Workforce planning has never been more important than it is today. With baby boomers entering retirement, millennials now represent the lion’s share of the new American workforce. Government agencies need to adapt their workforce planning strategies to avoid risks related to staffing, productivity, retention and more.

Here are five reasons why government agencies fail at workforce planning, and how they can improve:

“Good workforce planning takes time.”

1. Time
Good workforce planning takes time. Managers rarely have the time to put in the thought and diligence required to properly navigate workforce planning, which puts agencies at a disadvantage when it comes to onboarding the best possible candidates, keeping existing employees engaged and satisfied, and maintaining a healthy pipeline of prospects for when unexpected issues come to pass.

Workforce planning, when done right, will be a constant process as well, meaning managers will need to devote time to these matters on a rolling basis rather than just once.

2. Unknown unknowns
Even the best planning cannot possibly consider all possible scenarios, such as more retirements than anticipated or other sudden changes to the makeup of the staff on hand. A lower volume of qualified applicants might be in the prospect pool, while a proverbial universe of other situations might lead to poor execution of workforce planning strategies. Once assumptions are proven wrong, the entire plan could be deemed incorrect.

This is why intelligent, agile workforce planning needs to be a priority among government agencies today, with managers using data in an analytical fashion to improve their plans iteratively.

3. Misunderstanding ‘competencies’
Competency modeling and management is a central cog of workforce planning. Unfortunately, many agencies will conflate competencies with knowledge or skills. Managers lose sight of the gap between understanding and action. Competencies represent the effective application of knowledge or skills in context, but not the knowledge or skills themselves. Leaders cannot fix competency gaps by simply training on raw knowledge and skills.

Rather, workforce planning needs to position the agency to develop employees that put their knowledge and abilities into action.

4. Experience
Few government leaders have been involved in large-scale, strategic workforce planning efforts, putting them at an inherent disadvantage when trying to navigate this highly complex landscape. Even fewer leaders have handled workforce planning well, when given the chance. Without the knowledge and experience required to craft and execute a strong workforce planning strategy, managers might simply be clutching at straws, hoping for the best, and wasting their time.

Government agencies will be doing themselves a major favor by not flying blind, and instead reaching out to the right service providers, analysts and consultants to guide the creation of the workforce planning strategy. Workforce planning takes time, experience and knowledge.


Workforce planning takes time, experience and knowledge.


5. Pure focus on mission
When leaders begin to lose sight of the employees who are going to be tasked with executing the plans and upholding the workforce strategy, the chances of that hard work getting put into action will be lower. A pure focus on the mission might seem like the right approach, but ground-level employees need to be considered every step of the way if leaders hope to see their plans manifest into reality in a timely and seamless fashion.

Getting employees involved earlier in the planning process can help to ensure the project remains on track and does not need to be revised repetitively after seeing it in action. Workforce planning is a team effort, and leaders need to put the right minds together to keep their agencies staffed and prepared to function at all times.