- "We just can't find the people we really need to do the job."
- "How come our competitors always beat us to finding talent?"
- "I think the talent I need may be inside my organizationbut I
can't find it."
- "It's easier to quit this organization and get rehired than to
Comments such as these signal an organization in which workforce
planning could be much stronger. Budget requirements or the annual
operating plan - not strategic talent needs - drive workforce
planning in 69 percent of organizations, according to a recent
study (Sibson & Company's Strategic Workforce Planning Pulse Check Survey, June 2010).
Learning and development professionals can have a strong
bottom-line impact in their organizations by partnering with
business leaders and fellow HR professionals to create role
frameworks that drive workforce planning.
Even if your organization has no strategic vision for workforce
planning, frameworks can still support recruiting or training. For
example, a framework created two years ago for a large consulting
firm against an emerging market thrust resulted in a 10-fold
increase in the hiring pipeline. What follows is the story of a
similar recent effort by my consulting company to create a roles
framework for an emerging division of about 6,000 staff within that
What are role frameworks?
Roles and competencies (skill sets) are the two critical links for
talent management activities, and both are contained in the
framework. For each role, a profile contains a one-paragraph
description, a list of five to seven transferable skills, a
stakeholder in the business who is the "steward" for that role, and
a list of requisitions titles that have been used in the past that
map to this role (for recruiters' use).
Many organizations have broad-based competencies - time management,
task management, team leadership, and the like - that are useful
for performance management but don't go deep enough in defining
functional skills that align to career fields and the broader
For this project, we retained the general competencies, but used
these functional skills as an overlay. Likewise, the organization
had level-based titles; the roles we created were relatively
level-agnostic. For example, someone functioning as a test engineer
retained that role regardless of whether they were providing simple
testing or managing a large-scale, complex testing effort. A role,
then, was functionally focused and represented a cluster of like
jobs against which a similar skill set could be applied. The role
described the actual work done, not always the education and
experience of the person in the role. For example, if a physician
were assessing healthcare policy, that person was a "healthcare
What do role frameworks achieve for an organization? Frameworks
- establish a common lexicon and point of reference for talent
- allow organizations - either through searching for the role
titles or the skill sets or some combination - to determine demand
for talent needed (forecast), the supply (internal staff) of talent
available, and the gap between those
- allow people in the business to immediately identify roles,
skill sets, and training needs consistently across functional areas
- allow existing staff to easily identify with each other and
form communities of practice
- allow organizations to better identify the mega-communities in
which they play (and which they may need to participate in
growing), in the marketplace.
How do you build a role framework?
The approach to building the framework relied on efficiently
tapping nine months of existing hiring activity and client-facing
experts. The challenge was to create the right process through
which the wisdom resident in the business could emerge and be
efficiently captured. Before beginning work, we requested - and the
business provided - a part-time advisor (total 10- to 15-hour
commitment) and a full-time analyst from each of the five business
units in the division.
We embarked on three major steps, each taking two to three weeks:
- Create roles "straw man." Using descriptions of
services and a rudimentary list of skill sets from a recent
business planning effort, we met with the advisor and analyst for
each business unit in the first week to create a list of potential
roles. We also met with business unit recruiters to gain a sense of
actual hiring patterns and to gather fodder for writing
descriptions. Plus, where possible, the analyst referenced
industry-specific career models. The analyst then bucketed all
recent hires tied to that business unit into one of the resulting
roles to "litmus test" them. Any role that did not represent at
least 5 percent of the hiring volume of the business unit was
heavily discussed with the advisor - perhaps it was strategic or
aspirational and still needed to be included. The analyst drafted a
straw man (including descriptions and, in some cases, critical
skills) and reviewed it with the advisor.
- Drafted framework. The advisors chose a review
board made up a broad cross-section of six to nine experts across
the business unit. The analysts circulated the framework to the
review board members and requested specific feedback. About one
week later, all review board members met via teleconference in a
facilitated session to grapple with key items of feedback. After
the session, the analysts researched additional details and
produced a revised version. The analysts from all five business
units met weekly. From Week 3 onward, the analysts kept their
frameworks updated in a shared file and began to work through
overlap and learn from each other.
- Finalized framework. Each analyst shared the
resulting framework with the advisors and review board members. A
three-week "vetting" process ensued, orchestrated by the executive
sponsor, in which the framework was shared with all the top leaders
across the organization, Additional edits were made, in preparation
for forecasting hiring needs against these roles immediately.
What lessons were learned?
- As with all OD efforts, securing an executive sponsor - who
believes in the process and understands the impact of the outcomes
- is critical. In our case, this was the executive who headed the
creation of this 6,000-person business unit. He tapped the right
people at the right times, provided funding, and appointed a
veteran counselor to support a way forward against hurdles,
political or otherwise.
- It is possible to use lay people to craft roles and
skill sets (our analysts, in this case). Some are better than
others; strong guidance, coaching, and oversight are needed from
the project manager skilled in career development, competency, and
- Be prepared to repeatedly explain what a role is and how it is
useful. Many managers are only able to see the requisitions in
front of them for their work area - and will miss the forest for
the trees. Be patient. If you only raise their head out of the sand
a few inches, you've made change.
- Seek the 80 percent solution. Focus on the roles that are most
critical to the organization. Drive consensus, with the
understanding that the framework will be dynamic over time.
- Be aware of intersections and downstream impact on your
compensation system, training, career progression initiatives, or
requisition creation. Ensure you plan for these - so that the
framework's life continues after the creation project ends.