Keys to successful workforce planning – Westpac story

by 18 Mar 2010

Workforce planning can make a significant contribution to the success of any company. HR Leader looks at how Westpac approaches the issue and details the makings of successful workforce planning programs

While workforce planning has been around for a number of years, all too often it is seen as just another HR initiative because there are no hard links to business plans or strategy. However, when HR estab lishes a program based solely on business needs, workforce planning can play a sig nificant role in the future success of any company.

Westpac has met with considerable suc cess in its workforce planning initiatives, according to Anastasia Ioannou, head of strategic workforce planning, metrics & sur veys. Workforce planning is intrinsically linked to business strategy at the bank, she says, and remains a ‘living document’ to ensure that “we continue to review our workforce and make the right sourcing and development decisions that reflect the group’s mission, strategic plans and budget”.

Ioannou, who formerly served as man ager of workforce planning at RailCorp, says it’s important to have an ongoing dia logue with the business about future plans. This helps ensure that the company has the appropriate workforce capabilities, per formance and accountability to meet the needs of business strategy, she says.

Breaking it down

There are eight key elements to Westpac’s workforce planning model – each of which revolves around eight key questions. Ioan nou breaks down each question, and says the first question is “who are we? … We need to understand our business by articu lating our vision, mission and purpose.”

The second question is “where are we head ing?” It’s important to have an understanding of the organisation’s strategic context, and Ioannou says this can be achieved by defining the future vision and the required workforce against organisational direction, external labour market and environmental factors.

The third question is “where are we now?” and she says this is about knowing your current workforce by analysing its characteristics and capabilities.

The fourth question is “where do we want to be?” “This can be achieved by iden tifying future business needs scenarios and workforce characteristics and capabilities,” Ioannou explains.

The next step is to analyse workforce gaps by asking “what don’t we have?” and once these gaps are identified, develop inte grated business and HR strategies that map out how the company will address the gaps between current and future workforce needs.

The seventh element involves implementation. This involves the question of “how do we make it happen?” and subsequently investing in strategies and change man agement processes to address workforce planning issues, Ioannou elucidates.

“Finally, we need to ask ourselves whether we’re on track. This can be done by evaluating the effectiveness of strategies to determine success of planned changes and impact on business performance,” she states.

Workforce planning success

The key to the success of a workforce planning strategy is in engaging and partnering with the business, Ioannou says, and then linking the workforce plan to the business plan, which can be achieved by mapping demand and sup ply to the current and future business strategy.

Other elements that have contributed to the success of the workforce planning process within Westpac include: using an environmental scan to forecast long-term employ ment needs by providing insight into possible opportuni ties and risks, using the PEST analysis model (political environmental, social and technological); identifying the right metrics to keep leadership informed about key work force issues, which can also serve as lead performance indi cators; and targeting programs to specific employee groups in order to maximise the return on investment of the pro grams. “This includes retention, rewards and recognition, employee engagement, training, mentoring and redeploy ment programs, which are drivers towards a talent mind set,” Ioannou explains.

The results of Westpac’s workforce planning program can be demonstrated through several hard measures, according to Ioannou, including increased cost-efficiency in the areas of recruitment, training learning and devel opment, evidence to demonstrate the link between pro ductivity and financial performance, the development of key workforce measures and graduate programs that meet capability gaps and understanding the importance of data integrity in the HRIS system.

Being workforce planning wise

Workforce planning takes time and requires dedicated resources - in other words, a competent team of workforce planners with great collaborative skills, according to Ioannou.

"Start by doing a simple but effective DNA map of the organisation and map out areas where there are 'burning platform issues'," she says. These may include particular areas where turnover is high, areas where there are critical skill gaps, persistent vacancies, high levels of absenteeism, ongoing loss of high performers or loss of employees with less than one-year tenure, and the skewing of workforce demographics such as age, gender or employment mode to one end of the spectrum.

She also recommends finding one champion within the business who will benefit from the program; "work with them to implement the process and together promote the process to the rest of the organisation", she recommends.

On a wider level, it's important to develop a set of key workforce planning metrics and embed these metrics into the executive and board reporting processes, she adds.

"I would also recommend that organisations use the workforce planning process to gain further insight into their workforce by understanding what makes employees tick or, in other words, how they 'think and feel and act' - all of which influence how engaged your employees are," she asserts.

"I think that linking the findings of the workforce planning process with the organisation's employee engagement, exit, on-boarding and culture surveys and other human resource metrics is the real value-add of the workforce planning process."

Westpac’s workforce planning lessons

“As with implementing any business process, there have been challenges, however we have learnt a lot along the way," says Anastasia Ioannou, head of strategic workforce planning, metrics & surveys for Westpac.

“My advice is to start by finding one champion who you can work with and who will assist you to promote the program within the business, rather than taking on the whole organisation. It also helps to keep abreast of what other organisations are doing in this space in order to promote best practice and continual learning.”

It is also important to involve the business. Ensure that the business owns the process, she says, and involve the recruitment, learning and development, HR information systems and organisational development teams, engage the business leaders upfront to articulate the current and future strategy and engage the business to map the current capabilities of the workforce and identify future capabilities.

Top tips for workforce planning

(By Julie Sloan, Director Workforce Planning Australia. www.workforceplanning.com.au)

There is a growing amount of international research and documentation that demonstrates the link between the application of Workforce Planning processes, targeted workforce development strategies and increased productivity. Businesses that have applied Workforce Planning to their business decision-making during the global financial crisis are now applying the same processes to better position themselves as competitors for the reducing labour market. It is now clear that if you are not developing Workforce Planning capabilities that enable you to produce the evidence (supply-gap analysis and risk assessment of supply) on which to base your workforce decisions, your organisation will be less competitive in the labour market.

Workforce planning is:

• a business imperative

• an executive responsibility

• about good governance and leadership

• a new discipline requiring new skills and capabilities

• a continuous future focused process concerned with aligning the needs of the employee with those of the business, and vice versa

Requires examination and understanding of:

• mission critical occupations

• skills shortage occupations

• hard to fill occupations

• globally advantaged, insulated and vulnerable occupations

• supply and demand gap analysis

• risk assessment of supply

• evidence-based and targeted workforce development strategies - recruitment, retention, growing or buying your workforce and job re-design.