A new book by Jody Heyman (HBR Press) described Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder: Creating Value by Investing in Your Workforce – which includes a bunch of case studies on how employers have become more profitable by improving working conditions.  So here we have a focus on investing on the bottom, and historically I’ve usually seen a focus on the top – but where there really needs to be a focus is on the critical groups.  These groups might be strategically critical or operationally critical, but they ultimately deliver more value to the business than the average – which makes them worth investing in. 

At a high service retailer, the front line may well be critical.  At another retailer, say burger flippers, that very similar front line might only be core to operations…it all depends on the organization’s strategy.  The important thing is to segment the workforce so you know who the critical groups and roles are…and to focus on how you get the best results from those workers.

If you know that the bottom of the ladder is critical to you, you’d better get this book.  If you don’t know who is critical to you, you had better start strategic workforce planning!