One of the biggest conundrums HR professionals face is how to balance talent for upcoming business needs. With most companies in a constant state of transformation and restructure, this puts added pressure on an already stressed system. What should you focus on for workforce planning now and into the future?
Talent that has been let go today might be in demand only a few months later or required urgently in a different department. The talented employees don’t always find ways to grow and develop their internal expertise and profile, and managers often lack the skills or systems to help employees navigate their career journey. What active steps can our sector take to improve this workforce planning oversight?
I decided to do my own research and spoke with several Australian HR leaders across the retail, insurance, professional services and construction industries. The consensus from these discussions is that we have a long way to go, but some practices are having a positive impact. Here is what I discovered.
1. Talent management: A mix of art and science
Isentia Executive Director HR, Helen Thomson, says changing the talent management process has given HR a much clearer view to tap into their existing talent, which has allowed for better planning.
“We have taken active steps to mitigate a manager’s bias towards their team members with a much more rigorous approach to talent management,” Thomson says.
Rather than relying on whether or not an employee is favoured by the manager, the new system reviews performance and potential through multiple ratings and in greater detail. The system offers data that predicts future capability – for example, who can move up one level now, right through to those that might be able to move up two levels over three years. This approach will enable the company to better align people with future business strategy and growth plans, she says.
Metcash’s Head of Organisational Development, Alex Coward, agrees that the data-driven approach to workforce planning and talent management is paying dividends.
“We have found that with people putting more and more content into their LinkedIn profiles, we can leverage this directly into our own system,” Coward says. “This saves on double-up from an administration point of view and the information is up-to-date. Furthermore, this aligns with Gallup’s research that people want the organisation they work for to ’know me’ – not just at the point of hiring but ongoing.”
The organisation also challenges internal bias, encouraging leaders to replace ‘hero-to-zero’ practices with regular dialogues about the capability of the people for future roles.
Most of the organisations I spoke to agreed that using platforms such as Success Factors are helping them to identify and grow talent better than before. The investment in putting together workforce planning platforms can be significant.
These systems call for technical skill and require a deeper understanding of an individual’s skills, performance, potential, attitudes and future career aspirations. Integrating these systems is not always easy, though, and enabling the right people to effectively leverage them can also present challenges. There is no doubt, however, that they are increasing in sophistication and popularity.
2. Manage the managers
It seems talent management systems and processes can only be effective when managers themselves have the right skills and can empower individuals to take charge of their careers.
“Over the next six months, we are introducing two employee-driven development and career discussions with leaders, and they will be conducted annually,” Thomson says. “We are prepping both sides to enable more effective engagement between leaders and their direct reports. These sessions are held separately to performance reviews, so we don’t tie them in together and emphasise the importance of career planning and dialogue in its own right.”
Other organisations are running bespoke training sessions on career conversations with managers and employees. The hope is to produce effective dialogue around career progression for each party. This will also enable the organisation to have a better view of where employees can add value in the future.
3. Leadership is the key
“The leadership skills we need today are vastly different from yesterday,” Coward says. “Today, we have four generations at work, we are dealing with mental illness, we have people who don’t value loyalty (and this is a two-way street with organisations changing roles to meet business needs), people have caring arrangements for young or older family members, and there is increased need for flexibility.”
In this environment, leaders are having to find new ways to engage with their staff and get to know them, as well as what drives them at a deeper level – it’s a juggling act.
Therefore, HR need to support the leaders in this context with just-in-time training and development initiatives focused on continuous improvements. Additionally, leaders who understand the career journey within their organisations will be better equipped to design a customer experience to motivate employees more effectively.
Improving the employee experience can help balance feelings of vulnerability in such volatile environments. Strong leadership is key in delivering an effective employee experience overall, countering some of the above mentioned challenges of the current workplace.
Naturally, the HR leaders who expressed a strong connection and high visibility with senior management were better equipped to shape their talent needs for the future.
“We are now starting again from the ground up, looking at the future strategy of our organisation, the total customer experience and then planning talent based on a much longer horizon,” remarks one HR leader from the insurance industry.
Keeping up with global workforce planning trends, having access to meaningful data and keeping up-to-date with new technology all rated as an important way to stay focused on identifying and retaining the right people for the future.