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Lean but Agile: Rethink Workforce Planning and Gain a True Competitive Edge


Chances are, your organization is experimenting with many ways to get work done without adding to its full-time payroll. But are you still managing to fulfill the high standards your customers and shareholders expect? Is your company systematically planning for the quantity and quality of people needed to achieve superior work results? Does it have a system in place to predict your future needs, keep your workforce lean, and move quickly enough to keep up with sudden changes in ...

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Lean but Agile: Rethink Workforce Planning and Gain a True Competitive Edge

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Chances are, your organization is experimenting with many ways to get work done without adding to its full-time payroll. But are you still managing to fulfill the high standards your customers and shareholders expect? Is your company systematically planning for the quantity and quality of people needed to achieve superior work results? Does it have a system in place to predict your future needs, keep your workforce lean, and move quickly enough to keep up with sudden changes in the marketplace?

Chock full of proven, practical guidance and tools including metrics, diagrams, examples, guides, and worksheets, Lean but Agile provides you with a comprehensive system for analyzing work and selecting the ideal combination of cost-effective resources—employees, consultants, contractors, temporary workers, and vendors—to accomplish it.

This eye-opening book shows you and your organization how to optimize efficient and effective ways to achieve work results in keeping with customer expectations while minimizing the costly expenses involved in maintaining a cadre of full-time workers.

You’ll learn how to examine and rethink how work gets done in your organization; prepare for future needs; use training, goal-setting, and performance management to keep your human resources nimble and ready for unexpected challenges; and incorporate up-to-the-minute management strategies for keeping up with temporary and contingent workers, contractors, “permanent part-time” staff, outsourced staff, teleworkers, and others.

The book also reveals how to build organizational commitment for, and then implement, a comprehensive system for assessing present and future staffing needs, and explores the fundamental role technology can play in your transformation into a lean and agile organization.

In today’s business environment, talent needs change so rapidly that smart organizations not only need to incorporate increased flexibility in their workforces, they have to have state-of-the-art systems for managing them. Lean but Agile gives you the expert guidance and proven systems you need to keep your payroll in line with your moment-to-moment needs and achieve the great results you know your company can deliver.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“It’s a great read, particularly for business leaders challenged with building and managing a highly efficient workforce in today’s new economy.” --The Seamless Workforce

"...important read for professionals and executives alike who are being required to do more with less throughout the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. Highly recommended.”--Choice magazine

“…detailed and clear explanations of how to implement a lean but agile approach.” --T&D magazine

"Lean but Agile can show you how with some careful planning and execution it is possible to create a lean, agile workforce that can meet your goals." --CIO Insight

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814417775
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 1/18/2012
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 1,433,815
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

WILLIAM J. ROTHWELL is professor of Workplace Learning and Performance at Pennsylvania State University and President of Rothwell & Associates, a business consultancy.

JAMES GRABER is Managing Director of Business Decisions, Inc., a talent management technology and software company.

NEIL MCCORMICK, a Senior Vice President at Talent2, has 30 years’ experience in international management, human resources and consulting.

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Read an Excerpt



What is your organization doing to hold down employment expenses

while simultaneously ensuring that work results meet or exceed customer

requirements? How is your organization experimenting with new

ways of staffing the work to be done while also achieving the best results?

How well is your organization planning systematically for the quantity and

quality of people needed to achieve work results in line with customer

needs? Read the following vignettes and describe how your organization

would meet the challenges you find in each. If your organization has ways to

solve all of these problems, then perhaps it already has a way to plan com-

prehensively and systematically for work results and ways for workers to

achieve those results. But if your organization cannot solve most of the

problems presented here, then your leaders may want to consider a Lean

but Agile approach to planning for the work and workforce.

• *

Traditional Views of Work Planning and Workforce Planning

As the preceding vignettes illustrate, employers globally are struggling with

how to achieve the best work results. Driven by a need to lower costs while

increasing productivity, they are not always following traditional ways of

planning the work and the workforce. But what are these traditional ap-

proaches? What is traditional work planning? What is traditional workforce


Traditional Work Planning

Traditional ways of thinking about planning for work have their roots in the

industrial age. An organizational structure (organization chart) is estab-

lished to allocate responsibilities for various work activities. These activities,

in turn, are then broken down further into departments, work groups, jobs,

and tasks.

