doubt fear just ahead

Six Strategies to Engage Leaders in Strategic Workforce Planning

Become a Thought Partner and Discover the FUD

Having trouble getting sponsorship for your strategic workforce planning (SWP)? Do leaders and other line managers seem un-engaged or non-responsive? Do you see proposed workforce planning solutions fail for lack of line support?

You are not alone. i4cp's Strategic Workforce Planning Exchange met recently at Toyota Financial Services headquarters in Torrance, California to discuss the challenges of workforce planning in a dynamic, resource-constrained business environment. Following are six strategies that came out of the exclusive working group's discussion to productively engage leaders and line managers in workforce planning.

1. Engage the business in the problem and discover the "FUD"

"Workforce planning is all about engaging the business," explained Stacy Chapman, CEO and Co-Founder of SwoopTalent and a well known SWP thought leader who spoke to the Exchange. If your execs are not engaged, rethink your approach. "Most managers and leaders put 10% of their energy into selling the problem and 90% into selling the solution to the problem," said Chapman. Her advice is to reverse that ratio, with more diagnosis and less prognosis.

"Executives aren’t in the market for solutions to problems they don’t see, acknowledge and understand," Chapman told the group. To get their attention, put some "FUD" into the process--Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt. Ask questions that will identify the risks. "Don't give them a scenario tool, have them imagine it," she explained. "When your leader starts to think about potential future workforce challenges and opportunities, they will be in the market to develop a strategy to solve their problems."

2. Don't rush to solutions--become a thought partner

HR practitioners want to solve problems and they often rush to propose solutions. Chapman advises to hold back on proposing solutions, as that will not build the rapport and support you need to build workforce planning capability and engagement.

"Become a thought partner and don't rush to solution," she told the group. What does it mean to be a thought partner? Thought partners are different than thought leaders. Thought leaders provide expertise and are often well recognized in their field. But thought partners play an entirely different role. They raise questions and challenge core assumptions and existing views. In other words, they make you think and question the status quo. They are a catalyst to innovation, guiding others to an aha moment.

"SWP is a structured framework to challenge the paradigms that brought the organization to their current state," explained Chapman. Your goal as a strategic workforce planner is to get people to think beyond their current frame of reference. While operational and tactical planning reflect current patterns and assumptions, SWP is more about preparing for the future and understanding the risks and potential shocks around the corner.

3. Start with the biggest problems and use data to dispel myths

"Start with the biggest problems and then use data to dispel the myths," offered Tracey Smith, former head of Workforce Planning at FedEx Express and President of Numerical Insights. Smith spoke to the group about use of data and simple regression analysis to move from opinion-based decisions to strategically aligned data analysis, citing correlations between low engagement and turnover, engagement and safety incidents, and performance and coaching effectiveness.

Is you HR program really working? What should you continue to invest in? Which HR metrics impact business operational metrics? According to Smith, simple correlation analysis can provide some good clues to what's working and what's not in your organization.

4. Think outside the (organizational) box

Workforce planning requires a dynamic combination of both inside out and outside in thinking. Inside out means you start with internal issues, challenges or needs. Outside in means you start with the market, customers or a changing business environment. Successful workforce planners need to tap into both the external and internal business environments to have a complete foundation for analysis.

Workload driver analysis--a tool Smith discussed to illustrate these dual considerations--can be used to model different factors when looking at workload impact and costs. What external market factors come into play that drive workload for a particular job family? What internal factors come into play? The challenge, Smith suggested, is to change the mindset of managers who function more from gut instinct than data. She contends that good visual displays of data--such as scorecards and graphs--can begin to change that mindset. Also, make sure you start with a basic question of your stakeholder/line manager, "How do they measure success?"

5. Workforce data is an enabler that feeds into HR strategy, but most companies have a way to go

How much impact do workforce data and analytics have in building HR Strategy? Are organizations using HR analytics to decide where and how to invest for the future? According to a recent survey by Dr. Sal Falletta, associate professor at Drexel University, the answers to those questions are "not much" and "no."

Falletta revealed that HR analytics provided input into HR strategy in less than half of the companies he surveyed for the The HR Analytics Project a comprehnsive study on the use of HR metrics and analytics in use by HR departments. A central role for HR analytics in HR strategy was reported by less than 14% of companies, while nearly 37% characterized HR analytics as "playing little or no role in HR strategy formulation."

In short, workforce analytics has a long way to go. More often than not, data and analytics are used to support decisions that have already been made rather than to question the current path of a workforce strategy, Falletta suggested. Thus, as i4cp research also shows, much of the current effort in workforce planning remains tactical and operational, a far cry from strategic workforce planning that goes beyond current patterns of hiring, development and deployment. Clearly, more thought partners are needed if workforce planning is to go beyond current assumptions, adequately assess risk and growth opportunity, and contribute at a strategic level.

6. It's about the outcomes and what drives market performance

People outcomes that drive market performance is a good place to start. "Business leaders have trouble identifying quantifiable value to their people practices," explained Kevin Martin, i4cp's Chief Research and Marketing Officer. "How do you know where to invest?"

Martin suggested beginning with an outside in perspective, possibly looking at what drives value to the business and what people practices drive market performance. i4cp's People-Profit Chain™ model, he said, was designed to address these questions and more from a business outcomes (i.e., outside in) perspective.

The model, which is built on decades of i4cp research, identifies 25 specific people related performance indicators that are highly correlated with market performance. It provides a framework that leaders can use to focus on what matters most to achieve high performance.

Not surprisingly (at least to this working group), the People-Profit Chain model showed that high performance organizations make better evidenced-based workforce decisions via workforce planning and analytics. What the PPC also showed practitioners was a broader view of people practices to invest in today through their workforce planning activity--activities that will build performance potential for the future. Ideally, this model is a data-based tool to engage leaders in a planning discussion with outcomes that can drive the bottom line.

For more information on the Strategic Workforce Planning Exchange, contact us (or your account manager directly) or learn more at the i4cp web site. Due to confidentiality agreements, we have not quoted members of the SWP Exchange directly in this article.