Web-exclusive: How to develop a future-proof workforce strategy

Ross Sparkman, Facebook’s head of Strategic Workforce Planning, shares a few tips for organisations looking to develop their own strategic roadmaps.
By: | June 5, 2018

Developing a sustainable workforce strategy is vital to any organisation’s success. Ross Sparkman, Head of Strategic Workforce Planning at Facebook (USA), knows more than a bit about the widespread impact of a robust strategic workforce planning (SWP) framework.

Sparkman, who has more than 15 years’ experience in SWP, will be a keynote speaker at HRM Asia’s first-ever HRXLR8 Summit. In advance of the event, he was kind enough to talk about how HR and C-suite leaders can begin to implement SWP, and thereby future-proof their organisations.

Developing your own strategic workforce roadmap

“In my experience there tend to be four key factors that organisation’s will have to struggle with when building out an SWP function,” says Sparkman.

They are:

  1. Awareness:  “One of the first roadblocks when attempting to build out a SWP function is creating awareness. Like introducing any new process or initiative, if there’s no clear understanding of what it is and why the company is doing it, chances are it will meet resistance from both direct and indirect stakeholders,” says Sparkman.

    He suggests a solid communications strategy that addresses the who, what and why of SWP.

  2.  Roles and Responsibilities: There can be confusion about where the function should be situated.

    While it’s not uncommon for SWP to be owned by HR, it’s just as easy to make a case that the function or role should sit in finance, operations or even be a stand-alone ‘floating’ function. Wherever it does end up being positioned, it’s important to remember and communicate that gaining the most value and impact will be a function of making the process a cross-functional, enterprise-wide exercise,” notes Sparkman.

  3. Data quality and quantity:  A key tenet of SWP is data — but this comes with its own set of potential issues to address.
    “Often, the challenge with many [Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)] is that they are not well maintained. Inconsistency in an organisation’s HRIS systems [also] poses a challenge to the SWP practitioner because the use of this data can potentially lead to erroneous outputs in the analysis,” he says.
    “Anytime an analysis with inaccurate data or erroneous results is shared with someone in the organisation, there is a risk of losing credibility. A credibility hit can be particularly troublesome to the SWP practitioner trying to influence and persuade stakeholders on the value of SWP.”
  4. Scaling: Sparkman points out that “It’s not uncommon for organisations to begin their SWP journeys by starting with a small pilot project. Pilot projects of this nature often start in some obscure part of the organisation with one or two stakeholders attempting to solve an organisational challenge.

“A successful pilot project can provide an epiphany of sorts to the company or department new to SWP. It can essentially act as proof of concept regarding the validity of the practice. With this small win under their belts, the organisation might then make the decision to formalise a role or function in the organisation that solely focuses on SWP.”


How SWP can address workforce challenges

“A good SWP will not only address the strategic questions but also outline the plan’s execution in detail. In essence, it will be a comprehensive project plan that has clear owners, with defined timelines, action items, deliverables and outcomes for success,” says Sparkman.

“It should also provide metrics success and risk metrics and outline a communication and change management plan,” he adds.

A few of the many operational questions in a SWP that require significant thought:

  • Who are the stakeholders that need to be involved in the plan’s action steps?
  • Who will sponsor the plan?
  • What is the timeline for the plan?
  • What are the specific actions that need to take place?
  • What are the plan’s success metrics?

Examples of questions good SWP can help to answer include:

Knowledge Drain

  • What are the key skills that will be lost due to impending retirements?
  • How do we ensure we have captured the knowledge that these employees possess once they leave?
  • Do we have a system in place to capture these skills?
  • If not, how would a system look? Is it a technology? Is it training material developed for new employees by the retirees?
  • Is there an opportunity to bring these retirees on as part-time consultants?


Enabling better alignment

Sparkman suggests several skills that senior leaders could seek to acquire or develop, in order to drive more alignment between organisational people strategies and business strategies.

“Having a solid understanding of the business is very important.  Even more important than that is understanding how the organisation’s business model impacts the people strategy,” he says. This way,  leadership will be better prepared to adjust and optimise the people strategy in response to changes.

Good communication skills are also crucial.

“To be effective in this space, leaders must be able to listen as well or better than they speak.  They have to understand how to influence and drive change which is largely a function of their ability to communicate effectively,” says Sparkman.

Finally, he notes, leaders must be comfortable with data and numbers,

“Much of the decision making and strategy development will be steeped data and analysis – whether performed by the leader or reported out to the leader, being comfortable with basic statistical concepts and data visualisations, will add both credibility and insight regarding decisions and actions the leaders must make and perform,” he says.


If you want to hear more from Sparkman, be sure to check part one of our conversation with him here.

You can also catch him in person at the HRXLR8 Summit on June 26 – 27 this year. Check out http://www.hrxlr8summit.com/ for the full details.

Ross Sparkman is the Head of Strategic Workforce Planning at Facebook USA.