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“People are soooo unpredictable!”

“There’s no point in planning, they just leave anyway!”

“How can I predict who I need working for me in 3 years, I don’t know who works here now!”

“I have so much work to do, I can’t take the time to plan.”

“I just don’t see the value in planning, we get the work done anyway and we just recruit when we need too…”

Yep, I’ve heard these ‘reasons’ and many many more for why workforce planning doesn’t happen. A wonderful person called Dave Ulrich, a Leadership and HR guru, once quoted a CEO saying “What if I train my people and they leave?” and Dave’s response was “What if you don’t train them and they stay?” Its a great quote and works well for Workforce Planning also.

“What if you plan your workforce and they leave? What if you don’t plan your workforce and they stay?”

Businesses now more than ever need to be responsive to changing demands in the market place. Customers are fickle, and justifiably so, there is so much choice in the market now. Customers are no longer restrained to buying from the corner shop. They can buy their food, clothing, computer items, even services overseas if they want. They have a choice in utilities and a method (social media) to help their friends choose. So your business model must be responsive to change if you want to survive the long term.

But what about Government I hear you ask? Well, every 3-4 years you ask your customers for the ultimate review… Whether you keep the service you are currently delivering, or not, can depend on the outcome of this 4 year cycle. So does Government need to be responsive to change….I’d say yes.

How do businesses handle change in the market if they don’t forecast forward? How would they know which way to head without a strategic vision or mission? Could you imagine Westpac ignoring the international market and just going with the flow? If they and the other Australian banks forgot to be responsive the GFC would have hit our shores much harder than it did.

Think about all the sudden redundancies that have occurred in the last couple of years because of the change in the market. Was this change unpredictable? The experts would say no. Did businesses have a plan for this change? The experts would say…no. So redundancies happen. People lose their jobs suddenly.

With a ‘no forced redundancy’ policy, many government organisations are even less able to be responsive to this immediate need. Attrition is key for them, but attrition is a long arduous process that requires a strict planning methodology to be successful.

Think about your CFO or Senior Finance Manager for a moment. They spend a great deal of their time predicting the future. “If we create that ‘thing’ then we will need to allocate X dollars to the budget.” Long term financial planning is essential for successful businesses to ensure that they have the cash flow and capital to survive. Guess what, not every project goes to plan…not every customer stays with the business…not every budget is exact…and yet we accept the flux and flow in the budget process. We call it an actual v budget analysis. We analyze, recast and change the budget for the next year to better suit the business.

Workforce planning is exactly the same process.

When you predict the work that needs to be carried out to complete the vision and mission from the strategic plan you generally need people to complete those tasks. But because we already have a current workforce we just tend to ‘press’ the activities into the current workforce model, even if it doesn’t quite fit. Then what happens…you got it! We determine that its not working and end up in performance management discussions. Usually with a person who has been given a role or tasks that they just don’t have the competency for. Or we do the next best thing…restructure.

Reaction is an enemy to success. We know logically that if we plan our workforce and establish the skills and abilities needed to complete the work that we must achieve in the future, we’ll get better outcomes.

So how do we create an organisation that is more efficient in workforce decision making and is responsive (not reactive) to change?

We start with workforce forecasting…or crystal ball gazing as I like to call it. Simply, its about taking your most educated and well informed guess at what the workforce needs, to get the work outcomes required, to make the business great. Just like Long Term Financial planning, you take your best guess (based on metrics, information and knowledge) and create a plan that you do your darnedest to stick too. Then you analyze the forecast against the actual to identify gaps and opportunities. Then you amend it and do the cycle again. Sound familiar?

Now, of course you generally can’t just go and get more people to do the new work. And you can’t just sack people to make room? So what do you do now? Flexible workforce…this is not just about extra leave for family planning… It’s a business imperative.

And…its all in how you cut the proverbial ‘workforce pie’. Which we will discuss in the third instalment of the workforce planning blog series.

Also have a look at my first Workforce Planning blog if you haven’t had the opportunity “Success Doesn’t Happen by Accident.”

Michelle works with business and HR professionals to ensure that workforce strategy and operations are effectively meeting the needs of the business and their customers.

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