How to Not ‘Spook’ Employees with Workforce Planning

November 1, 2019 in
By Shrish Willet, Louise Chan, Shannon Quaranta

A storm brewed outside. The wind wailed, rain rattled, and lightning flashed and cut the power. It was Halloween night, and sounds from the storm conjured up images of spooky things that may be lurking…

Like physical darkness, the darkness of “not knowing” can be spooky, too. People tend to be wary of change, especially when there are a lot of unknowns. When making big changes in an organization, which workforce planning inevitably leads to, it is critical to be cognizant of how employees may perceive why the initiative is happening, how it will happen, and what the outcomes will be. Without clear communication and transparency throughout the workforce planning lifecycle, employees can feel in the dark. And the sounds they hear in the dark may conjure misconceptions and rumors that create unease.

To avoid having your employees feeling scared, we’re sharing strategies to use throughout your workforce planning process.

When an organization is undergoing workforce planning initiatives, several methods of communication are recommended. First of all, it is important to gain buy-in from stakeholders and senior leadership. When employees see that an initiative is supported and valued by their leadership, they will place more emphasis on its importance as well. This can be accomplished through an email from leadership clearly communicating the importance of workforce planning and participation in the endeavor. Second, having a group of employees invested in workforce planning (often referred to as “change agents”) can be beneficial. Because they have informal conversations with other employees, they can share any employee concerns or feedback with the project team and also disseminate accurate information to their peers. Moreover, having a document of Frequently Asked Questions distributed to employees will reduce confusion and reassure them of the purpose of the project.

In addition to using a variety of methods to communicate with employees about workforce planning, it is also important to consider what messages need to be conveyed to alleviate concerns and keep everyone informed. Below is a list of some key messages that should be conveyed throughout the workforce planning process:

  1. Why are we doing workforce planning? Explaining the purpose will allow those who are unfamiliar with workforce planning, and those who are nervous about the process, to better understand why workforce planning is occurring and why leadership is in favor of the initiative. Generally, the purpose of any workforce planning initiative is to align the workforce with the goals and priorities of the organization: check out our related blog for more details.
  2. How will we conduct workforce planning? Define workforce planning and provide a high-level overview of the workforce planning process. The high-level overview should include the steps for workforce planning, what types of information you will be gathering from participants, how the information will be analyzed/used, and what the outcome(s) might be. It always helps to give an approximate time commitment (people will always ask anyway, trust us).
  3. What are the outcomes of workforce planning? This message is primarily for staff who were not part of the decision to conduct workforce planning. Many employees do not understand the direct benefits that workforce planning will provide for them. Additionally, in the age of big data and survey fatigue, they may not be particularly engaged because they perceive it is “just another data gathering initiative”. We attempt to dispel this thought (because it happens often) by explaining the benefits that will directly impact employees. Depending on the scope and goals of a given initiative, this may include development and/or refinement of career ladders and competency models to aid in the visibility of career growth and development opportunities, new training initiatives for up and coming skills in the field, or a more appropriate distribution of workload across teams, departments, and the organization.

These strategies will ensure that key messages are communicated to mitigate any apprehensions employees may have. While your Halloween may have been spooky, your workforce planning process doesn’t have to be!