Creating People Advantage in the Public Sector

Creating People Advantage in the Public Sector

Title image

Creating People Advantage in the Public Sector

  • Add To Interests
  • PDF

  • Acting as a Strategic Partner with the Overall Organization

    While improving efficiency and building relationships are critical, HR leaders must also be able to think strategically. This means understanding not only the strategic challenges and ambitions of the organization but also the implications of those challenges and ambitions for HR. Tools like strategic workforce planning (SWP) can help HR managers understand how actions taken within HR can support such strategic goals as improving efficiency through digitization or through reorganizations and redeployments.

    4. Anchor HR strategy in strategic workforce planning. The need for this approach in the public sector is growing, but putting it into practice requires a comprehensive strategy that includes accurate modeling of labor supply and demand. (See “The Hallmarks of Successful Strategic Workforce Planning.”) SWP ensures that HR policies in recruiting, training, mobility, and retention within and across agencies, among other areas, are in line with the future needs of the organization. At the same time, it allows HR decisions to be closely linked to the organization’s overall strategy. SWP can lead to a reevaluation of an organization’s geographic footprint, for example, so that offices are located where critical talent is most available.


    SWP is based on an analysis of the types of skills and expertise required across an organization. The process starts with a segmentation of the employment base by job category. Different scenarios are developed that project how the supply of and demand for people in the positions within each category would change under different circumstances. It is critical to take into account the impact of digital technologies, which can have a significant impact on workforce size and skill requirements. Once gaps are identified based on the projections of supply and demand, HR can determine the right mix of actions to address the most critical shortfalls.

    When it comes to training measures, organizations should be ambitious about developing internal talent. Retraining and moving people into new positions within the organization is a powerful—and sometimes an overlooked—way to fill critical positions. HR leaders also need to regularly revise their scenarios and hypotheses. And like other programs, SWP can be piloted in local offices before being broadly deployed.

    In Germany, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) was concerned about the large number of employees approaching retirement age. In one division alone, half the employees were expected to retire in the next decade. To address this challenge, the agency kicked off two SWP pilots in February 2015, covering about 15% of the workforce. The team leading the effort created a model forecast of worker supply and demand based on parameters such as job type, geographic location, and age group. Combining the supply and demand projections into a single model, the team built an array of heat maps that showed the areas where shortages were likely to be critical and came up with concrete plans for filling the worker pipeline. The pilots have proven so successful that the approach is being rolled out throughout the entire organization.

    SWP becomes even more crucial in an era of budgetary pressure, when both public and private organizations often respond with short-term measures such as across-the-board headcount reductions to hit cost-cutting targets. Such moves, however, fail to take into account the skills and roles that will be needed in the future, raising the risk that strategic knowledge or expertise (in managing complex military bases and equipment, for example) will be lost. That can result in higher costs down the road if positions need to be restaffed. The need for SWP is particularly acute in countries such as France and Spain, where many public-sector jobs are essentially guaranteed for life, so hiring decisions have significant long-term implications.

    5. Develop the organization’s ability to deal with mergers and redeployments. Budget constraints and changing skill and personnel requirements call for new strategies across government. Among the impacts of those strategic shifts: consolidation of teams, whether across locations or within a given department, and redeployments of staff to new roles. In both cases, HR has a clear role in supporting the agency or department’s operational teams.

    To succeed, HR must build a package of tools that can be easily disseminated in order to help operational teams with budgeting and with staff training, mobility, and reduction. The package should include organizational design tools that help define appropriate spans of control and communicate information about the restructuring.