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Do you Truly Know your Workforce? The Case for an Effective Workforce Management Tool

Michael Williams

Managing Principal, Technology Consulting, EPAM US

One of the common challenges department leaders face today is having a complete picture of their workforce to effectively manage employees. With an increasingly transient workforce environment, department leaders are understandably losing insight into what their employees do well and where they most need career growth. A recent survey conducted among global CEOs found that 77% of CEOs noted the unavailability of information around key employee skills as one of the biggest threats to business. That concern certainly stands to reason as the marketplace continues to evolve. Furthermore, these leaders lack a systematic way to understand what their employees could do well if given the right opportunity or training.


As much as CEOs want employees to spend most of their time on executing key initiatives to achieve future goals, the reality is that employees are often fighting the most pressing fire at any given time. In these cases, organizations don’t have time to build a systematic way of capturing team members’ skills. Once there’s a catalyst for obtaining this information, HR teams will likely either turn to a complex HRIS solution or a rudimentary MS Excel workbook, which further complicates the process. HRIS tools often have disparate sources of data that are difficult to visualize the full employee story. Typically, HR teams will build an Excel solution entirely from scratch, with everyone dragging their heels to participate in this highly manual process. Additionally, the workbook lacks analytics and is not easy to maintain.

In addition to the pain of having to build and maintain disparate or makeshift solutions, there are several other challenges of not having a robust workforce planning and management tool, including:

Organizational Transformation. Leaders typically recognize the need to embrace organizational transformation when a new strategic direction is identified. There are many examples, from Kodak to Blockbuster, that illustrate the need for organizations to either evolve or phase out. But when you decide to embark on these transformations—whether they are agile, digital or something else—are you actually ready? If you don’t have a baseline for where you are today, it’s important to start developing that baseline by defining what you need to enhance your organizational skill set. An accurate, up-to-date view of our team’s skills, capabilities and experience is necessary as you work toward your transformation initiatives.

A recent study found that64% of companies surveyed said that they do not have the people with the skills necessary for digital transformation. Surprisingly, however, only 16% of companies have a skill development strategy in place to either up-skill current employees or acquire new employees with the needed skill profiles.” These findings aren’t surprising, but what’s staggering is that only a small percentage have a skill development strategy in place at all. It’s no wonder that so many transformations fail. Without the cornerstone of a skill plan, organizations lack the information they need to benchmark where they are starting and, therefore, have no roadmap for bridging the gap to their desired end state.

We’ve seen numerous examples of the implications that come with skipping this step. One organization we worked with recently wanted to move to scaled agile and assumed their project managers would be good scrum masters, their business analysts would be good product owners, and so on. They skipped the stage of gathering and analyzing information about employees’ skill sets, and went straight to program increment (PI) planning. In the backwards approach this organization took, they completely missed the first requirement for success. As a result, the transformation was not successful, as they simply did not have the right team members and skills in place. As a new methodology to the organization, it was easy to blame agile. But really, the failure was in not understanding the gaps in their workforce.

Staffing. At the beginning of any project, identify the employees who have the experience and skills needed to achieve your organizational goals. Forming teams with the right mix of skills is paramount to success. But, how can you effectively accomplish this today without the proper tools? Oftentimes, it’s simply word of mouth, with leaders recommending certain employees for positions that need to be filled. This is a common occurrence with project-based companies or companies that employ temporary staff. Usually, calls are put out for one manager to vouch for the employee and that manager’s word is taken as the absolute truth. This a flawed approach, as only a select few opinions are taken into consideration and result in misplaced staffing resources. Other times, leaders make their staffing decisions based on what they’ve seen first-hand. However, you don’t have a baseline around what those employees did in previous roles and there’s no systematic way to assess if someone is skilled in one area or is capable of being trained in another. 

Regardless, these approaches simply don’t work because skills requirements today are constantly evolving in any organization. An effective skills strategy begins by communicating with key organizational stakeholders and generating awareness around what skills your employees need. A workforce skill planning tool that is flexible enough to adapt to changing strategies and evolving workforce demands is critical to help address this.

Career Development. It’s not just a matter of visibility into employees’ skill sets for organizational success, it’s also important for employees to understand how they can grow professionally. Daniel Pink notes in his book Drive that, beyond basic tasks, people are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Anyone who wants to advance their career must know what skills they need to reach the next level. Without support in building a clear path toward growth, employees are more likely to leave an organization. 

Leaders might not always have the bandwidth to put a lot of thought in charting an employee’s professional growth path. But, the right tool can enable you to add value to your employee engagements and empower your team members by outlining what’s required for success and suggesting the optimal learning and development trajectory.


Having a strong workforce planning tool is critical to solving a number of organizational challenges. Whether you’re about to pivot on a major organizational transformation, or you’re looking for improvements to your day-to-day operations, understanding your team members’ skills is a key requirement. The fact is, that very few leaders view this as a requirement, as focusing on other priorities takes precedent and it’s assumed as a remit of HR departments. The leaders who understand the need to embrace this responsibility will position their organizations to not only operate with improved efficiency for evolutionary improvements but also be poised for revolutionary transformation.


About the Author

Michael has over 20 years of experience leading organizational transformation and continuous improvement efforts. He leads the North American agile consulting practice as part of EngX 360 for EPAM.

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