Talent Management: Implications on how its done

This post will look at some of the implications and issues that arise from typical “internal” TM a.k.a. Workforce Planning (WFP).

My clients know that behind my TM work I have an undercurrent decision making process that I call Meta- Decision Making. Often clients do not see it at all, It is something I keep in my head as we work through a specific WFP assignment.

I bring this up for the following reasons:

  • The process is highly sensitive to uncovering unintended consequences (this is a means for discerning uncertainty and risk [U&R] implications; a.k.a. “be careful of what you ask for in case you achieve it”).
  • The process is highly sensitive to understanding stakeholder issues now and potentially in the future (deals with the “who cares”).
  • This process strives to help us to simultaneously hold several potential solutions simultaneously (options are often helpful)

So let’s set up a “typical” larger scale WFP assignment:

  • We have the right internal stakeholders involved (HR, applicable Operations, Financial, etc.).
  • We have identified our priority (an at risk workforce role).
  • We have some basic appreciation of why we see it as a risk and know we need to delve deeper (i.e., have demographic and historical change information).
  • We have a basic “what to do” and “how to do it” process (N.B. basic does not mean rudimentary).
  • Our priority is a multi-location technically oriented workgroup (i.e, multi-incumbered and geographically distributed with each location having a handful of incumbents).
  • The work program is expected to evolve over time as technology and the business activity evolve. We have some consensus on these future shifts.

Questions for the reader:

  • How should we do the planning? At the aggregate/workgroup pool level? At the micro/location level? At both levels? Why/why not?
  • What should our planning time horizon be? Tied to our business/financial planning time horizon? Five years? Ten years?  Some other timeframe? Why/why not?
  • How should we position our planning time horizon (if we choose a longer one) to very practical and sometimes sceptical stakeholders when we can’t predict the future?
  • How should we view the workgroup? Count the bodies/positions? Use a full-time equivalent value? Factor in productivity? Factor in internal mobility limiting factors? Why/why not?
  • For those of us who have a strong value around “avoid having to do layoffs”, how do we deal with the potential need for an attrition value that is higher than the current more “voluntary” pattern?
  • What would your organization do if a fundamentally sound (for your organization) WFP strategy/policy had profoundly adverse consequences on one of your operational locations? Would the proverbial “tail wag the dog” or “dog wave the tail” happen? What if a second situation occurred (would your answer change)?

These are some of the more interesting questions for us. Everyone of these questions I have had to work along side clients with – and they can each be quite vexing for them. Clients often don’t even think about the relevance (even appropriateness) of some of them. My role, as consultant, is to try and prepare the client for such circumstances if and as they arise.

It is one thing to deal such questions when you don’t have the tyranny of our past choices to deal with.  Let’s take the simple example of planning horizon. Readers of this BLOG know my choice on this question (ten year view). But if the organization has little appetite (based on their valuable experience) for any kind of long term planning that extends beyond 18 – 36 months, how do you “sell” this to people? The value of doing longer viewing (theoretical, impractical, good waste of time, etc.) is completely lost on them. What if in your “professional” judgement, having a shorter WFP planning horizon is problematic? What are your choices? What will you do/have you done in the past?


  • Look for that part of the business where longer term planning is natural for people. This is often the capital investment side (new business, major maintenance, end-of-life replacement, etc.). In many cases these are 10 or even more years out. Use this area to do critical WFP work
  • Ignore the bias and do the long term planning anyway, but be very artful in how you use the insights you gather when presenting findings and recommendations with your stakeholders. There can be personal risks in doing this given the strength and nature of the short term value.
  • Abide by the short term planning horizon norm. Be “practical” or pragmatic”. Remember my comment in yesterday’s post about knowing the difference between bravery and martyrdom. Learn to deal with any personal and professional dilemmas in some suitable constructive fashion.

I will make a prediction (in this case I will ignore my views that you can’t predict the future): If you do robust, substantial and meaningful WFP, you will eventually run into a fundamental organizational cultural and/or business practice value.

Let’s go through the list of questions above and outline my preferences:

Macro or micro level planning?

  • Both levels.
  • Each level gives us an insight into what is happening.
  • Each level gives us insight on what are the implications of using a specific strategy, hence we see unintended consequences more easily.
  • Each level gives us a picture and related “language” that will resonate with the needs of different stakeholders in the organization.

Planning time horizon?

  • 10 years.
  • Ignore the internal biases regarding value of long term planning (call it long term scenario analysis or something like that – actually what it is anyway)
  • Gives us insight on where we could end up if we ignore the issue, implement any specific strategy, and gives us some sense of implementation sensitivity (i.e., when we begin to see the practical benefits of a strategy).
  • Enables us to do reiterative planning updates easily and effectively

How should we view the workgroup at the macro level?

  • Use each category where applicable (e.g., the number of FT, PT, contract, contingent, trainees).
  • Understand how anticipated shifts in “how we will be doing future business” business model affects the current workforce group. How, when, where and to what degree does the current group become obsolete?
  • Use a full time equivalent  view where applicable (PT, contract, and contingent)
  • Use a “productive contribution” discount factor for trainees, contract and contingent.
  • If the workgroup is going to be affected by a business model change, factor in the timeframe and schedule it takes to re-reach full productivity again.
  • Establish your baseline WF needs using a FTE fully contributing productive workforce unit/position.
  • When doing your WFP scenario analysis work use the FTE productive unit and conversion. For example, factor in how a new trainee increasingly contributes over time. In some cases, where age or health issues clearly impact productivity (and these are not baseline, consistent over time, statistical noise) consider doing discounting in this area.
  • Use standard (historical, projected, policy driven) assumptions around attrition and internal mobility (often called churn over). Use whole numbers when modelling FT staff. Why? Nobody knows what .33 of a person retiring looks like. Secondly, it reinforces that this is not accurate, but informed speculation.

How should we view the workgroup at the micro level?

  • The same approaches as above apart from the two following exceptions
  • One, because the numbers will be considerably smaller it is appropriate to reflect known actors that affect available FTE productive capacity such as known illnesses and disabilities. I fully appreciate that extreme sensitivity needs to be applied regarding confidentiality and privacy requirements. But ignoring these circumstances ignores the reality at any one specific location.
  • Two, because of local knowledge amongst people, we can use more discrete attrition assumptions. Note the same confidentiality and privacy admonishments noted above apply here too.
  • Factor in any “local conditions” that factor into how long it takes a new person to come up to speed. These conditions often are driven by technology and operational differences between locations.
  • Flag any local conditions that relate to consequences of broader WFP policies. For example, is this location suitable as a training and development site? If not why not? I like to see clients being honest enough to know how many ostensively bonafide development locations are off limits due to local conditions. Why is this important? Because it can materially impact the organization’s capacity to handle large numbers of trainees.

Readers of this post should be able to now discern how I use my meta-decision making process to assist clients make astute business decisions around WFP. If readers have specific WFP practice questions arising out of this post please use the “make a comment” opportunity.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Risk & Uncertainty, Talent Manangement. Bookmark the permalink.

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