A Case for Using Percentiles in Workforce Management

Percentiles are a simple way to group your workforce into relevant cohorts to which you can manage more effectively. Too often we focus on averages; averages can be unhelpful when it comes to monitoring workforce performance — they can hide the outliers, or outliers can skew the average.

A quick overview of percentiles

Using a percentile methodology allows you to evaluate the “long tail”, the extremes within your workforce that can add-up overtime (and become very costly). Optimizely did a write-up that does a wonderful job illustrating the dangers of averages:

“While the average might be easy to understand it’s also extremely misleading. Why? Because looking at your average response time is like measuring the average temperature of a hospital. What you really care about is a patient’s temperature, and in particular, the patients who need the most help.”

If we were to take this and apply it to our workforce; When you’re dealing with thousands of workers over the course of your season, the average can become extremely misleading. Why? Because looking at the average employee hourly rate, or average bins/hour is like measuring the average temperature of your entire packhouse throughout the course of a year. What we really care about is an individual CA room’s temperature, and in particular, anomalies in temperature that we need to address.

This same concept applies to your workforce, and percentiles allow you to focus your efforts on those that need the most attention. This is where percentiles come in, as a method to center your attention on the extremes of your workforce that can accumulate to tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars each season.

Above: A typical percentile distribution found at PickTrace apple customers

In the above diagram, you’ll see a fairly standard finding across PickTrace apple customers while in harvest. The “contribution” column represents the percentage of contribution towards yield that the corresponding percentile contributed

Great for tuning and creating goals

Gives you the ability to say “I want people in the bottom percentile to be in the 20th percentile”

I want 50% of my workforce to be at x rate

Can be much more clear than averages, which

Using percentiles to understand the real performance characteristics of your workforce

  • My bottom 10% produces 5% of my yield
  • My bottom 20% costs me x per year and contributes x
  • My top 10% contribute 20% of my yield

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