In next week’s episode of the Reimagined Workforce podcast, Alicia’s Roach, Founder and co-CEO of eQ8 shares her reasons for creating a tech platform that enables dynamic scenario planning to support strategic workforce planning.
In preparation for that episode, I just wanted to provide a bit of context on what strategic workforce planning is for those that might not be overly familiar.
So, I am going to explain this is two parts.
Part 1 is more general information around establishing an SWP project or function.
Part 2 provides an overview of some of the steps you will need to complete to develop a strategic workforce plan that outlines the workforce you have, the workforce you will need and the strategies you will implement to make it happen.
Each of these steps deserves at least their own episode, but for our purposes here, I will only provide a broad overview.
In terms of establishing the project or function, you may find convincing senior leaders of the value of SWP to be one of the initial challenges you will need to overcome.
If this is true for you, you’ll need to build a business case to get resources and funding that you need.
It is important to remember the ‘s’ in SWP stands for strategic and that we are focussing on the long term here as opposed to operational workforce planning such as rostering that has a shorter term focus.
In the business case, you’ll need to explain the benefits, risks and dependencies along with costs and resourcing requirements.
Depending on your organisation’s needs, this need not be an onerous task, but it does need to stipulate that SWP is not a one and done exercise because the business environment the organisation is operating in will be constantly changing. Decisions will need to be made in how to adapt to changing needs.
Once your business case is approved, you’ll need to engage your project sponsor and agree on a project plan. Here, make sure you are very clear on who your real customer is and that you make an intentional effort to build rapport from the start.
Approach your conversations with curiosity and empathy to ensure you explore the real problem you are working on, together.
Agree on the purpose of the project, how it will deliver the strategic priorities of the organisation, the resources that will be dedicated to the project and the terms of engagement moving forward then develop a project plan that outlines the key activities, milestones and timeframes.
A Kanban board is a great way to keep track of activities to ensure the project remains on track. If you are using Microsoft teams user, you might be able to access the planner app.
If not, Trello and Asana have free options to get you started, but you might want to check on the security of the information and also be prepared that free versions rarely provide full functionality and you may need to upgrade down the track.
And of course, Microsoft project is the gold standard project management tool .
Gantt charts provide a visual representation of what activities will be completed, who’ll they’ll be completed by, when they’ll be completed and where dependencies exist.
They’re great for engaging with others and keeping everything on track.
At this stage, Teams does not have this option available, but I believe it is coming in the not too distant future. But if when you are listening to this, one becomes available, please do let me know.
Trello itself doesn’t had a can’t chat feature but you can add it as a power up.
And project has fully integrated gantt chart functionality s as you develop your project plan.
Ok, so now your project is set up, let’s get into Part 2, the steps in workforce planning.
While I’m listing these in order, please remember that this is a dynamic process and you’ll need to determine when best to complete and repeat these steps.
SWP is about exploring both the external and internal environments the organisation exists within to understand the most likely future that will play out and then develop a plan that deviates from this if that’s what you prefer.
This is commonly known as horizon scanning and I have an episode planned with someone very special to delve into how this is undertaken in a very large and complex organisation, but more on that later.
So, horizon scanning is essentially a systematic method to identify and monitor trends before they emerge to inform planning and decision making.
The PESTLE framework is one of the most commonly used.
It is an acronym where each letter is a prompt to an environmental factor that should be considered.
The letters refer to the political, economic, societal, technological, legal and environmental factors. When horizon scanning, it is important to explore the micro, meso and macro environments over a range of time frames.
So this all needs to involve both quantitative and qualitative analysis.
Essentially, you are trying to identify changes to both demand and supply of the workforce to ensure there are no gaps today or tomorrow.
To explore likely changes in demand you can consider demographic changes, product development initiatives, economic trends, changes to competitor markets and technological advancements along with your own organisation’s strategy.
For workforce supply changes explore trends with your current workforce, competitor opportunities, university placements and demographic changes.
Quantitative data can be accessed through a range of both internal and external data sets including your own human resource information systems, government census data, LinkedIn and in some cases, industry reports and labour statistics.
Qualitative data can be gathered through stakeholder workshops and focus groups with carefully designed questions that draw on the expertise of a range of subject matter experts. Ideally, this is facilitated by someone who is capable of leading the conversation with the appropriate systems and processes to capture those conversations.
The horizon scanning process will tell you where you are headed and provide the starting point for the organisation to determine their desired future and the steps that need to occur to get there.
With that in mind, reflect on the organisational strategy and develop or refer to the workforce strategy that has or will outline how the workforce will support achievement of the organisational priorities. That’s a whole other episode so I’ll leave that here for now.
You’ll need to define your current state by outlining the composition of your workforce, how many people you have now, what skills, education and expertise these people have, what roles they perform, where they work, how long they have been with the organisation and who they report to.
