Five Deadly Workforce Planning Traps

Have you put off workforce planning because you fear it might be too difficult?  Or perhaps you have heard about the bad experience of others?  Well, knowing what the deadly traps are and how to avoid them will give you a real boost and give your organisation resilience in meeting future challenges.   Let’s go through the traps one by one.

Key people cannot see the point of workforce planning

What’s the point of planning in a rapidly changing world?

The answer is to identify workforce related risks which will be the basis of a mitigation plan.  Just ask around the organisation for workforce related problems and their impact.  They could be redundancy costs, high agency costs, staff shortages, staff with the obsolete skill sets and high turnover rates.  The next task is to estimate their financial consequences.  The cost of a workforce plan would be very low in comparison.  You now have all you need to write a business case.

It is seen as an HR project

Aworkforce plan needs to link with strategic and financial plans.  It also needs inputs from many busy service managers.  This cannot be achieved if it is seen as an HR project rather than an organisationally owned one.

You need to get the board to endorse the workforce plan at its inception and to sign it off on completion.

Set up a steering group of senior people that only meets at the beginning and end of the project, but critically is there to intervene should something go wrong.  They should be regularly updated with short progress reports.

Finance rubbish your staff-in-post figures

HR and finance staff-in-post totals are slightly different.  Finance count staff on the payroll when they are still owed back pay, even if they have left the organisation, while HR doesn’t.  Your plan will be stopped in its tracks if finance challenges your figures.

The answer is to develop good links with management accounts.  They should be very interested in your workforce plan.  You would discuss and agree establishment and staff-in-post figures with them before they get anywhere near the board.  Management accountants quickly get why HR and finance figures can vary and therefore their finance director would too. 

I’ve even managed to get management accounts to send out workforce questionnaires and spreadsheet plans and case late returns as part of an integrated workforce and finance planning exercise. 

Managers see workforce planning as more work 

Most managers are very busy and will do anything to avoid new work.  Also, planning for the future is of much less interest as they have a strong here and now focus. 

What you need is a half day launch workshop of all the key managers whom you expect to contribute to the plan.  Persuade the chief executive to launch the event with a five minute presentation, which you would provide. Get them to return for the last ten minutes to hear the report backs.  This makes the best use of their very limited time and sends a powerful message that workforce planning must be taken seriously.

A further way to win support is to find a line manager champion who is really keen on workforce planning.  They need to be in a core discipline.  Thus a pharmaceutical company would choose a scientist manager.   

George Blair

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