Updated July 3, 2014
They seem ubiquitous, the discussions and articles about what skills GIS professionals need to stand out in today’s competitive hiring climate, and how tech workers in general can successfully ride the employment roller coaster.
The conversations are directed at individuals, but the last five years have seen major technology-enabled shifts in expectations, and these new expectations have had a huge impact on organizations and their leadership. Lots of organizations are looking for ways not only to meet the new expectations, but also to create new products and services and reach new customers.
Growing People Grows Business
In their 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement study, the Society for Human Resource Management says developing employees is an important strategy to increase job satisfaction and reduce staff turnover (which is costly). Higher job satisfaction is associated with increased productivity, lower turnover, and higher customer satisfaction.
Despite the amazing technology that permeates modern life, humans remain indispensable. As far as I know, no gadget has yet invented a new gadget. No computer has ever created a web map all by itself, contributed to a white paper, or put together slides for an executive presentation (although Watson may be honing his animation skills as you read this).
Organizations who pay attention to motivating and retaining employees have leaders who understand people are their most important asset—the employees who execute day-to-day operations, engage with customers, and come up with new ideas that move the business forward.
In Esri Training Services, we’ve been preaching the value of staff and workforce development for a while. Note that workforce development includes but is not training. It’s not about soft skills, learning how to chain together clicks to complete a task, or even adopting a programming toolkit to be more efficient. Fundamentally, workforce development is a people-centric approach to achieving strategic business goals.
Like anything, to be done well workforce development requires planning. The planning should encompass support for known projects and initiatives but, more importantly, help prepare individuals and teams to execute the unknown ones. Because Ben had it right: in the world nothing is certain except death and taxes. Or, as we say in the modern era, change is coming whether you like it or not.
Here’s a high-level overview of the planning process we use when talking with our customers about workforce development.
Planning starts with strategic alignment. By directly connecting workforce development with achievement of strategic goals, you earn executive buy-in (and budget approval).
During the alignment phase, we identify those strategic business goals, which are often articulated in the organization’s mission statement or internal executive presentations. Next, we find out how the organization’s GIS program supports the strategic goals and which staff roles are involved with creating, managing, and using the GIS infrastructure and applications.
- What are the organization’s strategic business goals?
- How do GIS applications support the strategic goals?
- What GIS roles are in place to support the applications that support the strategic goals?
Next, we analyze which educational resources and delivery methods are most appropriate for the individuals filling the GIS roles. Timelines, priorities, and budget are discussed and documented in a workforce development plan.
- What knowledge and skills are required for each role?
- Based on current and future plans, what are the workforce development priorities?
- What resources are available to develop the required knowledge and skills?
- What’s the budget?
Once the plan is documented, managers execute it. It’s important to periodically review progress and the plan itself. If a key staff member retires or switches roles, a new role is created, or a new technology component is introduced, the plan can be modified. It’s critical to ensure that over time the plan stays aligned with the strategic goals and adjustments are made as needed. If that doesn’t happen, the plan becomes irrelevant.
- How are things going?
- Does the plan need to be modified?
- Is the plan still relevant?
Explicit outcomes are people developing the right skills at the right time, with an approved budget in place. With the needed knowledge and skills in place, day-to-day operations are performed more efficiently and projects are completed successfully.
Just as important, managers are able to demonstrate how their team functions as a strategic asset, organizational leaders understand the strategic value of the GIS program, and employees feel valued and excited about their work contributions.
From an organizational point of view, the key outcome is a skilled workforce able to meet the business and workflow disruptions that technology changes may bring—and, more importantly, take advantage of the opportunities enabled by new technology.