If ever there were a time for strategic workforce planning…it is now! No one I know believes the world of work will ever be the same as it was pre-Covid-19. The challenges employers and HR professionals face today and will face tomorrow is wild, uncharted territory. Recruitment, onboarding, development, engagement, and talent management are all evolving faster than a supersonic jet. It’s really is like flying that plane and building it at the same time.
What are we to do? When I serve my clients as an executive coach, it is my job to reach into their wisdom, ask the right questions, and help them find the answers they already know while uncovering new ones.
If I were to ask you, ”what do you know about workforce planning,” what might you say? I’m sure you can list off some workforce planning benefits and risks, and some policies and processes. All of that matters, for sure. Then, if I asked you what you know about change, you could do the same. Connecting the dots is where the magic happens.
We all know that change is constant and the speed of change is faster in our lifetimes than ever before in the history of humankind. The challenge for us lies in leading change well - when many leaders don’t. Workforce planning IS a massive and ongoing change process – NOT an event or series of events.
The two biggest risks with workforce planning are: 1) treating it as an event vs. a change process, and 2) rolling it out as a transactional process vs. a relational one. It is about people and it is about change. Any successful strategy will pay close attention to these two big risks.
Once we accept these realities, we’ve got a good chance to get it right. Let’s take a brief look at what must be considered in the planning stage of workforce planning, and then the execution stage and having it actually work to benefit everyone as much as possible. I am going to loosely reference the Kotter Model of organizational change to apply to our workforce planning challenge.
6 Steps to implementing a Workforce Planning Change Process
Step 1. Create your leadership team specifically for this change process. Identify and make clear exactly who owns it and will champion this change process. Who is accountable for following through and making it happen successfully?
Step 2. Examine the market, competitive realities, and current/future workforce gaps and needs to inform the degree of urgency you are facing. Once you have analyzed what you need and then who you have or don’t have on board, create an overall strategy to achieve the necessary results. From there, devise the best tactics to accomplish your strategy – for instance, how you recruit, develop, engage, and remove the right employees, as well as building robust succession plans so you will have the right people doing the right things at the right time.
Step 3. Create and communicate the vision the strategy addresses, and the urgency (if there is one) often, in multiple ways, and with thoughtful messaging from the right people. Identify and broadly share the change process (including the leadership team) you will be using to engage the various stakeholders all along the way.
Step 4. Empower all the stakeholders by removing blocks to change, like outdated processes, policies, and bureaucracy, hierarchies, and so on. Get rid of any structural barriers to change.
Step 5. Implement changes in stages. Pilot your plan in one part of your organization before laying on everyone. That provides the opportunity to tweak and course correct, get feedback, deal with change resistance, and hopefully, achieve some quick wins. This is a great opportunity to recognize and reward your “early adaptors” to the workforce planning change process and create positive momentum. Get it mostly right somewhere before expecting you will get it right everywhere.
Step 6. You will need to evaluate what is and isn’t working all along the way. Success depends on keeping your eye on the ball and staying focused. Don’t assume things have been successfully “frozen” in this new place. Workforce planning never happens in a vacuum, nor is it ever “finished”. Any smart leader knows this is part of the job year in and year out. You may not have to reinvent new processes or policies, but then again, you might. How people work remotely, flextime and place, benefits that must change to attract and retain the best talent in today’s and tomorrow’s marketplace, are always evolving and must be part of ongoing workforce planning and continuous change.
There are three words that can sum up everything above:
Engage – all the people affected by the change in the vision, design, planning, implementation, and evaluation of the change.
Empower – all the people affected by the change to take risks, innovate, take action, and be accountable.
Embed – what works within your systems, processes and policies, and eliminate what doesn’t work.
Finally, my last word on this workforce planning and the change process is COMMUNICATE - COMMUNICATE – COMMUNICATE, and then communicate some more – every step of the way, broadly, with variety, with engagement, with transparency, and authenticity.