Workforce planning outlines the short-term future, but modern-day HR professionals need workforce shaping to look even further over the horizon.
The closest thing HR professionals can get to a crystal ball is strategic workforce planning. In most instances, this means looking two to five years into the future to understand the needs of your workforce in the context of the business strategy, says Erin Prothero CPHR.
“In collaboration with the business, the workforce planner asks themselves, ‘How do I make sure we have the right people with the right skills at the right time in the right place,’” says Prothero, who is an Associate Director in the People and Change (P&C) team at KPMG.
This is the right question to ask for all workforce planning, but KPMG takes it a step further by approaching the challenge of a dynamic labour market using an approach known as ‘workforce shaping’.
“This is about thinking future-first and asking bolder questions that will impact the shape, not just the numbers, of the workforce. So you ask, ‘What do you want to be like in 10 years’ time? What are the values and characteristics you want to have? How can we reinforce our EVP?’
“Rather than starting where you are and moving forward, you start by envisioning the future and move closer and closer back towards you.”
This means asking questions such as: How will we support employees whose jobs are augmented or impacted by automation? How should we re-skill employees to give them the competencies they’ll need in the future?
What decisions do we need to make about how we build, buy, borrow, bot and base our workforce?
Uplifting workforce shaping capabilities
As more and more executive teams look to their HR department for guidance on how to build and sustain a suitable workforce for the future, HR professionals will need to start reaching for tools such as workforce shaping in order to provide an accurate and well-rounded response.
To do this, they need the right kind of training. Prothero recognised this. And so, as part of her project to achieve certification via AHRI’s Practicing Certification pathway, she developed a capability uplift framework for KPMG’s national P&C team.
“I always ask myself, ‘How would I explain this to 20-year-old me?’ It’s okay to just be a human and be supported to learn.” – Erin Prothero CPHR, Associate Director, People and Change, KPMG
Workforce shaping is one of the aligned and empowered workforce enablers in KPMG’s Connected Enterprise digital transformation framework. Prothero noted that 85 per cent of the jobs needed in 2030 are yet to be created – so she wanted to create a helpful resource to help organisations respond to a very different future of work.
“My project was about how to operationalise [workforce shaping] so our people can better understand what it means and why it’s needed.”
While this had already been part of the P&C strategy, it wasn’t yet at the desired maturity level, and the pandemic meant that learning needed to be targeted and highly impactful to cut through the noise.
Prothero needed to figure out how to make it easy for the P&C team to stay abreast of the global trends surrounding the fourth industrial revolution – that is, the rise of the digital and AI-driven world – and to learn the relevant methodologies.
Her goals were to:
- Formalise a common understanding of workforce shaping among the P&C team.
- Create a helpful toolkit that could be used nationally, which included videos capturing workforce shaping insights from influential figures in the organisation.
- Do this via a sprint-based approach (breaking a project into smaller chunks).
- Break the concept down and clearly explain it to get buy-in from the P&C teams.
“I try and remind myself of in my day-to-day work of what it felt like to be a 20-year-old – who had just spent a year serving pancakes and wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a career – walking into the Australian Public Service [where Prothero first worked] and feeling like everyone was talking about something complicated… and that I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on.
“So I always ask myself, ‘How would I explain this to 20-year-old me?’ It’s okay to just be a human and be supported to learn.”
The power of collaboration
Prothero conducted a two-week sprint to pool the perspectives of a variety of other experts across KPMG, to refine the approach of establishing an effective and meaningful workforce shaping scenario.
“I got everyone together – from graduates to directors, and people from a range of disciplines and sectors – and asked them to brainstorm and share what they liked and didn’t like about the approach. I then produced a technique paper and circulated it once again for further improvement.
“As a result of this collaboration, I was able to further refine our workforce shaping scenario technique and ensure it was current and fit-for-purpose.”
Diversity of thought is important when introducing new processes or ideas, she says.
“I could have just drawn on my experience and sat at my computer doing my own research, but it wouldn’t have been as rich or as broadly applicable. It seems like an obvious statement, but sometimes you do feel like you have to do these things all by yourself. That’s something I’m trying to unlearn.”
Next, she had to think about different ways to deliver the information to the P&C team. For example, her learning preference is to read something and take her time doing it.
“If someone sends me a video, I look for the transcript,” she says.
But plenty of people don’t learn that way.
“I wanted to make the learning accessible to everyone.”
That’s where the videos came in. She got leaders to talk about how workforce shaping applied to them and their clients, to make it real and put it into a real-life context.
“Again, I thought about 20-year-old Erin having no idea about what workforce shaping was all about then spending 10 minutes listening to respected leaders in her business sharing their perspectives and being able to say, ‘I get what they’re talking about now.’”
The rigor of AHRI’s certification process helped Prothero to dive into some of the foundational work of her project, such as stakeholder management, which she believes is a critical part of the planning process.
“That was probably my most impactful learning from this project… getting into a greater level of depth around stakeholder mapping,” she says.
“There are always people further up the chain, and outside of your immediate team, who you need to make sure are comfortable with what you’re doing, and understand the value that will be delivered.”
Prothero used the ADKAR model to identify where all her key stakeholders sat at the beginning of the project and where she wanted them to be at the end.
“A lot of people were aware of what workforce shaping meant, but we wanted to create awareness for some and deepen the knowledge – or leverage the experience – of others,” she says.
“I mapped out all the stakeholders, and if they had more experience with workforce shaping, my messaging about their role in the project was quite different than for someone with no experience.”
This was a great way to ensure she demonstrated the benefits of what she was doing quite clearly. It also meant that she could clearly differentiate between those in the business who could be champions for her project (i.e. people featured in the educational videos) and those she just needed to take a light-touch ‘update’ approach with.
Prior to the project, 63 per cent of people in the P&C team felt they had a common understanding of workforce shaping. Now, 100 per cent say they do.
Prothero also saw an uplift in people’s understanding of, and comfort level in delivering, workforce shaping techniques. Her toolkit has since been incorporated into the approach used by global KPMG P&C teams.
“It has been great to be surrounded by people who recognise your work and think what you’re doing is important and that you’re doing it well. That’s such a core part of what makes me happy in my job.”
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the May 2022 edition of HRM Magazine.
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