This can be represented in a series of charts. For example a pie chart might be useful to illustrate a proportional breakdown such as diversity groups. A bar graph can illustrate demographics like age or time in role. And a line graph can illustrate trend data such as retention over time.
When exploring the current workforce take time to identify critical workforce segments. These are approximately 20% of the workforce that disproportionately deliver the greatest value to the organisation and would create the greatest risk if they were not available to the organisation. Identifying your critical workforce segments will inform where to prioritise your SWP efforts to deliver the greatest value. This is another big topic that deserves it’s own episode but I will provide a brief overview here because it is very relevant.
Now that you have a clear picture of the organisation’s preferred future, the changes on the horizon and the workforce you have available to make that happen, it is time to develop a few scenarios to be prepared for how things might play out.
By preparing for a range of scenarios, organisations are best prepared to adapt to changing environments. This provides the agility that delivers the competitive advantage and where the value of the investment in SWP is realised.
It is recommended to develop between three and five scenarios. Two is rarely sufficient and more than five may create confusion.
Scenario planning can be facilitated through a human centred design process where participants explore the problems the organisation will face in achieving its organisational strategy and collaboratively designing solutions to overcome them.
Human centred design is based on the premise that those facing the problem are in the best position to design the solution, so care needs to be taken to identify the people who will contribute the most value to those workshops.
These solutions can be used to inform the SWP that outlines the strategies that need to be implemented to transform the workforce from what it is today to what it needs to be tomorrow.
Stay tuned for an episode with Ian Arnold where he describes his own experience of Human Centred Design.
I shall also include a link in the show notes to a blog post that outlines my own approach that aims to simultaneously drive innovation and learning through Human Centred Design.
Throughout the scenario planning process, you will need to explore the likelihood that each plan can be achieved for each of the critical workforce segments.
In attempting to identify those critical I find it helpful to map these over four quadrants.
This next piece is a little bit visual, so I’ll include a link to some further information in the show notes.
But essentially, to identify critical workforce segments, I like to map across criticality and scarcity dividing that up so we have four quadrants.
In the top right we place capabilities that are highly criticality and highly scarcity.
The bottom right is low criticality and high scarcity.
The top left is high criticality and low scarcity.
The bottom left is low criticality and low scarcity.
So those that are the most critical appear in the top right quadrant.
They are the ones we need to focus on.
It is also useful to use the size of the circle to indicate the quantity required.
Doing that for each scenario can help to identify which scenario is most likely to achieve your desired outcome with the resources that are available.
Once you and your customer agree on your preferred scenario, it is time to develop the strategies that will enable you to it.
To simplify this, workforce strategies are commonly categorised into the 6 Bs.
These are bind, build, borrow, boost, bounce and buy.
Bind is about identifying the talent that exists within the organisation that needs to be retained and ensuring their needs are met so they stay.
Build is about developing the capabilities you will need within the workforce that exists today and those who will join over time.
Borrow is about addressing the short term needs through contingent labour, secondments or other temporary solutions. This is also an opportunity to build capability so can deliver extra benefit.
Boost is about filling critical roles with your top talent. That is those employees identified as high performers with high potential.
Bounce is about identifying those people within the organisation who’s skills, education and expertise may no longer be required due to changing needs or poor performance and supporting them to transition out of the organisation.
Buy is the fall back solution that we have relied on traditionally, recruitment. This serves us well when labour supply is abundant, however, we are unlikely to see that again so this strategy should never be relied upon too heavily.
In a future episode, I will explain a little more about the strategies we have available to us. This is also the idea of the podcast interviews, where real people explain the strategies they are deploying in their organisations.
You will most likely be asked to develop a strategic workforce plan that summarises the future direction, the changes to the workforce composition and the workforce strategies intended to mold the workforce over time to continually meet the changing needs of the organisation.
It is important that this document is a reference point but we remember that SWP is never static. It is a dynamic and ongoing process that requires regular attention to stay on track.
Being a strategic plan, it will span several years and must include an implementation plan.
The value of SWP will only be realised through implementation of the plan.
This will occur over many years and will need to be driven by key people across the organisation.
This will require a carefully orchestrated communications plan and change management approach to support the workforce as they transform.
Throughout implementation, it will be essential to monitor and evaluate the progress against the SWP to ensure it is achieved. This is where the SWP is an ongoing function as there will be times when things change and the plan needs to be revisited and possibly adapted. But overall, the SWP is the guiding document that sets the direction for the workforce as the mechanism that is essential to achieving the organisation’s strategic priorities.
So stay tuned for our next episodes with the experts who are driving value for their organisations. I hope they provide some helpful ideas that you can apply to do the same in yours.
Thanks for listening.