Creating strategic roadmaps for the future

Ross Sparkman, Head of Strategic Workforce Planning, Facebook, shares the benefits of a formal strategic workforce planning framework
By: | May 31, 2018

In this installment of our chat with Ross Sparkman, Head of Strategic Workforce Planning, Facebook, he discusses his role at Facebook, the use of data in workforce planning, and the core benefits of strategic HR.

Check out Part Two of this interview, out June 5 here on


Would you be able to give us a flavour of your day-to-day work as Facebook’s Head of Strategic Workforce Planning?

My day-to-day work at Facebook is equal parts strategic and is tactical. I balance broad strategic projects like crafting an enterprise-wide location strategy with supporting tactical day-to-day data requests needed to make optimal workforce-related decision making. Broadly speaking, I help the organisation scale the workforce at the same pace of growth as the external platform. My mandate is to help leaders make decisions that align the workforce strategy with the corporate strategy through data, tooling, and strategic thinking.


How did you first get your start in this area?

I really got my start in workforce planning and analytics when I was in the US military. The US military is a massive and highly-complex organisation that requires careful manpower planning to meet a high-tempo operating rhythm.  At the time, I was also in graduate school pursuing degrees in business management and HR. This helped me see an opportunity to leverage what I was doing in the military in the private sector. I made the decision to take that knowledge and apply it to a career in consulting where I quickly learned about the challenges many organisations face when crafting and implementing human capital strategies.


How does the landscape look today in terms of enabling data-driven decision making?

Technologically speaking, things have changed quite a bit from when I first started and will continue to evolve at a rapid pace moving into the future. There were few analytical tools available to practitioners that were both easy to use and that provided useful insights.

Now, one of the biggest challenges practitioners face is deciding on which of the many great tools available to use.

In addition to the advancement of external tools, the capabilities in some organisations have matured in the people analytics space to the point where building and creating internal tools that are as good as some of the off-the-shelf solutions is now a very real possibility. The obvious advantage of having this option available in-house is the ‘customisation factor’, or the ability to develop more bespoke customised tools that are specific to helping solve the unique issues that these organisations face.



“The area in-between the current and future state is where strategic workforce planners, business leaders, and HR leaders can make strategic decisions that lead to an optimal future state.”



What are the key success factors that drive a strong Strategic Workplace Planning function?

There are a significant number of factors that have the potential to impact the success of a Strategic Workforce Planning function. That said, there are four factors in-particular that standout as being critical in terms of establishing a strong foundation for the function.

The first factor involves having a clear vision in place. This is because the vision will set the tone for the actions and goals the organisation will have to execute on to be successful.

The second crucial factor involves the skills and composition of the team or individual that will be performing the day-to-day activities. It is important to have skills that align with the vision because if there is a misalignment between the two, the challenge of realising the vision becomes much more difficult.

The third factor relates to the processes and systems the organisation has put in place for the Strategic Workforce Planning function. Once again, if these systems and processes don’t support the previously established vision it will be difficult to scale, target and realise the full potential.

Finally, it’s important to think about the data and technology the organisation will use to analyse and deliver strategic insights to the organisation. If the data and technology are not in a state that allows the function to deliver and share insights, it will be difficult for that function to gain much in the way of solid momentum.


How can efficient workforce planning positively impact an organisation?

Fundamentally, strategic workforce planning involves understanding the current state of the workforce and the future state of what the workforce should look like, based on the direction the business is heading. The area in-between the current and future state is where strategic workforce planners, business leaders, and HR leaders can make strategic decisions that lead to an optimal future state.

If done properly, a good strategic workforce plan can help organisations improve productivity, increase engagement, and reduce cost. An example of this might be an organisation that discovers that a huge portion of the workforce is ready for retirement in the short-term. Let’s further assume that because of this information, a strategy was crafted to ensure that all the knowledge that might be lost through the retirements is captured in a knowledge management system. The end result in this case is significant training cost savings from the knowledge that was captured prior to the retirements.


How can C-suite and HR leaders get started in establishing their own strategic methodologies and frameworks to pull the workforce strategy together?

I would recommend first understanding what the organisation has done to date in terms of establishing a workforce strategy. Is this something that is completely new to the organisation, or has it been attempted in the past? If it has been attempted in the past, what worked well and not so well? Celebrate and highlight the wins and focus on improving the areas that are more challenging.

For leaders who are new to this space, network, research and read, read, read as much as possible on best practices. Attend conferences on the topic and reach out to thought leaders in the space. Start small and look for quick wins. Focus on gaining senior level support and ensure that a strong vision is in place. Be patient and realise that it is a marathon, and not a sprint.


Be sure to check out Part Two of this interview here!