The Conference Board has recently released a Research Working Group Report “Implementing Strategic Workforce Planning”.  It notes that one of the indicators that Strategic Workforce Planning is reaching maturity within an organization is that organizational boundaries disappear or become less important:

“there’s a movement to capture workforce data across lines of business and geographies so talent and skills can be utilized as a shared resource and managed more efficiently.”

Looking at averages or summaries hides opportunities and risks that can only be seen with the ability to drill-down, or to “slice and dice” data.  A great example is in the share market – people often rely on the “average return”, but this does not paint the full picture.  Between 1900 and 2008, the average return of the NASDAQ was 6.94%, but only 2 out of the those 108 years, 1913 and 2007, returned anything within 10% of that long-term average.  And in between, there were returns ranging from –54.13% to 81.66%.  Aaron Levenstein once summed up the problem of aggregation nicely:

"Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." 

Relying on aggregation is equally problematic in Strategic Workforce Planning.  If you are looking at what is happening at your workforce only within the framework of an Organizational Structure, you may miss critical insights such as:

  • The voluntary turnover of high performers may be higher than, and for different reasons to, the general workforce.
  • There may be key capabilities possessed only by a section of the workforce that is rapidly approaching retirement, even though the ageing profile of each department is sustainable.
  • There may be vital differences in the length of service and performance of Full-time employees, Part-time employees, and contractors.

Each of these insights would be missed if your Strategic Workforce Planning is by department only – sometimes you need to see the trees as well as the forest!