Delivering the right workforce

Hollywood provides scant examples of well executed plans. The world of fiction would have us believe that planning is wholly unnecessary in the achievement of success. In the real world, successful execution relies on great planning just as a plan relies on great execution to be successful.

Unlike more traditional approaches to workforce planning, we are now executing a living plan that must remain both flexible and antifragile in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. This means that, whilst specific projects will be initiated and concluded to deliver incremental moves toward the right workforce, the workforce plan requires management for the duration of the planning horizon.

deliver the right workforce


It is important to remember that the workforce plan is the vehicle for delivering the right workforce, it is not the sole means of communicating elements of the plan.

The key to this is the stakeholder mix in relation to their power and interest.

  • High interest and high power: the promoters and detractors. We need to communicate the plan so that we can ameliorate detractors and aim to convert them towards promotion. If the collective power of detractors outweighs that of the promoters following this communication, I strongly recommend extending communication towards latents to build a greater number of promoters.
  • High interest and low power: the defenders and attackers. Communicate clearly with the defenders but consider clearly the aim of communicating with attackers. Often, I have seen effort wasted and antagonism raised by simply transmitting a fait accompli to this group. The aim is to convert them to being defenders or move them towards apathy. To achieve the former, we must listen and acknowledge their concerns and grievances that are fuelling their resistance to this change. Then we must focus on creating a solution.

A final and important element is to consider how those perspectives may change throughout the execution of the workforce plan. Whilst we prioritise maintaining existing levels of support, we cannot lose sight of those latents and apathetics who may develop interest as reality bites. Whilst we execute, we must be conscious of the workforce segments and stakeholder groups who will start to go through change. Though change management and communication steps will be built into individual initiatives, it is important that we workforce planning practitioners take additional steps in advance to prepare these groups accordingly. Moreover, it is vital that we utilise those promoters and defenders with the highest levels of interest to create a ‘guiding coalition’ to create and maintain advocacy throughout the execution.

Managing Quality

Whilst the workforce plan will be comprehensive, it is not expected that implementation of the plan is dependent upon the completion of detailed planning at the lowest level. When we execute the plan, we should expect that work packages within projects will still require more detailed planning as part of the overall workforce plan. As we discussed in chapter fifteen, the accountability for this will sit with those with the greatest capability and incentive. At an initiative level, they will be accountable for the more detailed planning and execution.

As this is done by project and BAU teams, we need to ensure that the governance is in place to maintain quality. Each initiative is a dependency of the plan, this means initiatives need to be executed successfully and realize the expected benefits for the workforce plan to achieve the seven rights. Moreover, certain initiatives may be dependencies of other initiatives.

When we talk about quality in this context, we are talking about the balance of three key constraints on the initiative: scope, time and cost.

  • Scope which is the work needed to be done to create the expected effect and benefits.
  • Time encompasses the specified timeframes around the creation of effects and benefits. Taking an agile approach, we will be looking to create a minimum viable product for many of our initiatives to begin early accrual of benefits and allow us to test the initiative.
  • Cost for each initiative reflect both the project budget to deliver the expected benefits and the return on investment. Increased costs and delayed benefits can result from both scope creep and impacts on the assumptions.

deliver the right workforce

Managing Risks and Assumptions

Risks and assumptions are linked concepts: risks are those events we hope will not take place and assumptions are those things we expect to happen. Risk is concerned with two things: the potential impact of a negative event and the likelihood of that event taking place. As potential and likelihood are both future-focused concepts, our assessment of risk is an assumption: we assume a level of potential impact and a likelihood of occurrence. Therefore, for our purposes, I shall take us back to assumptions. Our assumptions are those things we have accepted as true, based on our analyses and forecasts, and have influenced our plan. These assumptions create two types of risk: explicit and implicit.

