Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

On Workforce Architecture, Employment Relationships and Lifecycles: Expanding the Purview of Workforce Planning & Management

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

On Workforce Architecture, Employment Relationships and Lifecycles: Expanding the Purview of Workforce Planning & Management

Article excerpt

Workforce Planning: The Status Quo & Muddling Through

It stretches credulity little to note that workforce planning continues to be honored mainly in the breach, notwithstanding its acknowledged bedrock importance to effective HR management and organizational prosperity. Numerous studies and sources indicate that workforce planning is not well executed, systematically applied or indeed tackled at all in the majority of public and private organizations. For proof, look no further than the 1993 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey that found that 60 percent of companies had no workforce planning process whatsoever. Alternatively, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources' (IPMA-HR's) 1994 benchmark study (1) found that only 37 percent of respondents reported having a workforce planning process. (2) Dismal as this latter statistic may appear at first blush, the bottom line could be grimmer still: The survey authors discovered that "not having a planning process" was the main reason for nonresponse, and nonrespondents constituted 60 percent of the total survey sample size. (3) Moreover, positive responses revealed nothing about the design quality or effectiveness of the planning processes in question; they could, in some cases, have been more aspirational than actual.

So what do these findings tell us? Can it really be that bad? Organizations surely cannot be flying blind when attending to shifting workforce requirements, or be placing uninformed, reckless bets on future talent needs. The absence of any clear correlation between organization success (and survival) and workforce planning on the ground compounds the puzzle. In practice, however, it's safe to say that organizations claiming not to possess formal processes employ a variety of heuristics to project workforce planning decisions into the future. The current Wikipedia.com definition describes rather well, if generically, what these approaches might look like:

   A heuristic is a method for helping in the solution of
   a problem, often informal. It is particularly used for
   a method that usually rapidly leads to a solution that
   is usually reasonably close to the best possible answer.
   Heuristics are "rules of thumb," educated guesses,
   intuitive judgments or simply common sense. In more
   precise terms, heuristics stand for strategies
   using readily accessible though loosely applicable
   information to control problem-solving in human
   beings and machines (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuristic).

In the author's experience, the starting point for informal workforce planning is typically some sort of basic, episodic gap analysis aimed at identifying the discrepancy between demand and supply of particular staff cohorts or designated skill sets. The impulse to "plan" is often triggered by budgetary exigencies or a perceived resource crisis of some sort--it's a reflexive and tactical response, in other words. Headcount data, staff lists and other fairly rudimentary analytics variously fuel the process that sometimes meets expectations and sometimes does not, getting derailed or compromised along the way by a variety of uncooperative variables drawn from the following, not necessarily exhaustive, medley.

* The inherent and meta challenge of predicting the business future, particularly when the operating context is fluid.

* Bureaucratic "rules of the game," which buttress the stasis already nestled in the process; gaps tend to be defined in terms of replacement rather than opportunity for change. (4)

* The difficulty of dealing adequately with the reality of skills fungibility and staff substitutability. In all but organizations with unscaleable technical expertise barriers, available skills can be used in different ways and staff can be deployed creatively. Skills substitutability tends to be routinely exploited informally yet confronted awkwardly if at all in more formal analytical planning terms. …

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