I have just returned from a consulting assignment where I helped install performance consulting capability into a Talent Development (TD) group within a large pharmaceutical company. I worked with a skillful and eager group of TD professionals who are motivated to apply on the job what they have learned. They face, however, an obstacle that is all too common….the volume of transactional requests which need to be addressed, reducing available time to work strategically as performance consultants.
Three Categories of Work
There are actually three categories of work that are supported by most TD functions.
1) Transactional Work is work that addresses the need of a single individual. These are requests such as “What course do you suggest for an employee who needs to enhance her communication skills?” and “I would like your assistance in how to manage a difficult situation with one of my employees.” Characteristics of transactional work are that it:
· Is High Volume Work. Theoretically every employee you support could contact you each week with a transactional request.
· Comes with a Sense of Urgency. If someone is requesting assistance in identifying a training program it is not acceptable to respond in 2 or 3 weeks…the assumption is that a response will occur quickly.
2) Tactical Work is work that addresses the needs of a group of people. This is the bread-and-butter type of request for TD departments. “I need to develop my supervisors to enhance their understanding of financial information” or “My call center representatives need to increase their skills in managing customer complaints” are examples of tactical requests. The response typically involves designing and/or delivering a learning solution. As a Performance Consultant, our first step when receiving a learning solution request is to reframe the request. This means that we manage a conversation with the individual making the request so the focus of the conversation is on the business and performance results needed, not the solution that was requested. In doing this we often can identify a strategic opportunity in which to partner with the requesting manager. We move from the role of solution-provider to solution-decider.
3) Strategic Work is work that addresses the needs of business entities. A business entity is a function, department, region, shift or even the entire enterprise. “Our business has been losing market share for our signature brands over the past three years. I would like your help in determining the reasons for the situation and the actions we need to take to reverse this trend” is an example of a strategic request. Strategic work is work that directly advantages the business and has long term benefits to the organization. When we work strategically we are not just delivering solutions that were determined as needed by the manager; we are partnering with the manager to make those decisions. Therefore, strategic work will always require some level of performance analysis by the TD professional. Strategic work is frequently referred to as the important work in an organization.
What I encounter with frequency is that TD departments struggle to work strategically because of the volume of transactional work that comes into the group. As noted, transactional work is high in volume and comes with a sense of urgency. This will undermine the team’s ability to work strategically in two ways:
· Urgent work will almost always take priority over important (strategic ) work.
· A TD function that responds to these requests is reinforcing the belief among managers and others that this is the type of work done by TD professionals. The TD function is not viewed as a strategic partner – rather they are viewed as a transactional one.
What Are the Options?
Transactional requests will continue and must be managed. The question is how will they be managed so that there are at least some people on the TD team who have the time to address strategic opportunities? Here are some options I have observed that are successful in reining in the time and resources needed to address transactional requests:
1 Utilize Technology. When we go to the airport we check in via a kiosk and not with a gate agent. When we go to the bank we withdraw money from an ATM and not with a teller. So technology is being used in many industries to offload transactional work from people, freeing up those people to do other tasks and work. In Talent Development we have Learning Management Systems (LMS) which are capable of managing many transactional requests and needs. The goal is to have people self-manage this type of need as much as possible.
2. Shared Service Centers (SSC). Another option is to create a unit of people whose mission is to address and manage these types of requests. An SSC is typically designed as a call center. Managers and employees call the SSC when they have questions and needs of a transactional nature. This option means that those in the SSC are both skilled and supported to address this type of request efficiently. And in doing so they are offloading that type of request from others who can then focus on the important, strategic work.
3. Outsource Transactional Work. A third option is to retain services of an outside organization to manage some of these requests. This option is frequently utilized by HR functions for managing benefits for example. As employees have questions about benefits they contact the outsourced firm.
What I have learned from my work in performance consulting it is that unless, and until, transactional work is managed in some manner there will be limited time to do the strategic work that is evident in any organization. My tip…do not let the urgent overcome the opportunity for you to do the important . Strategic needs are present in any organization. Find the pathway to freeing yourself of transactional responsibilities so you are ready and able to respond to the strategic opportunities that will surface.