Traditional thinking about work planning emphasizes the work process,

that is, how the work is done. Little or no attention is devoted to clarifying in

detail the measurable work outcomes desired by customers or other stake-

holders who care about the work. In some circles, work planning is actually

confused with project planning, which is just one way to organize the work

to be accomplished. The important point to understand, however, is that the

workforce needed to achieve desired work results depends on how the work

is done and the desired outcomes. Employers are already experimenting

with new ways to get work done. Those experiments affect the workforce

needed to achieve work results.

Traditional Workforce Planning

Much has been written about workforce planning in recent years. Indeed,

workforce planning has garnered far more attention than has work planning.

One reason is that many employers are keenly aware that labor costs

are a major expense in doing business. Modern accounting methods treat

labor as a cost of doing business while ignoring the critical importance of

human creative talent as the only active ingredient that can serve as a cat-

alyst to add value to land, finances, technology, or other assets.

Traditional workforce planning follows the logic of economics. As demand

for products or services increases, it creates a demand for labor to make

the products or deliver the services. Labor demand refers to the quantity

and quality of people needed to meet production or service delivery re-

quirements. Labor supply refers to the quantity and quality of people cur-

rently employed by the organization. As labor demand increases as a func-

tion of production or service demand, more people are needed to meet the

demand. In short, a larger supply of people is needed.

But this relationship is not precise. Sometimes the number of workers

affects productivity directly. In other cases, such as managerial work, man-

agers can oversee increasing employees until a tipping point is reached.

To complicate matters, sometimes the quality of workers affects productivity.

A few talented people may outperform an army.

The traditional approach to workforce planning, based in economics,

has some distinct disadvantages. The first disadvantage is that future labor

demand is forecasted based on past experience. In short, economists tend

to assume that the same quantity and quality of people will be needed to

achieve future results as were needed to achieve past results. Unfortunate-

ly, technology and other productivity breakthroughs can actually

change the quantity and quality of people needed in the future. The second

disadvantage is that economists struggle with the notion of differences

in individual talent. Not all people are equally productive, or even

equally productive in the same ways. Some people are simply more produc-

tive than others, and talents—understood to mean personal strengths

in this context—differ on an individual basis. Some research suggests that

the difference between the average and the most productive worker can be

as high as eleven times.

Many methods are available to conduct workforce planning. They are

drawn from quantitatively focused approaches from statistics, econometrics,

or operations research and from qualitatively focused approaches to

problem solving. Few organizations undertake any form of systematic,

comprehensive workforce planning. In fact, one study found that as many

as two-thirds of U.S. employers do no comprehensive workforce planning.1

Instead, jobs are typically approved in many organizations on a case-bycase

basis as vacancies become available or as work demand increases. The

result: The collective competencies and talents of the entire organization’s

workforce is never assessed against the requirements needed to achieve the

organization’s strategic goals. The result is that the labor force of many

organizations can drift away over time from the best fit to achieve desired

work results.

A New Approach to Workforce Planning

A review of changing conditions in business over the past sixty years provides

an important backdrop for understanding the need for change in

many business practices. The years from 1950 to 1970 were a golden age of

business stability for industrialized nations. Human resources practices

were designed to be responsive to those conditions. Building a stable work-

force was the priority. As detailed by Peter Cappelli,2 the following conditions


• Business demand and the talent needed to deliver it could be

accurately predicted into the future.

• Government regulations restricted competition, which helped

companies confidently make long-term investments. Foreign

competition was often almost nonexistent or held very low

market share.

• Competitors operated in unison. When GM announced its

price increases, Chrysler and Ford were sure to follow.

• Union contracts across industries resulted in similar labor

expenses and in large part removed the variable of price


• Talent was in short supply and could not be easily found or

lured away from the competition.

• The economy grew steadily, at 5 to 6 percent per year.

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Table of Contents




CHAPTER 1 An Introduction to Lean but Agile Work and Workforce Planning 1

CHAPTER 2 Optimize the Work 20

CHAPTER 3 Create a Talent Pool for a Lean but Agile Workforce 49

CHAPTER 4 Optimize the Workforce 84

CHAPTER 5 Optimize the Future Work and Workforce 110

CHAPTER 6 Manage and Maintain a Lean but Agile Workforce 127

CHAPTER 7 Bring Lean but Agile Work and Workforce Planning into Your Organization 180

CHAPTER 8 The Future of Lean but Agile Work and Workforce Planning 190

APPENDIX Talent2 Human Resources Performance Audit Process Framework 198




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