Part II: The Strategic Workforce Management Model

In the same way that organizations look to the future and plan for it, individuals do the same thing. The position has its own set of requirements. Ideally, an employee

In the same way that organizations look to the future and plan for it, individuals do the same thing. The position has its own set of requirements. Ideally, an employee
has both a set of individual goals (“I want to get a promotion,” “I want to master these skills,” etc.) and a set of performance goals embodied in a performance plan.

Comparing individual goals and aspirations (internal and external) with current sets of skills enables employees to define the gap needed to bridge with developmental training and experience. The Strategic Workforce Management model (Fig. 1) represents this process as a little guy spinning plates on the end of a stick.Our worker can spin one plate currently, but the job and/or career goals require himto be able to spin three.What competencies does he need to acquire to become a three-plate-spinner employee?

Answering this question engages the competency management function at the individual level. Planning the “how” to acquire these competencies results in the individual development plan (IDP), which the model depicts as a treasure map. This map of the path of development becomes the guide from where employees are now to the desired competencies they want to acquire to achieve their goals. But the development path leads through some dangerous territory. There are dragons out there, and they cluster around the question of measurement and informal learning.

We all know in every organization the person you go to when you need some specialized information. “Go ask Larry…or Shirley; they are the ones who know that stuff.” So you talk to them and you learn something new.You apply it to your job, and you are on your way to developing a new competency. Informal learning of this type grew quickly with the rise of the Internet and has now exploded with the  advent of Web 2.0. social networks are proving to be very effective ways to gather and share knowledge.

Contrast these informal, socially-driven learning channels (blogs, wikis, text, tweets and communities of practice) with formal learning channels (curricula, courses, performance support and job aids). The formal channel is well-defined, with lesson plans, learning objects and knowledge tests at every turn. Formal learning lends itself very well to tracking and record-keeping.Many of today’s learning management systems (LMSs) got their start as the automated equivalent of a college registrar’s office, keeping track of the student’s progress toward a degree. These LMSs have added the ability to manage, launch and track online courses, so
they often have a content management component, but they were never intended to track informal learning, and that’s okay. Formal learning is a key development component; our little dragon in the accompanying illustration represents the difficulty of acknowledging and tracking the effect that informal learning has on competency development. How do we track it, and how much weight should we give to it?


The problemof how tomeasure competencies givesmeasurement (and performance management systems) a very important place in the SWMmodel.At the individual level, just as for the organization as a whole, you don’t have a valid result if you can’t measure it. There are a variety of measures you can apply to individual competency development (some of which are listed on the illustration), and the choices depend toomuch on the particular circumstances to go into specific solutions, but please keep inmind that:
>> You must measure.
>> You should take informal learning into account.

Why? The definition of competent is “the quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually for the task at hand.” If you are sick and seek help, a medical degree is a good measure of competence. If you are running an organization and want to get something done (except under certain circumstances), you don’t care if a person is certified, you care if he or she has a track record of performance in that task.A person can have many initials behind his or her name, yet not add much to the organization’s performance. Encourage your organization to invest in the development of valid and meaningful measurement functions for individual competencies and performance. It will pay off.

So far, when talking about the individual view, we are talking about either formal or informal training. The individual has his or her personal goals; the job has its requirements; the IDP shows the path to higher levels of competency and performance; the LMS provides courses and tracking of formal educational experiences; competency and performance measurements provide validation and feedback of the individual’s efforts at development. As individual performance improves, so does the performance of the organization.We have the same virtuous circle of plan/do/assess and back again for individuals as we do for the organization. But each individual is part of the workforce, and we need to examine how competencies influence the development process from an aggregate perspective as well.


The SWMmodel represents the workforce as a pool of talent. The talent pool represents career paths of mission-critical occupations (MCOs) as swimlanes,with a particular set of competencies for each.When the organization hires an individual from the worldwide talent ocean, it does so (hopefully) on the basis of the best match between the desired competencies and the individual’s competencies as measured in the hiring process. Their competencies join with those of others to form teams to do the work of value creation. You can also think of themodel’s talent pool as a talentmanagement function, or system.

Once an individual completes the on boarding process and joins the organization, he or she becomes part of the workforce pool and begins to progress in “swim lanes.” As an employee successfully completes tasks and takes on more responsibility, he or she may be identified for leadership development. This involves more training, developmental assignments and selection for leadership. The SWM model represents leadership responsibility as a high dive.

As part of the workforce, the individual also is part of the pool of organizational knowledge. The experience he or she brings to the job, and the experience gained on the job, represents an organizational asset to be used and retained.While people are with the organization, the knowledge management function attempts to capture and retain their knowledge in a meaningful form for the benefit of other workers who will perform the tasks, or build on that experience in performing new tasks.

Knowledge management is another function on the centerline of the model that provides value and information to both the organization and to the individual. The separation process should, in addition to the normal HR functions, take note of the competencies walking out the door and should be the final (not the first!) place to capture organizational knowledge as an asset.


