Workforce.com

Six Easy Pieces

May 11, 2005

For decades, Hewlett-Packard was more famous for good people management than for risky mergers or superstar CEOs. But as headlines have focused on the ouster of Carly Fiorina and the arrival of Mark Hurd, veteran HP executives like Gerard Brossard, vice president of global workforce planning and management in HP’s human resources organization, have been quietly pushing forward new workforce management plans.

    Brossard says Hurd will be very good for the company because he has strong execution skills and a proven ability to lead top-performing teams and develop internal talent while reaching out for new skills. His abilities "will enable us to institutionalize workforce planning as a key operational component of the way we do business."

    Brossard is a soccer enthusiast from Lyon, France, who joined HP in 1988 as a software engineer in manufacturing systems. He moved to the Bay Area in August 2000 to lead the global IT development organization for human resources.

    Since he was promoted to his new job in September 2003, he has directed the design and governance of all staffing philosophies, policies and services. The job includes acquiring, retaining and deploying staff in 170 countries.

    In his new role, Brossard says he could see that simply reacting to staffing needs was not good enough; he needed to develop a strategic approach. In this Q&A, he offers a detailed account of how HP invented a new process for strategic workforce planning.

    Workforce Management: What drove you to look seriously at strategic workforce planning?

    Gerard Brossard: HP operates in a rapidly changing environment. It’s critical to be agile and to respond to change faster than our competition. We needed a planning process that would enable us to anticipate all the different workforce changes necessary for HP to deliver our business strategies. The only way to achieve an adaptive workforce is to have a strategic workforce plan that’s integral to the business plan.

    WM: What kind of business change would require you to quickly realign your workforce?

    Brossard: One example is our move into the digital entertainment market, an entirely new and different market for HP. To be successful, we needed to identify the workforce implications right away or we would enter the market only to find that we didn’t have the right designers, the right marketing people and the right product specialists in place.

    This was a new set of products and a new set of customers requiring a radical workforce change. What was really important to HP was to shift from being reactive to proactively managing the workforce.

    WM: How did the move to proactive workforce management get off the ground?

    Brossard: Executive support was important. We initially developed metrics showing how the dynamics of the workforce, in terms of the number of transactions and movements, had changed after the merger with Compaq. We presented the data to (former CEO) Carly Fiorina and her executive staff and made the case that better anticipating workforce needs would have a major impact on business. Carly and her team bought into the plan completely and pushed our business groups to create a strategic workforce plan that aligned with their business plan.

    WM: What did you do first?

    Brossard: I had to put my HR hat aside and work to understand the benefits it would bring to the business groups. That was the key. I asked them specifically: "How can we help you understand what the human capital implications of your business strategy are going to be?" rather than just, "How can the businesses help HR be more successful in its work?" My team then defined a workforce-planning framework for the business groups to complete.

    WM: What were the key decisions you made when setting up that common framework?

    Brossard: Simplification was a key objective. I didn’t want to create something so complex that people would use the complexity of the framework as an excuse for not doing it.

    Another significant decision was not to look at the workforce plan from a numbers standpoint. We didn’t want to do a headcount plan because it was important to think about the implications at a strategic level. This was also a way to keep the plan simple.

    Also, it was important not to approach it from a technology standpoint. I’ve seen attempts to implement workforce planning by putting a system in place and asking people to enter data. I wanted to let business leaders express the workforce implications in plain language.

    WM: Can you explain the details of the framework?

    Brossard: There are six steps. The results of each step are documented in a one-page summary.

    Step 1 is scanning the environment. This is done as part of the day-to-day activities of business and HR leaders. For HR, it means staying aware of movements in the environment, such as major workforce market trends, demographic changes and the political environment. For the business groups, it means knowing their market inside and out, their competition and their customers--which is something they already keep abreast of. The key here is linking all these elements and incorporating them into the workforce planning exercise so we understand the external factors impacting the workforce.

    Step 2 is identifying the business strategies and, at a very high level, describing the workforce implications. The template is simple. We asked the businesses to list their workforce strategies in the left column, and the workforce implications of those strategies in the right column.

    An example is a business strategy to exponentially grow market share in China over the next three years. This leads to high-level implications such as the need to build a sales force. But China is a huge country, so from there you ask, "Where does that sales force need to be located?" In this scenario, the business group lists "China growth plan" under "Workforce strategies," and the "Creating a dispersed (in location) workforce with the right skills in China" under "Workforce implications."

    And Step 3: assessing the current workforce need. Again, the template for this is very straightforward--just four quadrants. The first two quadrants ask, "Where is your workforce located today?’" and "What type of skills do you have today and what jobs do you use them for?"

