One workforce plan? Time to think ahead

As the economic recovery soldiers on at a slow but steady pace, employers face a reality that was mere speculation just 12 months ago: Employee choices are increasing as their fear of joblessness fades.

This development couldn’t come at a worse time, as cost efficiencies have left many organizations — especially those that are technically oriented — with a tremendous amount of capital. As this capital makes its way into company budgets, it will translate into more projects and greater talent demand.

The muted nature of the recovery, however, demands that management continue to exercise caution and focus on the efficient execution of any new undertaking. Business leaders can’t afford to alienate critical staff members, who might be recession-weary enough to begin looking elsewhere.

What, then, should be done to create an environment for these employees that sustains, rewards and challenges their abilities?

The key lies in greater analysis of workforce demands and efforts to engage all team members.

Peter Cappelli, a professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has conducted worldwide research that suggests that even the best-laid workforce plans focus too closely on a single strategic outcome for the planning cycle.

He has found that most organizations identify goals for the coming year and then structure their workforce plans to help achieve those goals. This method, however, doesn’t take into account the many factors that can affect or alter organizational goals and ultimately require course corrections to workforce plans.

For example, consider the impact of the devastating earthquake and tsunami on the production volume and supply chains of automakers in Japan and the U.S. Updated production projections for makers of both cars and car parts trickled down and affected the labor levels needed to meet decreased delivery estimates. While an extreme example, the point is that each year, many factors shape an organization’s talent demands.

Cappelli’s work suggests that multiple projected workforce plans are needed to address the most likely scenarios a company could face as it moves toward its strategic objectives.

To do this, managers must make communication a high priority and ultimately improve their leadership abilities. Managers must understand the intended strategic direction of their organizations and how it translates into a functional plan for their teams. They must also make sure that the probable scenarios that could change the strategic plan are understood by all parties. Communicating all this to the team creates an opportunity for engagement that is incredibly valuable.

The career aspirations and fears of even the most junior employees naturally surface when discussing the unknown and what-ifs. It is a manager’s job to understand both and help employees articulate their aspirations and fears in the context of the workforce plan. More important, managers must be able to help employees achieve their career goals within the defined scenarios that will move the company toward successfully achieving its strategic objectives.

Developing strong working relationships with your full-time and contract employees and planning for alternate workforce scenarios are two important elements of developing a sustainable and productive workforce, and are the foundation for business success.

Joel Capperella is senior vice president of client solutions at Yoh, a talent provider. Visit or

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