Neil McCormick Founding Member HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Neil McCormick Founding Member HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Neil McCormick returns this week to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board from Australia. Neil has worked in human resources and consulting services for the past 16 years building a repertoire covering human resource management, recruitment consulting, management consulting, talent management, general management and learning and development. He currently serves as General Manager for Talent2, Asia-Pac’s largest HR consultancy. Full Bio »

Criticality and Workforce Strategy

by Neil McCormick

This is the fourth post in my series on Workforce Strategy.  In Workforce 101, and What’s the Objective?, we looked at the importance of defining and focusing on the organizational objective.   In the Output’s Connected to the Outcome, we discussed how it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on process and outputs and ignoring outcome.

This article will explore “criticality” and how to determine what is essential to your Workforce Strategy.

Over the past 30 years I’ve often heard people proclaim that whatever HR activity they were focused on at the time was “critical.”  It usually meant either blank space on the organization chart or crisis management.

There are many definitions of criticality, sometimes within the same department.  Most focus in some way on positions that should have been filled based on budgets and forecasts.  Some managers indicate criticality is determined by the length of time a position is open. A number of managers believe that if a position is vacant at all, that is sufficient to say it is critical.  Another approach to criticality is to determine the ratio of position-importance to resource availability.

When an organization does not have a consistent understanding of criticality, it risks spending significant effort on the wrong requirements, or at least the wrong order of requirements. It’s also very easy to be caught up in the current situation and miss opportunities to avoid future crises.  This usually happens when the focus continues to be yesterday’s problem instead of a tactical framework. While vacant positions and capabilities are critical, they do not have to become a crisis.  When a consistent model of criticality is applied, the people and capabilities are acquired much earlier through recruitment, development or external services.

There are many logical criticality frameworks. The problem I see with the frameworks is how they are applied. Too often, shortcuts are taken and the planning process is flawed. A key to successfully developing a strategy for human resources to support organizational objectives is to ensure that everyone clearly understands the necessary linkages from objective to capability.  While it is logical to continue to deliver tactical solutions to current problems, resources need to be assigned to develop a longer-term vision of capability requirements. By doing this, organizations will alleviate most of the tactical emergencies; and this will begin to positively impact the organization’s performance.

Defining criticality from a Workforce Strategy viewpoint

Determining “criticality” for workforce strategy requires understanding the organization’s future requirements. Criticality encompasses more than mere blank space on an organization chart.

To understand criticality the organization needs to begin with its objective and then un-bundle the objective in the following order

  1. Define criticality for the organization and ensure it is clearly understood
  2. What work activity is critical to deliver the objective
  3. What functions that make up the work activity are critical in the delivery of the work
  4. What capability/competency (skills, knowledge, attitudes and attributes) is critical for the delivery of the functional activity?
  5. How quickly will the loss of the capability impact the organization?

The answers to these questions will show what capabilities are critical to deliver the organizational objective and what impact that loss of capability may have.

N.B. An initial lack of consideration of the future capability requirements only ensures an ever-increasing number of tactically critical capability shortages.

Once we’ve defined criticality, we then need to ask how complex or difficult is it to achieve the objectives.

  • How hard is it to develop or recruit the capabilities?
  • What’s the current and projected lead-time to deliver the capability?
  • What is our existing depth of capability for succession?

By defining these criteria, we also address concerns about whether an individual is  “indispensable” and identified areas to plan for succession or recruitment.

In addition, the above framework should be evaluated at each stage by the three “e’s” of economy, efficiency and effectiveness to determine what activities should be undertaken internally and which could be contracted or outsourced.

This type of review should be a continuous process. Some organizations that have benefited greatly from increasing the focus on the future requirements use a quarterly review program. The actual length of the cycle will depend on the industry and market conditions.

To analyze the future, organizations need to have a clear understanding of where they are going and what is needed to get there. The easiest excuse is “things change too fast around here!” The answer to this is: If that’s the case, shorten the review cycle.

Try this in your own organization. Don’t be surprised if you can’t get the answers immediately. Allow for some degree of skepticism from leadership.

In the next installment, we’ll look at some of the tried, tested and practical ways to analyze capability requirements and begin to effect change in organizations.

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