Workforce Planning

Dear Management Doctor:

We are just finishing Workforce Planning here at PDS and I have been very surprised to learn that few, if any, departments are completing this type of proactive planning. Do you know of any other departments that are working on these issues?  The process has been fascinating and I feel much more confident knowing that we are moving from reactive to proactive in understanding our future people and department needs.

Just curious.

Clay White
Snohomish, WA County Planning & Development Services

Dear Clay,

Let’s start with this definition which I found on Google:

Workforce Planning is a systematic identification and analysis of what an organization is going to need in terms of the size, type, and quality of workforce to achieve its objectives. It determines what mix of experience, knowledge, and skills is required and sequences steps to get the right number of the right people in the right place at the right time.

I don’t know of any planning or development services department that has done a comprehensive job of workforce planning and hope our emailers will share some examples. We do parts of this in our various studies and have some thoughts about the various topics.

SIZE: Given the current economy, this has been a difficult topic for most departments. Unfortunately, layoffs have mostly been driven by overall city or county budget needs rather than how to best serve the customer. We see many departments say they need more staff but then don’t provide the policy makers with the documentation needed to justify the numbers. In past emails and on our website we have shown how to do the calculations. For development review, it is determining how many reviews by type are expected and how much time on the average is needed for each review. For planning activities, it is necessary to have a work program that indicates how much staff is needed for each work program item. During the hay day of high permit volumes, many of our clients were simply understaffed and thus had a hard time meeting customer expectations. Today, even with layoffs, we speculate that many departments may be over-staffed.

TYPE OF STAFF: Do you need planners, technicians, clerks and what type of planners? This determination can be even more difficult than setting the size. Layoffs again have forced the hand for many departments. One of the reasons privatization has become popular, it is likely easier to set the right mix of type of staff than in a traditional civil service setting. We have had some interesting experiences about this in the past. For one major city we asked the staff to indicate which assignments were the most important and which were the most difficult. We then asked which they were doing. We found the most senior and experienced people were handling the easiest and least important projects. The junior people were handling the most difficult and important projects. For another community we found an unusually high percentage of clerical staff. They were needed because the planners refused to do direct computer entry which in contemporary organization has become the norm. We also find typical social science planners with master's degrees in planning doing design review or traffic analysis and they are not trained or skilled in these area. Smaller communities that can’t afford these specialists should perform the function by contractors.

QUALITY OF WORKFORCE: How many planning and development departments do a good job of evaluating employees and solving issues with poor or misplaced employees? In our experience, very few. During layoffs, the chickens have come home to roost. (I grew up on a chicken farm in Nebraska.) Layoff rules and seniority often mean that the better staff is laid off.

Moving from reactive to proactive in understanding your future people and department needs is great and I hope you will share some of your approach and findings with our emailers. Planning is a difficult field so be careful with your analysis. Most HR departments are going to be focusing on skills. However, there is an interesting personnel theory that says, we hire people for what they know (skills) but we fire people for who they are! Getting the who they are into your analysis can be difficult.

Keep planning, i.e. workforce.

The Management Doctor

trainingcompany hot infomanagement doctordumb stuffconsultingpublications