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Workforce Planning and Intuition

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

A Typical Workforce Planning Process

[Source: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development]

What is the leadership ‘psychological attitude’ necessary to carry out workforce planning in a business or organisation?

I was inspired to explore this question after I recently secured a contract with a client to develop their workforce planning strategy and framework. My client’s organisation has experienced significant growth over the last few years. They have doubled in size in terms of their workforce and have a clear vision and strategic goals for the organisation. However, in order to achieve their strategic ambitions, they realised that their workforce must have the right skills. Furthermore, it must be the right size, the right cost, based in the right location and the right shape. These are the famous ‘Five Rights’ of workforce planning which help leaders, managers and HR professionals to consider the totality of the knowledge, skills and experience required to deliver their organisation’s products and services. But this is not an easy task for business or organisation leaders. It is a unique, future-focused activity which requires leaders to articulate a shared vision for the business or organisation’s future, to anticipate future events which may impact on the composition of their current workforce and to identify the workforce numbers and skills necessary to propel the business or organisation towards its stated future goals.

This exciting opportunity to work with my client came just weeks before I was due to move to Zurich last August. I was commuting between London and Zurich for some time but after pondering my future during months of lockdown in the UK, I made the decision to base myself in Switzerland. I wanted to focus on my training as a Jungian Analyst and commute to the UK for work as and when required. The pandemic is radically changing the workplace and the expectations of employees and even freelance contractors like myself. It is now possible to work fully remotely which has made my relocation to Zurich much easier than it would have been pre-pandemic times. I work remotely for my client however I try to spend as much time as I can in their offices. I actually enjoy the commute back to the UK. It gives me an opportunity to catch up with friends and family and it is a welcome reprieve from the boredom of Switzerland. My trips back home also give me an opportunity to stock up on essential supplies which are a lot more expensive in Switzerland. I limit my spending in Switzerland to food, drinks, socialising, travel, training fees and occasionally, clothes. Everything else I buy in the UK.

The costs of flight fares between the UK and Switzerland are relatively cheap compared to the cost of travel within the UK. A return train fare from my UK base to my client’s office costs around £100 round trip compared to an average of £80 for a return air fare between Zurich and London. I usually fly British Airways because of the air miles I have accumulated over the years. I haven’t quite made it to Gold or Silver Membership, however, I fly frequently enough to have Bronze Membership. The perks of bronze include fast-track check in at the airport. On my way back to Zurich, I often upgrade to Club Europe which entitles me to a luggage allowance of 2 x 32kg. This is a whopping 64kg so I can return with supplies bought that literally cost me a fraction of the cost in Switzerland. The upgrade typically costs around 90 Swiss Francs which is nothing compared to the costs of sending a parcel by mail or via a courier which can amount to hundreds of Swiss francs. Switzerland is an expensive country to live in but with some creativity and effort, you can live quite comfortably without breaking your bank account.

The Great Resignation

As I mentioned earlier, I pondered my relocation to Zurich during the long lockdown in the UK. The pandemic is shifting people’s attitudes towards the workplace. Organisations have had no choice but to move towards fully remote and flexible working. The pandemic is entering its third year with no end in sight. People are getting used to working remotely and it is becoming increasingly difficult for organisations to argue that their employees must return fully to the workplace. Pre-pandemic times, it would have been very difficult for anyone to make a case for permanent remote working. Now this is a possibility for all of us. We have made a huge success of remote working. During this time people have had pandemic-related epiphanies about their family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, purpose in life and seeking meaning. I took time out of my training as a Jungian Analyst to reflect on whether I should return to ISAP and move to Zurich. I couldn’t imagine leaving London and giving up my career as a freelance contractor. The huge amount of time that I spent locked down at home gave me huge amounts of time to carefully consider my future.

The pandemic has also built up a backlog of resignations. Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University has coined the term ‘The Great Resignation’. He predicts a large number of people in the US will leave their jobs after the pandemic ends and life returns to ‘normal’. This is an interesting phenomenon, a ripple effect from the pandemic which is forcing organisations to re-evaluate how to retain their people or talent. For their own survival, most people who could, remained in their jobs during the worst times of the pandemic. Now two years later, people are moving away from survival mode and into new, emerging opportunities that best meet their personal needs. Anthony Klotz reports that resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees and technology professionals. People want more flexible working so they can spend more time with family, to focus on their passion hobbies, or to seek other meaningful activities in their lives. These people are attracted to organisations that offer flexible working which includes the possibility to work remotely on a full-time basis.

Businesses like restaurants and retail have suffered tremendously from the pandemic. Those businesses which provide products and services virtually have better survived the pandemic. They provide products or services independent of time and location which gives them a high survival probability. People are attracted to these businesses given their potential for survival and successful emergence from the pandemic. The survival instinct is becoming increasingly less important as people begin to get a handle on the types of industries which will survive the pandemic in the long term. This is what Anthony Klotz refers to as The Great Resignation, people resigning from their jobs to focus on personal projects or passions and/or to secure greater flexibility in their working arrangements. Companies who are less fixated on their employees being permanently based in the workplace full-time are becoming increasingly attractive in the labour market.

