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Given the challenges facing the public sector – difficulties recruiting the right talent, a competitive private sector labor market and a swell of retirements – now is the time to consider a strategic approach to workforce planning.

To dispel common misunderstandings and encourage a fresh, manageable approach, we explore the top eight myths surrounding strategic workforce planning as it pertains to the public sector.

1. The perfect candidate is the direct report to the vacant position

Though the historical norm, this approach significantly limits both your organization’s talent potential and flexibility. Strategic workforce planning is meant to build and cultivate a pool of candidates, rather than a 1:1 positional expectation. By expanding your internal candidate pool across departments and divisions, usually based on core competencies, you maximize your talent potential while building flexibility into your workforce planning.

2. Workforce planning is all about cherry-picking and selecting management’s favorite employees for development

Building off the point above, it’s important to remember you’re not simply seeking to fill vacancies (or potential vacancies). At its core, strategic workforce planning focuses on employee development and training to create a pool of internal candidates. It’s about proactively identifying high potential employees (regardless of current vacancies or managerial favoritism) and investing in meaningful training and development opportunities to help both the employee and the organization thrive.

3. Good talent is easy to spot and the “cream will rise to the top”

At best, this is wishful thinking. At worst, it could cripple your organization’s long-term health. Finding, developing and maximizing talent potential requires intentional effort, including:

  • identifying high potential employees, particularly those who are quieter, less confident or come from non-traditional backgrounds commonly associated with their field
  • acknowledging personal biases and blind spots as a supervisor or manager
  • providing meaningful training and development opportunities to close skill and knowledge gaps
  • recognizing gaps between your current available workforce and future job requirements
  • better targeting internal and external recruitment, retention and development efforts accordingly
4. Workforce planning is too much effort and too expensive given our resources

Undoubtedly, your organization is constrained by limited budgets, limited resources and limited time. But that’s not a reason to dismiss workforce planning. If anything, it’s motivation to prioritize strategic efforts right now. Workforce turnover, succession challenges and critical position vacancies are guaranteed to occur. A strategic approach allows you to build small, proactive solutions now rather than panicked, reactive stopgaps in a crisis. Better yet, it allows you to successfully target your limited training dollars and coaching resources to maximize your return on investment.

5. Workforce and succession planning is only an issue for big organizations

Public entities of every size experience retention challenges, workforce turnover and the ebbs and flows of retirement eligibility. Additionally, every organization has a subset of positions (ideally around 10-15%) deemed critical to sustain business and operational success. Even further, every organization values a collection of common skills and abilities necessary to achieve its long-term goals. As such, every organization, regardless of size, stands to benefit from developing an intentional workforce planning strategy.

6. We only need a year or less to implement a workforce plan

Employees age 55 and older have typically been with their employers three times longer than younger employees. With an aging workforce, and the silver tsunami in full force, a year-to-year approach, quite simply, will leave you unprepared to transfer the institutional knowledge as the older workforce leaves. And with a median tenure of three years for the younger workforce, organizations need an annual plan to plan for ongoing employee departures in the future.

7. Workforce planning should only be used on a case-by-case basis and is only appropriate for senior positions

To be resilient as an organization, your workforce planning needs to target critical positions, organization-wide, from top to bottom. Considering the current competitive labor market and a continually reduced pipeline for entry level and trade positions (particularly with utilities), a full workforce focus is critical to ensure your organization continues delivering on its main functions.

8. The next generation is not ready to be groomed yet

Consider all of the above. You’re looking to develop the common skills and abilities required to sustain success across your organization. You’re looking to invest in your workforce, at all levels, to increase retention, decrease turnover and propel your organization toward your strategic goals and priorities. You’re looking to discover gaps that might exist within your future workforce (regarding positions and/or capabilities) and take small, measurable steps now to comfortably fill those gaps as they arise. You’re looking to build continuity not only in your workforce itself but in the critical success it delivers. Considering such important ramifications, the next generation absolutely is ready.

To learn more about succession planning and how to get started, our workforce succession planning series can help public sector leaders prepare for now and the future.

Workforce and succession planning – part 1: getting started

Workforce and succession planning – part 2: core competencies and top talent

Workforce and succession planning – part 3: training and competitiveness

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