Interview with Christian Neubert : All you need to know about Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP)

Christian Neubert, Operating Partner at UniMobility is an expert in culture transformation for start-ups, restructuring and merger integration. He specialises in defining strategic vision, leading and managing change, and executing to deliver against expected results.


Didier Hoff, UniMobility's Head of Center of Excellence, sat down with Christian to discuss Strategic Workforce Planning and its application to Global Mobility.



1) How do you define “Strategic Workforce Planning”?


Strategic Workforce Planning enables organizations to translate their business strategy into future work requirements, which identifies risks and talent gaps. It simulates multiple scenarios and derives actionable initiatives to close the gaps, while driving productivity and efficiency gains. When done well, SWP provides line leaders the right insights to make more impactful decisions and helps organizations avoid expensive downsizing. The core of SWP compares workforce supply and demand over a set time period and aims to get into balance by deriving targeted initiatives to close the gaps between supply and demand.



2) Why is “Strategic Workforce Planning” so important in light of transformation and the digital revolution?


Supply modeling means projecting your internal talent supply by looking at current attrition and retirement rates over a period of time. As part of this process, a company can also examine the talent supply in the market. To know the real risk, each company will determine how easy it would be to attract talent based on multiple factors, one being reputation. This critical step allows companies to see if their plans are feasible. For example, if a company needs digital markers and there is talent shortage in the key locations then a more viable plan needs to be hatched.


As data analytics gains more momentum, companies believe that just predicting supply and using some advanced analytics techniques is enough. However, if you want to fully de-risk your strategy it requires an additional process step that predicts demand. The demand supply process includes translating the business strategy into business drivers (algorithms) to model and predict workforce requirements in headcount, capability, location, and cost. This is the core engine of SWP. At a high level, it’s done through consulting with the line leaders and HR to translate the business strategy into game changing and critical organization capabilities that are needed in the mid- to long-term to deliver on the business strategy. Then business drivers and multiple business scenarios are used to simulate human capital needs.


In the demand modelling phase, business leaders are also asked to identify levers for higher productivity and efficiency (e.g. technology enablement investment, economies of scale, cost avoidance by unnecessary hiring or layoffs, leverage augmented workforce). One side benefit of SWP during the demand step is it gives line leaders an opportunity to reflect on their business and aligns leadership teams on the operating assumptions regarding their business. Until these deep discussions take place, most of the time, leaders have different assumptions on how the business operates thus limiting the decision-making power of the whole team.


3) How do you apply “Strategic Workforce Planning” to Global Mobility?


We experienced often that companies do not really plan their mobile talent enough – they wish to have more mobile talent, but don’t really know what the demand is. In my experience international assignments were often an outcome of an immediate need matched with someone who is willing to go. Far from developing leaders who need international experience for accelerated growth in a global business. Some companies they even have either career expats which is very expensive or very talented leaders that take overseas assignments and then leave the company when it’s time to go back to their home country. This is a lack of poor and short-term planning rather than clearly identifying the next few target roles based on leadership potential.


SWP provides the answer by planning workforce needs by quality, quantity, time and location. As a side product there is a cost projection to provide mobile vs. local talent. It helps companies to link the investment for mobility to delivering their business strategy with the talent required.


4) How can you create a proposition that differentiate yourself from competitors?


Our aim is to build and sustain organizational capability in a company, this includes a process methodology, an integrated technology and lastly skills transfer. We help companies to get started with SWP, train them on applying our methodology, support in delivering projects and coach them to be successful with this new capability.


As a company, it is important to decide whether to build the capability in-house or rely solely on consultants for delivery. In our experience, building internal capability is a better choice to enable HR to be true business partners and lower cost over time. To build internal capabilities a company has two choices. One, they can run multiple projects over a period of time and learn as they go along. With this approach, it will take about three to four projects to build a moderate level of internal capability. If a company, wants to be more aggressive, then a better choice is to either hire a full-time expert or look for a consulting company that brings deep expertise in your business and in Strategic Workforce Planning. This way a company, after two co-delivered projects, can transfer skill and build deep expertise in SWP. After two pilots, a company will own a tried and tested methodology, workshops, templates, project plans, and all communications that fits their business. This approach will save companies a significant amount of time and money.


5) Can you illustrate your methodology with a client example?


A Life Science company who embarked with a new business strategy invested in SWP – their Head of Strategy was concerned if their hyper-growth strategy could be executed given the anticipated talent risk they would be facing. After running a few pilot projects in R&D and emerging markets, they found multiple benefits. Besides de-risking the capability gap concern they faced, they materialized several tangible benefits, such as hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings and cost avoidance over eight years. The default approach has always been to hire external talent from the market when needed. With SWP they learned to analyze their future workforce supply and demand, and to identify targeted initiatives which close the gaps internally. They realized that they could develop their own talent when and where they needed it, which helped to reduce external hiring (of more expensive staff) and to avoid costly layoffs. In other cases, they looked at partnering with external parties to meet their talent needs, in particular for senior experts in niche areas.


The initial investment was paid back within months by the materialized cost savings. Moreover, they managed to realize significant productivity gains for example by challenging and accelerating changes to the go-to-market model or changing the resourcing model to selective outsourcing.


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Thank you Christian for your insights.


If you want to know more, visit the Human Edge website


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