Workforce Planning

I think workforce planning is a critical activity that can help an organisation to address potential shortages of, or competition for, people as a result of changing expectations in the labour market and to mitigate against the effects of The Great Resignation. Workforce planning is a core business process like business or financial planning which aims to ensure an organisation has the right number of people and skills to achieve its mission, vision, purpose or objectives. It is a strategic activity that ensures the continuity of the organisation by identifying and securing critical roles and determining and reducing the skills gap in the workforce. The benefits of workforce planning include the avoidance of overstaffing and understaffing but most importantly, it helps an organisation to balance its demand for, and the supply of, people with the goal of successfully achieving its mission.

Workforce planning is a broad term. I refer to strategic workforce planning as an activity with a planning horizon of 1-5 years. Workforce planning with a planning horizon of 0-1 year is referred to as tactical workforce planning. Tactical workforce planning activities include recruitment, resource planning and capacity planning. The main purpose of strategic workforce planning is to identify the gap between the current workforce versus future workforce needs within the context of the long-term strategy of the organisation. A typical step-by-step approach to strategic workforce planning might look like this:

Step 1: Analysis of the current formation of the workforce.

Step 2: Analysis of the future formation of the workforce.

Step 3: Identify the gaps between the current and future formation of the workforce.

Step 4: Identify and implement action plans to close the gaps.

Step 5: Monitor and review action plans.

The workforce planning process and steps must be owned by the leadership of the organisation. It is usually facilitated by HR but it is incumbent on the leaders of an organisation to own it and integrate it into its wider strategic planning processes. The workforce planning framework should form part of the organisation’s business and financial planning processes. It is a great opportunity for leaders to engage with and set the agenda for workforce change.

Strategic Workforce Planning and Intuition

However, strategic workforce planning is not an easy task for leaders. In fact, it is not necessarily a common skill readily available to leaders. There is a wealth of information about the workforce planning, how to define it, what it involves and how to approach it which make a lot of common or business sense. I can see the long-term benefits of strategic workforce planning but I often wonder whether leaders truly hold the psychological attitude necessary to carry out effective workforce planning. I think there is another contributing factor which is absolutely necessary. The contributing factor is ‘intuition’. Intuition is one of four functions of the psyche including thinking, feeling and sensation. It is a psychological attitude or function which is future-oriented. Some people are predisposed, or tend to prefer, to assess experience through the intuition function which I think makes them perfect candidates to lead on strategic workforce planning activities in the workplace.

The intuition function in a workplace setting enables an individual to look forward, to ponder the future and to think strategically. They will excel at envisioning or visualising a future for the organisation. Their visioning can also focus on themselves, as an individual. This is referred to as introverted intuition. When an individual focuses the intuition function on an organisation, it is referred to as extraverted intuition. Both the introverted and extraverted attitudes are helpful to strategic workforce planning but probably more so, extraverted intuition which is focused on the organisation, its future and the strategy to achieve its vision.

Psychologically speaking, the intuition function enables awareness of the images of the inner object or world. The inner object or world refers to the unconscious. The intuition function readily apprehends images in the unconscious and through an extraverted attitude, apprehends the images and translates them into concrete reality. What I am trying to say here is that the intuition function is well placed to ponder a future for an organisation through images and ideas emanating from an individual’s unconscious. The individual predisposed to intuition delights in imagination and possibilities. The extraverted intuitive easily apprehends the possibilities and translates them into visions and strategic goals for the organisation. The introverted intuitive will limit their apprehensions for their own benefit. Their delight in imagination and possibilities is mostly for the benefit of their own careers. They are part of ‘The Great Resignation’; people who discover a radically different future for themselves. The extraverted intuitive is primarily oriented to the organisation. They have imagined a future full of extensive possibilities for the organisation and linked it to the outer world. It is imagined and turned into a concrete reality.

Leadership, strategic workforce planning and intuition

The intuition function is satisfied when the individual envisions possibilities. Extraverted intuition in its perpetual pursuit of external possibilities serves as a catalyst for change in the workplace. While introverted intuition may be content to imagine inwardly and to focus on oneself, extraverted intuition must both imagine and create outwardly within the organisation.

So what are the behavioural attributes of a leader with extraverted intuition, and how do the behaviours complement the strategic workforce planning process?

Let’s explore the behaviours of extraverted intuition against a backdrop of strategic workforce planning.

1. Extraverted intuition applies its imagination to the particular facts of experience to envision new projects, tangible initiatives and boldly original ventures. It sees around the corner to fresh possibilities and events unborn. It perceives the possibilities inherent in a situation, grasps the practical elements necessary for their realisation and is impelled to make them tangibly real.

2. Leaders who prefer the intuition function will have boundless enthusiasm for the adventure of making strategic workforce planning possibilities tangibly real. They tend to be loyal to their visions of completed projects, but when a new project is sufficiently close to the imagined possibility, they often lose that enthralling creative tension between what is and what could be.

