Building a workforce of one
By Adil Wali , 30th Sep 2010

As I have seen our company grow, I have been thinking a lot about the best way to serve its employees.  One lesson that I have repeatedly learned is that people are very complex and different.  I am continually taught new lessons about how what works for one person does not work for another.  Every effort I have made to treat a group of different people the same way has backfired.  I am slowly, but surely, beginning to respect the complexity of human beings.

So, as I got to reading about this topic, I realized that a lot of really smart people have thought much more about this than I have.  I came across a really interesting book titled “Workforce of One” by Susan Cantrell and David Smith.  I am pretty excited because a lot of ideas in it really resonate with me.

What is a Workforce of One about?

The core premise of Workforce of One is that you treat your workforce like your customer.  For executives and leaders, your employees really are your customers.  And just like we have been doing in e-commerce for years now, the key to success is to segment your customers so that you can provide a personalized experience that strives to give everyone what they really want.

There are six core trends that drive the need for customization for the talent management organization:

  • Technology enables customization of HR and People practices in way that wasn’t really possible or viable before recently.
  • Organizations are beginning to finally see their employees as their customers.  And customers are used to getting customized experiences.
  • Knowledge work is changing the face of HR.  The uniformity has been taken out of work by the knowledge work era.  A recent study showed that 34% of the labor force is made up of knowledge workers!
  • The C-Suite cares more about the performance of individuals now than ever before.  Talent management matters because the aggregate ‘people performance’ drives huge results.
  • Competition for talent is getting tougher every single day.
  • Todays highly diverse workforce is only getting more diverse.

Ok, Ok, I get it.  How do I customize my People practices?

There are four core ways that an organization can customize its people practices.

  • Segmenting the workforce: this is about providing a variety of different practices that are customized for specific groups of individuals.
  • Offer modular choices: this is about creating a uniform set of choices that employees can each choose from.
  • Define broad and simple rules: this is about simple rules and boundaries that can be interpreted in different ways by individuals.
  • Foster employee-defined personalization: individuals can help define their own personalized people practices.

The core takeaway for me is that you really have to customize your approach to the dynamics of your workplace.  A segmentation scheme that works in one organization may not work in another.  Furthermore, you should only start thinking about this kind of personalization when your organization is above a certain size (I’d say it starts getting relevant at about 200).  Finally. you have be sure that you are staying within the confines of the law, particularly if you are segmenting your workforce.

Why should I care?

Driving a customized approach to people practices is more critical today than ever.   In today’s knowledge work economy, people really are your largest asset.  If other companies start to offer these kinds of customized benefits, you are already one step behind.  As your organization grows, you will find that a one-size-fits-all strategy simply won’t be good enough.  (That’s what I am learning more about every single day.)

About the Author

Hi, I’m Adil Wali. I became a Microsoft certified professional at age 14 and started my first web development company. That led to a career as a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and startup investor. I got my first “real job” at 33, and I’m now a FinTech executive with a passion for the markets.