sharing stories about its development.

Bringing your vision to life means injecting it in a variety of conversations and meetings. When the vision pertains to a topic being discussed, reference the vision. The more that you refer to your vision, the more that employees realize how the vision applies to everyday workplace situations and challenges. This helps achieve buy-in up and down the organization.

Furthermore, referring to the vision throughout the interviewing and hiring process effectively communicates an organization’s purpose and direction—important for Workforce 4.0 candidates who want to work for forward-thinking companies.

Step 2–Embrace Innovation

Best Practice: Inform employees that their ideas are prioritized, based on achieving the vision.

An organization’s vision represents its destination, and ideas fill the road to that destination. Continuing with this analogy, an organization’s leader’s should use the vision as guardrails for ideas to ensure that the company continues in the direction of its destination. Innovation resulting from these ideas need not be radical, but instead contain a series of continuous-improvement actions. Any one CI action may not seem like a big deal, but string two, three or 25 together, and the results become significant. Workforce 4.0 millennials appreciate the opportunity to try new ideas, especially when the challenges require learning new skills.

Step 3–Coach Teamwork

Best Practice: Give up managing and start coaching.

Achieving a vision requires a cross-functional team with ideas, and the freedom to implement those ideas. Management need not bet the company on any single idea, but should encourage employees to pilot their ideas on a small scale, with minimal risk. That could involve one customer, one operation or some other controlled environment. The tough part for managers: assuming the role of coach. Don’t tell your employees how to pilot their ideas. Instead, coach them to think through who they need on their team and how to go about evaluating the idea. Share best practices for success, and if the team requires an individual from a different department, talk to your counterpart and ask for that individual’s participation.

Effective coaching has a snowball effect. As more small teams come together to work on new ideas, otherwise-hesitant employees likely will share ideas as they grow confident that their suggestions will be evaluated and acted upon.

Step 4–Drive Performance

Ideas and teamwork sound great, but your customer buys performance—flawless, consistent performance. Setting goals and priorities creates clear alignment to drive performance.

Achieving flawless performance means driving toward goals and providing frequent feedback, whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. Use the results to talk with your workforce. Metrics provide an opportunity for employees to share their thoughts on what is and isn’t working. Workforce 4.0 millennials, like all of us, need to see progress, completion and evidence that they’re contributing.

Flexibility represents a powerful currency for millennials—when, where and how to get the work done, as long as it gets done. Though not always practical, working remotely and using flextime may be ideal for certain job functions. The key then becomes how to hold people accountable. A weekly scorecard of activity-based metrics that track specific job responsibilities will provide the tool for many to self-manage their results and keep their manager and teammates informed.

For Workforce 4.0 millennials, the chance to talk openly in team meetings and help solve problems gives the team opportunities to create, share and explore new ideas. FPN