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Tim Geisert tells how to create a smarter workforce

Tim Geisert“The challenge for business executives today is to figure out how to get more out of their workforce and for workers to get more out of their work,” says Tim Geisert, vice president, marketing, IBM Smarter Workforce. The answer to that challenge is the smarter workforce. “That's the win-win,” says Geisert.

When the Institute for Business Value surveyed 1,700 chief executive officers, it found that 71 percent cited human capital as their greatest source of sustained economic value. But, says Geisert, most executives don't know how to tap that value. “It's not just about technology,” he says, “because if you think about it, you're dealing with workers who are human, so technology can only do so much.” But technology, along with the insights it helps deliver, does have its place in the smarter workforce, especially when combined with Big Data analytics and delivered by services.

Simply put, “we help companies articulate what it's like to work there,” says Geisert. “We use Big Data to help them have a window into what's happening in their organizations.”

Greater outdoors

Take, for example, Cabela's, a retailer of outdoor equipment. As Geisert tells it, Cabela's started out selling fishing equipment through classified ads and grew into a successful catalog business. Then the company began opening retail stores in areas–often far from major metropolitan areas­–that had high concentrations of its customers: hunters and fishermen. That's when things got complicated.

Sales in the retail stores' were disappointing. “Cabela's was hiring sales people based on their passion for the outdoors,” Gesiert recalls. “That used to trump everything. But it wasn't enough.” Although the sales personnel were big fans of the store and the brand, “they didn't have the skills; they didn't have the talent and worst of all, they didn't have the right culture fit.”

A team from Kenexa , an IBM company, examined what made the high-performing sales people so successful. “We went in and took a look at their best and dissected them based on three characteristics: their capacity to learn, their capability to do the job and their culture fit,” says Geisert. “Using that data we had to re-engineer who were the right kinds of people who would succeed at Cabela's and drive their business.”

Highly engaged employees are less likely to leave their organizations than highly disengaged employees -Corporate Leadership Council, 2004
“we help companies articulate what it's like to work there,” says Geisert. “We use Big Data to help them have a window into what's happening in their organizations.” - Tim Geisert

Matching people with jobs

The Cabela team determined who matched and who didn't match those models, reassigning where necessary. Then they used engagement surveys to monitor the results. “An engagement survey is done to understand what is an individual's discretionary effort—what are they doing when you're not looking and what are the key drivers,” says Geisert. The surveys determined the three top drivers as leadership having a clear vision, effective two-way communication and individual recognition. That finding, in turn, led to evaluations of all levels of management to ensure that company leaders were providing those drivers.

The evaluation also looked at top, middle and lower performers within the company, seeking those who could move up from the middle with more training or out of the company from the lowest ranks.

And to make sure the right people applied for Cabela jobs, the smarter workforce team helped reset the retailer's recruiting web site, marrying technology and the right messaging to spell out the company's culture, provide a 10-question online quiz and testimonials from Cabela employees.

The results of all the activities were rising engagement scores across the company and increased sales per hour of labor. Stores in the top percent of engagement drove a sales per labor hour ratio that was 9.3 percent larger than stores in the bottom half. That translated into millions of dollars more in sales each year.

What's the corporate culture?

Determining a company's culture brings its own set of challenges. An organization may hold a mistaken vision of its own culture; so communicating a more accurate picture is vital. Kenexa does this by combining its fact-based findings of corporate traits with a story-telling component that uses easy to recognize archetypes.

As an example, Geisert cites the evaluation that was undertaken as IBM was acquiring Kenexa late in 2012. The two companies shared one predominate characteristic: “the hero trait. We like to do big things, take on big challenges, change the world,” he says. IBM's second strongest trait was a “ruler” archetype. “You try to take chaos and turn it into order.” Kenexa, on the other hand, had “explorer” as its second trait. “That means we like new stuff, all the time. We get bored,” explains Geisert.

“The scientists who did this work did a really good job. Kenexa is like Indiana Jones. He's still a hero and arrives to save the day, but he makes it up as he goes along. IBM is like Superman, very methodical, but when the building is coming down, he'll be right there to save you,” Geisert says. “So just imagine having lunch with those two heroes, that's what you've got.”

But identifying a culture and finding the right people is not enough. “Learning needs to be part of an overarching strategy, and many times it's not, it's just a one-off,” Geisert says, adding that bespoke training was critical to improving Cabela's workforce. “Once you figure out what you need in terms of training, it should be folded into the overall goal of making your workforce smarter. We need to change and reinvent work as a whole.”

“We need to reinvent how someone is found for a job and how they find a job. That will, in turn, reinvent work.”

Wave goodbye to the resume

Central to that reinvention is finding “a new way, a new tool, a new mechanism that replaces the resume,” says Geisert. “A resume only looks at what your capability is, your education, what jobs you've done. Reading it gives no idea if you've done those jobs well.”

The hiring practice—and to some extent job seekers themselves—needs to determine if a candidate has the requisite three C's: capability (skills), capacity to learn and grow and culture fit, he says. “If you get all three of those figured out you can predict someone's success and also ensure their success within an organization.

“We need to reinvent how someone is found for a job and how they find a job. That will, in turn, reinvent work.”