  • Explicit risks are those that are stated as a result of an assumption. For example, we may assume that the impact of industrial action by our workforce may be high though we assume the likelihood of that to be low. In an explicit risk, the assumption forms the basis of the risk. • Implicit risks are those that result from assumptions within our plan. For example, we may assume a voluntary turnover rate of fourteen percent during our planning horizon and have created a workforce plan on that basis. As a result, there is a risk that our assumption does not transpire.

With each of these risks we must consider the following: ownership, tolerance, indicators and proximity.

  • Ownership comes down to responsibilities and accountabilities, identifying who is the most appropriate individual to manage the risk and where is their chain of accountability.
  • Tolerance is where we determine in advance the thresholds within which the likelihood and impact may move before it must be reported, and the ownership moved up a level.
  • Indicators are those data points that will support or counter the original assumption. For our assumption on turnover, the indicators are the monthly turnover data that will indicate whether we are on target or tracking at a higher or lower rate.
  • Proximity is twofold: the proximity of the indicator and of the impact. We need to establish the point where we will be clearer on the validity of our assumptions and the lead time we have to implement any additional mitigations in the event of deviation.

Information Flow

In some organizations there is a thirst for information; in other organizations the opposite is true. Regardless of the maturity of workforce planning within our organizations, it is valuable to consider information flow in terms of the following: reporting, escalation and feedback loops.


Reporting is a routine flow of updated information to stakeholders and typically executed in one of two approaches: highlight and milestone reports.

Highlight Reports
Highlight reports are the most common form of reporting that we see within organizations, which provide a regular update on the status of performance against the plan. Those from a project management background may be tempted to internally focused and become the purveyor of the team’s progress. Instead, focus on the progress of the workforce and update how the workforce is evolving in relation to the plan. This will draw upon updates to the data sets that we have collected throughout the planning cycle. The highlight report is likely to serve multiple stakeholders where it is unfeasible for us to present it with an accompanying verbal narrative. Utilizing HR and finance business partners, particularly in larger organizations, can reap dividends in them cascading this information directly to their own stakeholders. As we provide them the relevant information that enables their work, they will cascade the highlight report and present the progress of the workforce to their own stakeholders.

Milestone Reports

Whilst highlight reports must be focused on the workforce, milestone reports are the opportunity to update on the specific achievements of those involved. Milestones are significant points within execution, for example the conclusion of specific projects or significant work packages, which are agreed in advance. This is likely to be presented directly to a group of key stakeholders verbally, alongside a visual accompaniment. Whilst the initiator is the programme milestone, remember to frame this around the workforce.


Whereas the schedule for reporting is agreed in advance, escalation is an event-driven activity. Reporting is aimed at informing and maintaining support and confidence. Escalation is focused on initiating action from stakeholders. Within project management circles there is a similar practice of reporting by exception; however, this activity is still framed around reporting rather than seeking action. As a result, we draw a clear distinction between the two. We escalate when risks and issues fall outside tolerance levels that have been agreed in advance. As a result, we must be clear on the actions that need to be taken and our recommendations for action.

Feedback Loops

Just as important as the information we pass to stakeholders is the information we receive back. All action results in feedback; as we discussed in chapter fourteen, even the absence of direct feedback is, itself, feedback. Feedback is what allows us to see the impact of our actions; in a closed system, like the flick a light switch, the presence of light highlights our success. In open systems, like the workplace, the feedback may be less obvious. This is amplified by the greater need for feedback that results from an agile approach.

To combat this, we must prioritize two key areas. The first is the proactive pursuit of feedback from stakeholders. With senior stakeholders, utilize the reporting mechanism to solicit feedback. For those stakeholders with less influence and power, consider engaging in employee listening. The second area to prioritize is the identification of error signals. The check engine light in our motor vehicles is the ubiquitous example of an error signal, in indicator within a system that indicates a fault. Look carefully at our workforce metrics and identify what changes would indicate an error signal for the initiatives within the workforce plan.

Written by Adam Gibson

Chartered FCIPD FCMI, Strategic Workforce Planning Leader

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  1. Kotter, J P (1995) Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail, Harvard Business Review, 73, pp 259-267

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