Workforce Planning: An Organizational Interpretation of Age-Old Questions

Who am I?  What am I here on this earth to do?  What tools will I need to accomplish my mission? 

These are the classic philosophical questions that humanity has been asking for more than two-thousand years, and they live at the core of leadership.  The conversation about leadership began long-ago when societies first formed and the use of power became cause for concern.  The idea of cultivating leadership as part of a life-long journey is at least as old as the Confucian classic, The Great Learning.  One interpretation of this ancient book suggests that, “if you want to be a great leader you need to enter seven spaces—awareness, stopping, calmness, stillness, peace, true thinking, and attainment.” The early Greek philosophers where sending a similar message related to self-awareness, “to thine own self be true.”

As this is true for individual leaders, it is also true for organizational systems.  Strategic Workforce Planning focuses on these same questions but at a macro level.  Who are we at our best? What does the marketplace need now and how do we engage and deliver?  What resources do we need to be extraordinary?

Nine years ago (on Valentine’s Day), I started my own journey as a business owner when I founded Xponents. I had long been interested in the study of Leadership and had served in many senior roles in corporations and as a volunteer in non-profits.  I left my last corporate job more from an awareness of what I wasn’t meant to do, than what I was.   It was that push, a compelling need to be true to myself that helped me begin my journey toward answering the questions above.

Looking back, I see that I’ve come a long way.  It took courage back then to take that leap toward something undefined, and that I couldn’t yet see in the distance.  I moved in the direction that my heart told me to go.  There was a time I would have said I made some wrong turns, but now I know those choices were part of what I needed to experience.  I didn’t have much of a safety net as I looked for ways to match what I had to offer, with what was needed out in the marketplace.

But we did okay.  Growth year over year, and then the bottom fell out in 2008.  They were the best of times and the worst of times…where have I heard that before.  We rolled up our sleeves and reinvented how we did business.  A couple of times.

So, here I stand on the cusp of what’s next.  Where do I go from here?  Here is what I believe I have learned: those three questions hold the key to organizational success.  They are perpetual.  I’m changing, the marketplace is changing, and I have come to realize as a business leader I can never stop asking those three questions.  There will never be absolute answers, but as long as I hold the questions close, I can’t get too far off course.

Workforce Planning: A Journey in Optimism

We’ve been focusing on Workforce Planning which, in a nutshell,  is a process that ensures you have enough of the right people in the right positions doing the right things at the right times.  What our research shows is that organizations often fall in the trap of being too tactical or short-term focused when it comes to Workforce Planning.  Regardless of the industry, type of business, or size of the organization, it is easy to make this mistake.

I’m in a Leadership Collaborative group that is made up of professional services businesses.  We meet once a month, and often the topic of discussion leans toward staying strategic rather than being pulled in to the tactical day-to-day chaos that can rule one’s days (and nights!).  I know from my personal experience it takes extreme discipline to make the time to look out in the distance and blend my hopes and dreams with the obstacles and potential threats to our company’s success.

Based on projections, a significant talent gap could soon impact having enough of the right people in the right positions doing the right things at the right time.   Organizations not only have to project attrition, identify and retain the best talent, develop skills for today and tomorrow, but often this must happen simultaneously while re-engineering and reinventing themselves to meet the ever-evolving marketplace.

When you think about the skills that leaders must possess to do this well, beyond the obvious technical abilities, optimism comes to mind.  Leaders who prepare for the best possible outcome are willing to ask the tough questions:

  • How do we hold the biggest dream possible for our organization’s ability to stay relevant and make a difference?
  • How do we listen to what is needed from us now: financially, socially, and environmentally?
  • How do we design a path that supports team members in maximizing their potential?
  • How do we maintain the courage to confront the brutal truth so that we remain nimble and poised to face every potential road block?

Want to join the conversation? Please comment below.  Or schedule time now to see how Xponents can help.


If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
HighResolution_Warnke_ DebSiverson20121208-9332-EditDeb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.