Confronted with a need to overhaul her employer’s approach to workforce planning to match a new funding model, this HR leader transformed herself as well.
When Adina Leu FCPHR moved to Australia a decade ago, she had a firm goal in mind – to prove the value of evidence-based, strategic workforce planning for organisations while continuing to build her career in this functional HR area.
“I knew what I wanted to do, so I engaged with AHRI early on by joining their workforce planning network in Canberra and attending their presentations,” says Leu. “Coming from outside of Australia, it was an excellent way of getting to know the system and understanding its challenges.”
Leu trained as an economist in Bucharest, Romania, and worked in different business functions before moving into HR in learning and workforce development management.
Once in Canberra, she continued her career in workforce planning and strategy working as a senior consultant at the Australian National University, before moving into the Australian Public Service and taking on the role of assistant director, workforce planning and analytics at a government agency in early 2016.
At the same time, she decided to work towards qualifying for AHRI Fellowship, the highest level of AHRI membership. Demonstrated commitment and substantial contribution to the profession are clear contributions applicants for Fellowship need to outline.
“I knew, early on, that there was a lot I could and wanted to contribute to the HR profession in Australia. For me, the journey was about doing innovative work, sharing that work and its impact and lessons learnt with my peers, and supporting the development of the newer generations of HR practitioners” added Leu.
The fast track
The project’s driver was a change in the agency’s funding model to a fully cost recovered one which created a requirement for the agency to plan its workforce really well, to be able to deliver the forecast workload. Simultaneously, staffing caps were introduced across government agencies. This emphasised the need for agencies to strategically prioritise their staff resources.
“In that environment, the organisation needed to understand and control its workforce, so it could deliver its business as usual services, but, at the same time, transform.”
Leu’s solution was a two-pronged project. Its first element was the development of the agency’s workforce reporting and analysis function as a foundational piece to support evidence-based strategic staff planning.
“My friends would laugh when I’d tell them my aim was to work myself out of my own job, but that’s what I did!” – Adina Leu FCPHR
The second was the development of a business-owned, evidence-informed workforce planning function, to enable the mitigation of current and future risks – in the short, medium and long term.
As end-to-end strategic workforce planning practitioner and HR leader, Leu played a crucial role at every step, from persuading others of her vision; to conducting change management; to monitoring, evaluation and continuous improvement.
This meant engaging face-to-face with staff at every level, from the national management board, to the senior leadership team, to people managers. She also oversaw the development of a myriad of products, including workforce planning templates, succession risk assessment tools, and daily updated staff dashboards using the organisation’s visual analytics tool.
There were challenges along the way – particularly the pace of change. “When I started this program workforce planning was seen as a responsibility of the HR team, so the education of leaders to be able to undertake workforce planning was key.
In my initial roll-out, I had also pitched to a higher maturity level than was appropriate for the organisation, so I had to revise the change management component early on to adapt to the organisation’s ability and willingness to change. I used my background in economics to build subtle behavioural nudges into the change management approach.”
The numbers count
Leu’s agility paid off, and, by 2019, the project had achieved impressive results.
These included reducing the vacancy risk in critical roles by 65 per cent, decreasing the overall impact of succession risk in the organisation and increasing the leadership bench strength by 33 per cent.
Also, through a focus on culture in workforce plans, her project increased the staff wellbeing index from 59 to 76 per cent, boosting staff satisfaction with staff management by 10 per cent and growing high-performer retention by seven per cent.
The agency is now considered a leader in advanced workforce planning and analytics in the Australian Public Service, with several agencies having adopted its approach.
Leu gained valuable learnings through AHRI’s Practising Certification Program. Imagine what it could do for you.
Most importantly, Leu succeeded in integrating her project into the agency’s DNA, which meant she could move onto her next challenge. “My friends would laugh when I’d tell them my aim was to work myself out of my own job, but that’s what I did!
I wanted to deliver mature workforce planning and analysis functions embedded into ongoing business management, and hand the functions back to the organisation to manage.”
The next challenge for Leu is maturing an evidence-based strategic workforce planning ecosystem for the Australian Public Service.
A year on, she is now director of workforce strategy and planning at the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). The major differences with this role are the scope, exposure and impact – it covers frameworks, policy advice and capability development for workforce planning practitioners in 100 government agencies, so Leu’s goal is to develop a model that’s adaptable across multiple contexts.
Among her many plans to support preparing the APS for the future are deep-diving into staff data assets for greater insights and foresight and equipping staff planning practitioners and leaders with the skills needed to conduct evidence-informed, business linked planning.
With a three- to five-year timeline, this project is still in its infancy. However, the first stage, rolled out in May 2020, is already having an impact across the APS workforce planning community of practice which currently comprises over 500 staff planning and strategy practitioners.
“We developed an in-house portal containing a wealth of valuable tools and resources, which practitioners can use to understand what contemporary, business-linked workforce planning looks like in the APS context – taking into account factors such as legislative frameworks, accountability mechanisms and public governance,” says Leu.
Leu counts her AHRI certification as invaluable. “I’ve been able to take the learnings from my AHRI qualifying project, and re-apply them at a much larger scale,” she says.
“AHRI really helped me reflect on how I approached my work, what principles I applied, what worked and what didn’t. It’s also really important for connecting with other professionals, and finding out how HR is developing outside your area.”
This article first appeared in the November 2020 edition of HRM magazine.