A Different Approach to Workforce Management
A Different Approach to Workforce Management
Day after day I talk with clients and with business
leaders. I often ask, "What is the most challenging issue
your organization is facing?" The top answer to my
question is "workforce management." My second question is,
"What is the most difficult part of workforce management?"
The top answer to this question is "workforce planning."
Most of us are familiar with the budget-based process of
workforce planning in which we look at future resource need
and project how much manpower we will need to meet the
needs of the future. This can become an intricate and
cumbersome process, particularly for line managers who are
busy managing their teams and achieving their strategic
goals. The result is that it is often extremely difficult
(if not impossible) for the HR staff to get from them the
information they need.
The challenge organizations are facing today is not simply
using the budget-based process to project future talent
needs. The challenge most organizations face today is
twofold. First, projecting how many of the organization's
human resources will be leaving with the Great Boomer
Exodus. The second challenge is really talent acquisition.
We might know that over the next five years we are likely
to lose a certain part of our people to retirement. We
don't, however, know exactly how many and we don't know
when. Further, in many industries, we don't know where we
will acquire people with the skills and talent we need.
This is not news to those in leadership and Human Resources
ranks. It is just becoming more real every day as people
actually declare their intention to retire, and some are
actually walking out the door.
The planning process is further impacted by the fact that
many industries have had such low attrition over so many
years that the common practice of using past attrition
history to project future attrition is no longer viable.
So, we can analyze when people will reach "retirement age"
and have enough years with the company to collect full
retirement, but most leaders and analysts I've talked with
still can only narrow their numbers down to a three-year
window. Add to this mix the fact that many people are
choosing to work beyond age 65 and that the structure of
Social Security payments in fact encourages people to work
until age 70 or 72 in order to receive larger monthly
payments after retirement. Given the need to run "lean and
mean," many companies are reluctant to fill positions in
anticipation of retirements until people have signed on the
bottom line that they are really leaving and when that
Human Resources professionals with whom I've interacted
recently report that they can do the number crunching. The
challenge is getting line management to come to the
analysis table with all of the competing demands on their
time. Line management input, however, is crucial to the
process. So the question becomes, "How do we bring
together all of this information to make informed decisions
about what talent will be needed, when it will be needed,
and where we will find it?"
I had a recent conversation with some clients who are
facing these issues. I heard of a concept that is certainly
not very "scientific" but seems to use the art vs. the
science of management very well. They call it the "back of
the napkin approach" to workforce planning. The basic
premise of the approach is this: most managers, if given a
short time, could take a napkin (of course, this
conversation occurred over lunch) and sketch out who is
likely to be leaving, and when, based on their knowledge of
the person and what they've observed over the last several
months. This information from line management, combined
with the more formal analysis can provide a basis for
decision-making that uses the strategic thinking and
decision-making skills of the management team as well as
the miracles of Information Technology.
I like the "back of the napkin approach" for another
reason. While all of the managers with whom I work bring
strengths to the table, when using the Natural
Effectiveness™ Philosophy at its best, it is clear to
me that not all of them will have highly-honed analytical
skills or be inclined to put together the structure
required by most formal workforce plans. Most line
managers are more intuitive, and many are creative and
innovative - great qualities for a leader, but they might
not play out well in the analytical process. This new
approach challenges the thinking and gets the necessary
input from Line Management that would otherwise not enter
Those members of the team can then compile the formal and
informal feedback and bring it back to the Management Team
as a whole to take the next steps of strategic workforce
planning. I believe this method can and will actually
accelerate the planning process while honoring and
leveraging all of the skills of your management and support
Whether you take your line management to lunch and actually
give them a napkin and a pen, or you use the principle of
the approach in another setting, I think you will find that
line management will be far more inclined and comfortable
providing the information you need and less distracted from
other responsibilities. I think you will also find the
input from line management more insightful and precise than
you might think initially. In the end, I think you will
find that this different approach will both streamline the
process and provide better data for your analysis and
About the Author:
About Gayla Hodges
Gayla Hodges is the President Change Agents, Inc., a
company that specializes in energizing workforces to
achieve strategic goals. She coaches executives and
managers on leading corporate change, facilitating the
development and implementation of organizational
effectiveness strategies. For more information, visit
www.changeagentsinc.com or call 623-362-3876.
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