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Kick-Starting the Planning Process

April 25, 2008
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Related Topics: Career Development, Employee Career Development, Strategic Planning, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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Now in its second century of manufacturing legendary motorcycles, Harley-Davidson Inc. pulled in $5.7 billion a year in 2007 from sales in 60 global markets and a workforce of 9,700. But it also found itself facing the same labor shortages in critical fields, such as materials and marketing, that now plague all manufacturers.

    "It was taking more effort to fill our pipelines," says Lisa Coury, director of talent management.

    Current openings at the company include engineers, material planners and supply chain analysts. Production workers, represented by two unions, make up two-thirds of the Harley workforce. Although U.S. sales slowed in 2007, international sales increased 13.7 percent, and the company’s plants must keep pace with growing global demand for the unique brand.

    Harold Scott, Harley’s vice president of human resources, noted changes in market conditions, the company’s heavy retirement rate and the growing complexity of managing a multi-generational workforce, and tapped Coury to create a workforce planning capability within the human resources function in 2007. "We needed to develop work­force planning as a set of defined processes," Coury says.

    Coury began by conducting substantial research, benchmarking and discussing workforce planning with organizations that already had planning processes in place.

    "We knew from talking to other organizations that we needed to walk before we could run," she says. "So we started small, using pilot groups and feedback from those groups to enhance our methodology and pro­cesses. It’s a journey. The key is to work with business leaders who understand the value of workforce planning." The first pilot group was the materials group, which was experiencing high levels of employee movement.

    Coury uses key quarterly metrics segmented by business unit to spur interest in workforce planning. A 40-page deep-dive report on the salaried workforce includes measures in 30 different areas and the potential business impact of developments in those areas. The report shows trends over a three-year period. "These key metrics whet the appetites of the executives and create the initial pull for workforce planning," Coury says. "Then we work with these executives to begin the process."

    The workforce planning process involves a number of key members in each business group. "We begin with one-on-one meetings with leadership to obtain qualitative workforce information, and then we marry this to our detailed quantitative analysis to project hiring needs over a three-year horizon," Coury says. "Then we develop an action plan for the steps we need to take within an agreed-upon time frame."

    The planning process at Harley-Davidson now incorporates three areas: forecasting, workforce segmentation and strategic skills identification. To help build the process, Coury brought over an analyst from HR planning. "You need someone with strong analytical skills," she says.

    "It’s one thing to collect a lot of data and create a workforce planning process, but the point is to achieve results," Coury says. "The objective is to increase HR’s ability to service the business. That means turning data into information that can help the business leaders make more informed decisions. We pursue workforce planning for the value and the power it brings to the organization."

Workforce Management, April 21, 2008, p. 18 -- Subscribe Now!

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