5 Steps to Kick Start Strategic Workforce Planning

Mar 2019

We can see the wave of change thundering through organisations – driving an increased need to invest in staff who are agile, digitally savvy and creative. At the same time, organisations need to implement new (and lower cost) models and structures to meet the competitive landscape.

At Johnson, we’ve had the privilege of leading some of the country’s most significant searches in strategic workforce planning (SWP) – including the recent appointment of Westpac’s Head of SWP. Having the benefit of insights from the world’s most prominent thought leaders in SWP, we have captured 5 key steps to assist organisations to develop a strong competence in SWP.
 

1. Write the business case for SWP

The business case is centered on availability of talent, cost and competition.

Boards and CEOs are interested in achieving the organisation’s strategy. However, without a strategic approach to workforce planning, the talent the organisation needs may not be available, or may be purchased late on the market and be more expensive. 

An enterprise wide, future oriented view of the company’s strategy, may lead to a decision that there are work streams or even entire teams that the company should not invest in, however may be better placed to outsource or significantly reduce, while investing in talent development in emergent or strategic areas. 

2. Identify the skills for a good SWP manager

A great SWP manager will have three important and quite unique sets of experience.

Firstly, they will have a love of technology and data analytics. The SWP manager will add value by linking insights from macro trends to internal data on profit pools, employee costs, and the effectiveness of long-term investments in recruitment, development and retrenchment.

Second, the SWP manger will bring deep commercial acumen and have a genuine interest in understanding the company’s strategic and financial drivers.

Third, and probably most important, is the ability to credibly engage with senior stakeholders to bring them along on a journey. Effective SWP will catalyse a change in thinking and this journey may be uncomfortable. Great SWP executives will build the case for the change and encourage people along the process. 

3. Answer the key questions

Every organisation is different. However, most businesses should be asking the following questions: 

  • “How do key strategic drivers such as cognitive technologies, changing customer needs and changing demographics impact our workforce over the next 5 years.”
  • “How will these influences impact the work our employees will do, the shape, size and capability of our teams, and the infrastructure required to enable them to do their work?” 
This high-level view can then lead to deep dives on areas of particular concern to drive organisational change, to direct training investment, that drive portfolio reshaping and also inform operating model decisions such as moving to Agile or outsourcing particular work streams.

4. Identify who is best to lead the effort for SWP

SWP may be led by internal staff, consultants or external hires.

While consultants bring expertise, there are often challenges in cost and effectiveness. SWP is an ongoing systemic process rather than a one-shot report. This makes a strong business case for an internal executive or team who can collaborate and guide an organisation through change.

Corporate Australia does not have a deep history in SWP. So, while an internal appointment gives an opportunity to a staff member, it does come at a cost of expertise. When staff are googling “strategic workforce planning” and using consultants to supplement their knowledge, the organisation misses out on the wisdom that comes from someone with proven experience of both designing and implementing a strategic workforce plan.

In a function that is not mature in an organisation, and that is strategically important, appointing a proven leader in the space can rapidly build expertise in an organisation at a relatively low cost.

5. Support from above

Without visible support from the CEO and the Board, the business will not support the SWP role.  

Most organisations experience a period during which interest in SWP develops at board and executive level. Then, once the tipping point is reached, the demand for insightful plans and quality data heightens. 

Great organisations have anticipated the demand for SWP and built their capability to ensure that they can provide the insight and advice sought by the Board, CEO and broader Leadership Team.

Call to action

Looking forward, organisations face increasing challenges on margin erosion, competition, and the need for increased investment in staff and resources.  The one enduring factor that distinguishes why one company is more successful and competitive, is the capability and skill of its people – and SWP will play a fundamental role in planning that capability for the future.



**Our thank you particularly to Su Duffy  - General Manager, Human Resources, Shared Services, Westpac and Oksana Jawabreh -  Head of Group Workforce Planning & Organisational Design, Westpac for their insights.