We are now close to completing our explanation of the model. You may have noticed a couple of puzzle pieces at the bottom left and center of the illustration that we have not yet talked about. The individual profile,
personnel data, and the systems (human resources information system and the organization’s financial management system) that hold that information would normally appear on the centerline of the model, but there just isn’t enough room for every function that belongs there. Since these functions are somewhat secondary to the primary functions—competency management, learning management, performance management and talent management—we tucked them away in the corner.When we look at the systems view, the HRIS and FMS functions do play a part and share information with the primary functions.

The individual profile stores the employee’s HR data. The personnel data represents aggregate data about the workforce as a whole. Both functions are necessary, but because this is a model, not a blueprint, please don’t regard these lists, or their organization, as definitive. The main point is that the data gets stored in a system of record and that the data is fed from, and feeds to, the other functions in the model. This data is accessible to both management and to individuals, subject to the usual privacy and confidentiality restrictions.

We have now completed our tour of Learning Land.We have jumped in the talent pool, encountered the dragon of informal learning, circled the hire/train/rent decision pole, and chipped away at the diamonds of value.We have learned about the primary role of the competency management function, and the importance of measurement. We have seen the similarity and interconnected nature of the organizational and individual views, and how both start with a goal, identify gaps and then use interconnected processes to close those gaps for the benefit of the organization and its workforce.

But some of you may not be entirely comfortable in this illustration, and may long for the comfort of a good old, familiar, systems diagram.


Any IT-oriented manager would be more comfortable with a systems view of the SWM model (Fig. 2). Every element in the SWM illustration (Fig. 1) moves into the new systems view, which shows the interconnections between the three key functions— competency development? Every element of the illustration moves into the new view, which shows the interconnections between the three key functions— competency management (managing competency models, job skills and identifying/ closing gaps), learning management (maintaining IDPs, delivering courses and tracking results), and transactional HR (managing personnel actions, benefits and payroll)—with the secondary functions clustered around their primary functions. At the base is financial management.

You don’t really have even a basic integrated human capital management system if you can’t do those three basic functions. If you can’t pay and train your people within the context of developing the right competencies to achieve the mission, you can’t really manage your workforce for organizational performance. This view allows you to illustrate the point in a way that IT-oriented folks will understand.

The SWM model shows the correspondence between the illustration, with its slightly whimsical, storytelling explanation of the dual nature and relationships of organizational and individual views, and a couple of well-known (within government HR) models that cover some of the same territory from a process-oriented point of view. But there is also an alignment between a specific portion of the SWM model and the corresponding employee’s progress in competency development?

>> Learning Management – Does your organization have training available to support the organization’s competency models? Can you maintain and deliver that training in a repeatable way? Can you register and track the progress of a student during and after the course?

>> Transactional HR – Every organization with employees has to have the ability to execute payroll, benefits and personnel actions, so this capability is a given. Do make sure that you are following HR best practices, especially in documentation, especially if you are a small organization. Doing so reduces your liability exposure.


>> Performance Management – Do you have measurements in place for each of the key performance indicators at both the organizational and individual levels? It is one thing to provide a post-course assessment; it is another to have a well-designed measurement program that provides a useful dashboard for managers and individuals.

>> Knowledge Management – Does your organization have a library (virtual or
physical)? Is it searchable? Do you have collaborative environments and mechanisms to preserve that collaboration for later use? Do you have a separation procedure and does it include knowledge capture as part of the process?

>> Content Management – Do you have a set of courses, either in-house or outsourced, that you can easily access and deliver? Even better, does your organization have the means to manage content at the object level and to rapidly assemble it into useful learning objectives?

>> Leadership Development – Does your organization have a process for identifying and developing leaders for the next stages in its development?

>> Succession Planning – Does your organization have processes in place in advance of a leadership vacancy to identify the candidates (internal and external) to fill such an opening based on competencies?


Once you have run through this list, use the Strategic Workforce Management model as a discussion-starter to explain the link between any functions your organization doesn’t have, or that are underdeveloped, and the value creating activity of the organization. Senior managers are more likely to approve an investment if they can see a direct connection to improved performance, and the Strategic Workforce Management model can provide this link in a memorable way.

If your organization is fairly mature and has many of these functions in place, either on paper, within the desktop, or as enterprise applications, consider these questions:

>> For each piece of information required, what is the system of record?

>> How can we eliminate duplication?

>> How can we create (or improve) the data flow between functions, in alignment with the organization’s business processes to enhance productivity?

I hope that you will use these questions and the Strategic Workforce Management
model to bring about incremental improvements in your organization’s management of its human capital. The model is a tool, and tools are meant to be used. Go forth and slay the dragon!

—Contact Spence Burton via e-mail at, via telephone at (703) 639-7122, or via mail at 7742 Lewinsville Rd., McLean, VA 22102.

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