    Our intention is not to have the business groups list the skills of every individual--that would be impossible with 150,000 employees--but rather to identify five or six major skills of their workforce.

    The third quadrant refers to the workforce mix in terms of regular workers, contract manufacturing and contingent workforce. This reflects the current delivery models used by the business to execute strategies.

    In that same dimension we introduced workforce productivity metrics as well as cost of the workforce. We left the fourth quadrant open in case the business needs to assess its current workforce on a dimension unique to its business strategies.

    WM: So for each step, each business group was only giving you one sheet?

    Brossard: Yes, that’s right. Some business groups decided to take it one level lower in the organization and ask each of those units to do this exercise, which they then summarized for that business group. Some units even decided to go two levels lower, which was a bit of a stretch since at those levels it begins to be operational rather than strategic workforce planning.

    Step 4 is exactly the same as Step 3, but applies to the future workforce. We asked, "Based on an understanding of the workforce implications of your strategies, what would your workforce look like in three years using those same four quadrants?" Essentially, the result of Steps 3 and 4 is a view of what the business group has today and what it’s going to need tomorrow.

    Step 5 is driving the plan. This is defining a set of HR strategies to fill the gap created by the business strategies. Again, this was all on one page, containing the business strategies, the workforce implications and the plans that would address the workforce implications.

    Then we asked for more quantitative information on the size and scope of a specific plan: Are we talking about 200 people that need to be re-skilled, or are we talking about 1,000? Is it going to be across Asia or just in one specific country? When will this need to occur--2005, 2006 or 2007?

    In Step 6, the business groups, regions and countries pivot from strategic workforce planning into an operational six-month workforce plan tied to affordability.

    WM: How much support did these business groups require from human resources?

    Brossard: It was significant because this was the first attempt at strategic workforce planning since the merger.

    One person from the HR organization of each of the business groups was assigned to facilitate the workforce planning process of their respective business. In addition, each of HP’s corporate functions, such as finance and marketing, did a plan. Altogether, a total of nine or 10 groups completed a workforce plan.

    The process started in May and ended in September, so the investment was five months of 10 HR people working full time. A number of other HR employees participated to facilitate the collection of information. The deeper the businesses wanted to go, the more HR and business leaders they had involved.

    We also coached business managers to help them understand what the workforce implications of a strategy could be. A great deal of learning took place on both sides as we went along.

    WM: So the process required a lot of thinking time, but unlike some approaches, you didn’t have to invest in any computer systems.

    Brossard: In the second phase of workforce planning, when we get to the operational level, I’m hoping to have an automated system. At that level it becomes more quantitative in terms of hiring numbers and movements of people. However, strategic workforce planning does not require a system, nor would I try to force a system into that process.

    The highest value we created was in qualitative discussion around what needs to happen. If we had used a system, people would have thought about the problems differently--more in terms of numbers and not about the strategic implications of the business strategies.

    WM: How would you assess the success of the strategic workforce plan?

    Brossard: It was very successful, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t painful. We had to learn as we went along.

    The way I measure success is that first, the plan was discussed every month in HP’s executive committee meeting, from the first revision in early August until the approval of the plan in September, and helped drive some business decisions.

    Second, at the company level it generated discussion across business groups and units in terms of disconnects or potential areas of collaboration in workforce management. We now have a companywide consolidated workforce plan that allows us to drive potential mobility across the business groups.

    Finally, several people told me how valuable the discussion within their business group had been, and how people are managing their workforce very differently than they did in the past.

    When we have unexpected changes, instead of going directly into hiring or firing, these changes are brought into the workforce plan to understand how they fit into the existing strategies. A holistic view of the implications of these changes is then gathered and new HR strategies defined.

    WM: How does this compare to other initiatives in the industry?

    Brossard: Most of what I’ve seen focuses on the operational side. Headcount and staffing planning are emphasized rather than real strategic workforce planning. I have found that workforce planning in many companies involved analyzing spreadsheets to find out how many new hires are required, how many reductions, that sort of thing. But I don’t pretend to know everything that is going on out there.

    WM: What are you most proud of about your program?

    Brossard: The business groups now recognize that HR contributes significant strategic value. We’ve been talking about HR being a strategic partner to the business groups for a long time, and the feedback I got directly from them was that strategic workforce planning made this happen. The business leaders actually told their HR facilitators that it was "a fantastic exercise and we now understand better what is going to be required of our workforce for us to be successful."

Workforce Management, May 2005, pp. 59-62 -- Subscribe Now!