The annual AHRI Awards celebrate those at the top of their game in HR. Four individual winners share thought leadership insights and weigh in on the biggest challenges facing HR. This week’s spotlight: Dave Ulrich HR Rising Star Award winner Ben Hamer, workforce planning and design manager at the Department of Social Services.
Q. At 25, you’ve already held management and advisory positions at the Department of Social Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and Department of Defence. What distinguishes a good workforce planner from a great one?
BH A good workforce planner is able to work through the standard methodology and, at the end of the day, develop strategic products. However, a great workforce planner partners with the business, aligns to the overall business strategy and develops HR interventions that have a real impact. To achieve this, it’s imperative that a workforce planner has strong stakeholder engagement skills in order to build close relationships with the organisation’s most senior executives; the analytical skills and strategic HR knowledge to translate business problems into workforce risks and develop mitigations; and the ability to monitor and measure impacts.
If you were to ask what success looks like, it’s your workforce planner having a seat at the table for all strategic business conversations. When you consider that between 40 to 70 per cent of an organisation’s cost base (on average) pertains to the workforce, it’s critical that the executives are continually assessing and responding to workforce impacts.
Q. You consistently receive positive feedback about the manner in which you take an interest in employees’ career pathways and capability development (i.e. planning development opportunities based on future job roles). How do you encourage and coach line managers to do the same?
BH While it sounds clichéd, it comes down to treating employees as real people; making a genuine effort to get to know them, their interests, their ambitions, etc. With managers, it’s about changing their mindset from viewing their employees in terms of “What can you offer me?” to “How can I best support you?”.
In addition, I encourage managers to view their role as facilitating rather than directing. Doing so will help them establish productive workforce relationships and, in turn, help their employees to reach their potential.
Q. You gave a presentation at a conference on Workforce Planning in the Public Sector in 2014, discussing ‘workforce planning capability in a resource-constrained environment’. You were also a panel member on the Role of HR Business Partners in the Public Service. What did you learn from that?
BH The key takeaway for me was that, while we’re undertaking workforce planning for different organisations and in different environments, we’re all facing the same challenges and there’s benefit gained by collaborating to gauge best practice and share lessons learnt. Another key takeaway was that workforce planning (as a function) is growing and maturing, which was really pleasing to see.
Q. Resource constraints are a fact of life for many HR practitioners. What insights can you share on doing more with less, and leveraging the influence of HR business partners?
BH The main thing is to partner with the business and get them to ‘own’ their workforce, and by extension, push accountability onto them. This way the HR role can be less time and resource intensive and more supportive in an advisory/consultative capacity. HR business partners are critical to this, as they’re the interface between HR and the business.
Q. You’re undertaking a PhD (government) in public sector leadership. What does your 10-year career plan look like?
BH Hopefully, I’ll have completed my PhD somewhere within that timeframe. If I was to be ambitious, I’d see myself leading the HR function for a large, complex organisation within the next five years, and potentially heading up a corporate area within 10 years – most likely in government, but I’m not locked into that idea.
Q. What are three challenges facing Australian HR practitioners in 2015?
1. Leadership. Organisations are being forced to think leaner and smarter in light of restructuring and rationalised spending. Effective organisational leaders will be crucial to maintaining employee engagement and getting the most out of their people under the perception of them needing to do more with less.
2. Professionalisation of the HR function. Reduced operating costs necessitate more flexible, multiskilled workforces. When we think locally, this poses a risk to the credibility and professionalism of the HR profession and feeds the perception that “because I can manage people, I can work in HR”, similar to “because I’m a consumer, I can work in marketing”.
3. Retention. The last year or two has seen the power shift from the employer to the employee. Organisations will be more at risk of losing their high-performing employees in what is a highly competitive labour market – particularly those employees with critical skills. How to hang on to and engage those staff will grow in importance.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the March 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Star quality’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.
AHRI awards applications close 5 June. Find out more about how to apply here.