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Planning for people

Small- and mid-sized businesses need to develop a workforce strategy

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The year 2013 is looming on the horizon, and from all appearances, it's going to be a great year for Manitoba businesses.

Newly reported economic statistics indicate the provincial economy showed modest growth in 2012, unemployment is down and salaries increased moderately.

As well, the latest 2012 statistics from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce small business survey released in early December also suggest a clear increase in business confidence. In particular, confidence was evidenced by the significant growth in capital investment spending which, in turn, has led to an increase in jobs and workforce levels.

I know from watercooler conversations that many people -- employees and business leaders alike -- are indeed feeling a sense of optimism. In fact, I personally feel a great sense of excitement as we move into 2013.

However, I can guarantee that all this optimism will quickly fade for our small business leaders and employees alike if effective strategic and workforce planning fails to set the corporations up for success in the coming year.

On the other hand, the concept of workforce planning has become much more sophisticated than in the past. Earlier in its evolution, workforce planning consisted mainly of employee headcount while today, effective workforce planning provides a complete and strategic overview of an organization's talent-management strategy. This means identifying the job roles going forward and the critical skills base required for success in the future. And it's all about implementing a plan to ensure an organization has the right people doing the right job at the right time.

Yet at the same time, experience shows that many small- and mid-sized business leaders without internal human resource expertise do not include workforce planning in their annual or future strategic plans. For instance, it was noted in the 2012 Winnipeg Chamber small- and medium-sized business survey that while 47 per cent of local small businesses were concerned about the potential loss of talent in the next few years, almost 23 per cent suggested they had no plans in place to do anything about this workforce challenge. At the same time, only 30 per cent of small businesses were engaged in general succession planning.

If these weak workforce planning trends continue, Manitoba small- and medium-sized businesses may find themselves struggling with all areas of human resource issues, and in particular recruitment and retention challenges as well as skill shortages in key areas that will impact the success of their businesses.

How can a business respond to and take advantage of new opportunities and/or adapt to changing business conditions when they don't have the right staff resources? The answer is obvious -- they can't. Thus, I recommend that leaders of small- and medium-sized businesses begin learning how to engage in long-term workforce planning that looks beyond head count and turnover metrics and instead focuses on developing a staffing plan for the future.

This staffing plan must ensure the right talent is hired and distributed throughout the organization at the right time, with the right skill set at the right cost. Although there is no one right way to conduct workforce planning, the following steps can provide you with some basic guidance.

-- Confirm your strategic plan -- Develop a comprehensive picture of where you want to go, set the direction and confirm the details. Identify specific long-term objectives in three to five key areas. Be sure these goals are directly related to the strongest business opportunities in your industry sector and its changing environment and be sure these goals make sense for your organization.

-- Align organizational structure -- What will your organization look like as you implement your strategic plan? Define the structure, systems and strategies required to implement your strategic plan. Will you be decentralizing or centralizing? How will your plan impact on work flow? Involve management and human resource professionals so that no issue is forgotten.

-- Conduct a demand forecast -- Take time to analyze the specific type of workforce that will support your strategic plan and your proposed structure. What functions, roles and job classifications will be required to meet your goals? What does your skills mix look like? Define the top key competencies needed and how these are differentiated between job roles.

-- Assess internal supply demographics -- Identify internal occupational groups where skills gaps currently occur and/or will occur due to changes in your strategic plan. Determine issues related to baby-boomer retirement, age, gender, education, job classifications, skill levels and salary level. Pay particular attention to the impact technology will have on your jobs and workflow. Will your current employees have the skills they will need? Document your skills gaps and potential areas of challenge.

-- Assess the external environment -- Examine external occupational trends to determine the future availability of skilled workers. Consult government job future predictions to determine the potential availability of new graduates in various occupational groups. Identify shortages and the impact on your strategic plan.

-- Assess HR implications -- Change impacts all areas of human resources. Be sure to examine cost and budget implications for workload projections, staff vacancies, recruitment and retention, compensation and benefits, training and development, succession planning, professional development and career progression.

-- Develop a workforce plan -- How will you address the skills gaps? Determine a strategy for meeting the workforce needs to support your strategic plan. This includes recruitment, new employee orientation, employee coaching, mentoring, training and development and specific compensation initiatives.

-- Develop milestones and measureable goals -- Create measurable goals for each of your strategic objectives and the workforce plan that accompanies it. Define the goals in terms of human resource metrics, set timelines and milestones to measure what is accomplished.

-- Ensure senior management support -- Senior management should have been involved in overseeing the development of the workforce plan. For certain, senior management must fully understand how the workforce plan is linked to the corporate strategy and they must visibly support it going forward. If managers are not on side, the plan will never be executed effectively.

-- Operationalize, evaluate and modify -- strategic plans and workforce planning requires significant time to develop and are implemented over a three- to five-year timeframe. Thus, it can be expected that as environmental changes occur, the plans and their accompanying actions need to be modified and adjusted to new conditions. Review your plans on an annual basis and make adaptations to realign as required.

Managing the people side of the business through workforce planning is absolutely critical to meeting your long-term goals. In fact, as Norman Vincent Peale, author of the Power of Positive Thinking said many years ago, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Make 2013 the time to build your plan for success.

Source: Manitoba Bold, Business Leaders Survey, 2012, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, December 2012; Grow Winnipeg, Economic Indicators 2012. Economic Development Winnipeg.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP. CMC, M.Ed. CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 H1

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