3. The strategic workforce planning project, once set up or nearly set up, becomes yet another fact that no longer has sufficient unrealised potential to hold their attention. The extraverted intuitive leader will bring traction to a strategic workforce planning project but only for as long as the project remains future oriented.

4. Facts about the current workforce are useful only as long as they feed imagination directed at change. They are merely stepping-stones to realise their envisioned workforce possibilities. As long as facts provide a bridge to imagined possibilities, they have value, but once they have served their purpose, they again become merely ordinary and incidental, sacrificed to the next compelling vision of possibilities. Leaders disposed to extraverted intuition are drawn to the advantage of pursuing new potentiality.

5. A leader’s disposition towards extraverted intuition seldom permits staying with one venture long enough to see it through to fruition. There is a risk they will move on to other projects so it is imperative to secure a formal role for them in the project with clear accountabilities. Nothing, not practicality, not reason, not logical argument, not fear, could keep them from abandoning a former project now a prison, to pursue the unbridled liberty of a new one.

6. Extraverted intuitive leaders have no tolerance for the status quo, stable conditions suffocate them. This is a particularly useful attitude; it galvanises a workforce planning project to make concrete and beneficial changes for the organisation.

7. Others more patient with the facts of experience are often the beneficiaries of the discarded adventures of an extraverted intuitive. A leader with extraverted intuition can be a great sponsor for a workforce planning project. Their involvement is particularly useful when implementing a new workforce planning strategy and framework. People who favour extraverted intuition eagerly seek many projects, they are seldom satisfied by just a few creative possibilities, for they see possibility everywhere and are driven to perceive a wide range of possibilities.

8. Extraverted intuition leaders can often see the future before it arrives, accurately anticipating the outcomes of impending events. This helps a leader to anticipate what impact future events will have on the workforce. This enables the organisation to then balance the demand and supply of their workforce to address future needs. They have a knack for knowing what will work, what will turn up, what will prove successful, or how events will conclude.

That predictive facility fuels their enthusiasm for creating new projects and ventures. It also provides a prophetic edge to all their interactions with the objective data, events and people. Because their anticipatory advantages is applied to the external world, it has substantial economic currency.

9. People who favour extraverted intuition are often drawn to those professions where they can materially optimise their capacity for anticipating future events e.g. entrepreneurs, politicians, speculators, or investment analysts for example. They may play a catalytic role in generating economic growth, they are often innovators, entrepreneurs, and visionaries who apply their imagination creatively to improve the world around them.

10. They are often convincingly persuasive, readily recruiting others to their favourite projects and ventures. They don't just have creative inspiration, they embody their creative inspiration that drives them.

Their vision often extends to seeing potential others, they can see the hidden possibilities in people, often becoming enthusiastic champions of their potential.

11. Those who favour extraverted intuition often bring much value to the world, they have access to the images and dreams of intuition yet direct their energy into the world to encourage people, improve life and anticipate unborn events.

As you can see, leaders with a natural disposition towards extraverted intuition can potentially play a significantly influential role in strategic workforce planning. They are likely to be very comfortable with envisioning a future workforce based on their vision for the organisation. For those leaders with a preference towards the other functions, sensation thinking and feeling, may experience workforce planning activities as uncomfortable, irritating and not particularly enjoyable. These leaders may struggle to develop workforce plans to address their organisation’s future needs; psychological attitudes are not easily developed. The function of sensation focuses on the here and now. Thinking is a useful function for evaluating the current workforce and feeling focuses on the outcomes or implications of strategic workforce planning on people, their motivations, desires and needs.

‘The Great Resignation’ is a looming event for many organisations and businesses. It will take not just intuition but also sensation, thinking and feeling to address the ripple effects of the pandemic on the expectations of the workforce. Strategic workforce planning is an extremely productive activity which can ensure an organisation has the right number of people with the right skills to deliver their products and services. When choosing who leads a strategic workforce planning project in your organisation, try to find a leader predisposed to extraverted intuition. They could be the glue that brings everything together. How do you find such people? Well, a good starting point is the recruitment and selection process, selecting leaders with a track record of success through extraverted intuition. You can also identify such individuals already in the organisation through type assessment as part of ‘career discussions’.

It is important to recruit leaders who have a disposition towards or can show an ability to develop the intuition function. They will articulate a vision for the organisation and articulate a future workforce plan to achieve the organisation’s mission, purpose, goals or objectives. They play a critical role in shaping workforce planning strategy and positioning organisations to meet challenges ---- serving as ‘chief future officers’.

I had my own pandemic-related epiphany which led to my decision to move to Zurich after years of commuting between the UK and Switzerland. It was an agonising decision to make and I have been fortunate to work with clients who are open to flexible working arrangements.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Please register on the website if you would like to be the first to read or listen to my latest blog, and do get in touch if you have any questions or comments.


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