Hard Work in Hard Times Hard Work in Hard Times

How will demographic changes impact the public-sector work force? How will the economic downturn affect retirement projections? How can public officials meet demands for more accountability with fewer resources? How do public managers boost morale despite fiscal pressure to do more with less?

In a shifting political climate, complicated by shrinking budgets and fiscal uncertainty, effective work force planning -- and the ability to connect workers to the government's mission -- is more important than ever for state and local governments.

Work force planning is a fundamental management tool and critical to quality performance. Effective work force planning will help state and local governments do more than just formulate budget requests and staffing levels -- it will help to achieve program objectives. Too often, however, work force planning is viewed from the one-dimensional perspective of "How many people do we need?"

It's important to take a strategic approach to work force planning, starting with a comprehensive review of an organization's long-term needs. The focus should be on necessary competencies and skills, balanced with the impacts of changing missions, directives, administrations and new processes or environmental factors. Work force planning can be as complex or as simple as organizational needs dictate.

 

Five Steps for Effective Work Force Planning

1. Set strategic direction. Consider organizational parameters related to work force planning. These include resources, organizational environment and needs, developing outputs that are organizationally meaningful, support program objectives, budget requests and strategic plans.

2. Analyze supply and demand discrepancies. Collect data related to the current work force and project future demand in terms of specific competencies and staffing levels. Calculate work force gaps, taking into consideration demand, current supply and turnover.

3. Develop an action plan and metrics. Design a work force plan to address the skill gaps by developing both broad strategies and specific action items with measurable objectives. Identify the specific groups or individuals responsible for implementing each action item, and develop a realistic, flexible set of deadlines. The action plan should include all aspects of human resource management: recruiting, hiring, training and retention.

4. Implement the action plan. Execute the plan by strategically engaging leadership and management support.

5. Continuously monitor, evaluate and revise. Continuous monitoring will ensure that the action plan is dynamic and responds to political and fiscal changes.

The next step for organizational effectiveness is linking individual and program results. State and local governments are challenged with developing practical approaches, tools and systems to manage employee performance and compensation -- and to cultivate a culture where employees thrive.

Given tight budgets and uncertainty, successful work force planning and the ability to link organizations to individuals is more important than ever.

Since every organization is unique and in varying stages of performance management maturity, the first step is to assess the performance management framework to better align the individual goals of executives, managers and staff with the organizational goals.

Once the initial assessment is complete, tie individual performance to the overall organizational goals and cascade performance measures from the top of the organization on down. Next, align leadership performance metrics and goals with the organization's goals. Then, cascade these goals and metrics throughout the organization to ensure that each executive, manager and employee has the appropriate authority, responsibility and incentive to carry out the goals.

After that, ensure "line-of-sight" awareness from the top down and bottom up so everyone in the organization understands who is responsible for achieving goals -- and how contributions are aggregated to support organizational goals. And finally, provide for the enhancement of organizational performance by establishing processes for continuous improvement and change management.

By following these steps, it becomes possible to create a clear, meaningful connection between organizational and individual goals. This link not only will help to facilitate more effective compensation programs and performance measurement, it also will create a better working environment for government staff. Numerous studies have shown that workers who feel connected to the mission are happier in their jobs and more productive. They are also more likely to collaborate to solve difficult problems.

An engaged work force -- employees who feel a sense of personal investment in the mission -- guided by an agile and dynamic work force plan is the key to managing in tough times.

Susan Pentecost  |  Contributing Writer
Susan Pentecost is a managing partner at Grant Thornton Global Public Sector practice, where she leads its work with state and local government customers. Prior to joining Grant Thornton, Pentecost was a managing director at BearingPoint and a partner in Price Waterhouse and subsequently PricewaterhouseCooper's public-sector consulting practice.