Workforce planning boosts training, opportunities

Posted on Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Learning how to work smarter is a key goal of the workforce planning initiative.

By Carol Sharpe

How often have we heard that change is the only constant? Because this is the case in any workplace, how do we equip ourselves to deal with change? This is an important question many of us may be asking lately, as we look months or years down the road.

The workforce is getting older, technology is changing what we do and how we do it and government is trying to grapple with bringing deficits under control and so has imposed rules designed to trim administrative costs in public institutions. All of these things affect McGill.

And they are some of the reasons behind McGill’s new Workforce Planning initiative.

“We’re really trying to make sure we work smarter and more efficiently and one of the best ways of achieving this is to make sure people enjoy what they do, know how to do it well and make the greatest contribution possible to the overall effort – whether it’s serving students, helping researchers or keeping the University running smoothly,” says Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance). “Our Workforce Planning initiative is really the first phase of a broader talent-management program.

“Ultimately – and this will take some time – we are trying to have all units on our campuses undertake a detailed assessment of their staffing needs, then work toward developing a staff complement that has the skills, capacity and expertise to meet their needs.

“And an overriding objective is to ensure that our employees have both productive and satisfying careers at McGill.”

Much of this has been thrust upon us. “As units and faculties face the ‘one-for-two’ program, brought about by budget constraints and Quebec’s Bill 100, teams are reflecting more than ever on the changing needs and expectations in their environment,” said Johanne Houle, Director of Organizational Development and an ambassador for continuous learning and career development. “In striving to meet evolving demands, we are seeing more and more effort made in trying to simplify work processes, ensure that cross-training occurs, and on getting more people involved in finding solutions. We’re encouraging people to consider what they can simplify and let go of, in terms of tasks, as well as how they most want to add value.

“We need to strengthen our capacity to plan for and adapt to change in support of McGill’s goals and priorities – whether this means streamlining and documenting processes, sharing best practices, mobilizing diverse teams, or investing in the skills development of our employees,” Houle said.

With the need to replace only one administrative staff member for every two voluntary departures, leaving fewer resources to deal with challenges that lie ahead, the timing is right to develop a more formal approach to managing McGill’s workforce. This first step, workforce planning, is a core component of a more comprehensive talent-management program, currently under develop-

ment in the context of McGill’s Strategic Reframing Initiative (SRI). Talent management is about having the right talent with the right skills at the right place. The hard work we are doing now, around processes and people, represents an invaluable investment in our individual and collective future.

The University has mapped out a more proactive, longer-term approach to talent management, by putting in place the building blocks to address change – starting with workforce planning.

This approach is based on three guiding principles:

• The opportunity for employees to sharpen their skills through training and development; to seek better alignment between their choice of job and their career aspirations, leading to employees more engaged in their work.

• The importance of all faculties and units working together to anticipate and manage change, breaking down silos to favour greater sharing of knowledge, skills and solutions.

• The importance of listening to what employees have to say: they have a unique, first-hand perspective and their input is invaluable in understanding stakeholder needs, establishing new structures and streamlining processes.

Three levels of support have been identified to help manage workforce planning across the University. Level 1 is self-directed, with tools and templates available as a guide, used as needed. For more information, visit, Level 2 focuses on basic capacity-building to sharpen skills through training and development of change agents responsible for change initiatives in the various units. Level 3 involves developing pilot projects with in-depth consultation and customized intervention from HR specialists, coupled with project management expertise to guide the initiative through training and coaching. Two pilot projects are currently being structured – one in the academic sector and the other in an administrative unit offering services to diverse areas of the University.

“To be the best – the most nimble, the most flexible and forward-looking – we have to be competitive with our peers, by hiring the best and giving them an outstanding work environment, one that will allow them to thrive and be productive,” Di Grappa said. “We are trying to do this by increasing the training and development of our staff and making important investments in technology. For example, I have set aside an additional $250,000 for training for 2012-2013.

“The Workforce Planning Program supports this by enhancing support to managers, and unit heads and offering to them a range of services and supports that will add value. These include, for example, an extensive array of courses in areas such as change management and process management and leadership development. In other particular cases, we are providing more intensive on-site support to assist with re-organization and large process change. I wish we could do more of the latter, but in this first year, we will use the pilot project approach to see how much can be accomplished.”

Updates will be communicated regularly to keep employees abreast of the areas that are undergoing major change toward a more nimble organization. In the meantime, use the following email address – – and your email will be forwarded to the right source for response.


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