Tracey Marsh, VP of Human Resources for the ESCO Division of The Weir Group, gives a detailed look at scenario planning and how to apply that method to workforce planning.
Tracey Marsh, VP of Human Resources for the ESCO Division of The Weir Group, gives a detailed look at scenario planning and how to apply that method to workforce planning.
In this interview with Judith Scimone, editor-at-large on the People + Strategy editorial board and SVP and Chief Talent Officer at MetLife, Marsh dives into the role of data and how to balance flexibility and discipline in strategic planning.
This episode of People and Strategy is sponsored by ADP. Join ADP at the second annual Women @ Work virtual conference on May 5th at 11:30AM EST. This complementary event will provide a platform for our audience to hear how the world of work is evolving for women in the workforce today. Visit ADP.com/events to register.
This episode is sponsored by ADP. Join ADP at the second annual Women@Work Virtual Conference on May 5th at 11:30 a.m. eastern standard time. This complimentary event will provide a platform for you to hear how the world of work is evolving for women in the workforce today. Visit adp.com/events to register.
Welcome. I'm Judith Simone, editor-at-large of the people and strategy editorial board. And I also happen to be the chief talent officer with MetLife. People and Strategy is the professional journal of the SHRM Executive Network, the premier network of executives and thought leaders in the human resources field. We advance the HR profession by engaging thought leaders and executive practitioners to create solutions and drive success for people and organizations. Today. I'm excited to talk with Tracy Marsh, vice president of human resources at Weir ESCO. The Weir group's ESCO division, engineers, manufacturers, and services mission critical equipment used by companies in mining and infrastructure markets. Today, we'll be discussing strategic workforce planning and the role that scenario planning plays in this process. Thank you for being here, Tracy.
Hi, Judith. And thank you for having me and letting me talk with you about this really important topic.
So let's get started. Tracy, even without the disruption of the pandemic, talent strategy was at the top of mind for many HR executives. You've got issues like generational turnover, a shortage of skilled workers, shorter employee tenures. The list goes on. How did you get your head around the type of workforce you'll need for the future?
Yeah, before we can actually even think about the workforce of the future, it's really about thinking, what will the business look like into the future, and being really deliberate and very clear on what we might be changing or evolving as an organization. And I know this sounds a little obvious, but it is an area that many businesses don't set time aside to actually think through.
It does require an understanding of the voice of the customer. It's also a bold move. I've sat with executives before and talked about what might five years look like, and they say, "Well, let's just think two years." And for those of us in the HR profession, we know that it takes certainly a lot longer than two years to develop and plan a workforce for the future.
So the first step is really about understanding what the business needs might be, and that also means thinking a little about the political and geosocial considerations. And an example here is in our South Africa location, we actually have government-mandated diversity requirements, for example. We've also got a lot of our clients currently asking what are we doing in the sustainability remit. So being able to factor in these very real either legislative or economic practicalities also gives us a picture of what type of workforce we might need to be successful two, three, five years out.
It's interesting, and it's definitely not lost on me that Weir ESCO is very highly technical organization, and populated with engineers and innovators. I'm curious to hear how you brought this scientific mindset to the process of scenario planning.
It sounds a little obvious here, Judith, but literally, we invite our highly technical and innovative thinkers to the table, and we actually engage with a very diverse group of employees in our scenario planning. So at ESCO, we have just over 3000 employees worldwide operating in over 50 countries, and as you've mentioned, engineering features very strongly is a key competency. We actually invite all of the different personality types to the table, so that when we are looking at what the future might hold, and how we explore our current workforce, and what the gaps and the development opportunities might be, we're actually having a broader conversation with a diverse perspective.
We actually throw ideas at a board. We build upon them. We ask the question, "What if?" We formulate options, and some of them are fairly left field. Some of them are more tangible, and towards the end of the sessions, we actually have some really great game plans in terms of who we have in the organization today, what the potential opportunities for development movement might be, and where we have gaps that we might need to leverage with external resources. So in all, it's actually a very fun process, and it allows people to leverage each other's strengths and to learn from each other.
I love that. I love how you brought the science in it, but also made it very fun and interactive. As I think about this scenario planning process, I'm curious to see what was the balance that you used between or that you found between discipline and flexibility?
Yeah, that's a great question, Judith. Both structure and flexibility are very key components in the approach that I certainly utilize. The structure allows us to have a beginning, and a middle, and an end, and the certainty so that the audiences and the teams that we're working with really understand what the clear deliverable will be. The flexibility and the creativity comes into our discussions when we challenge the status quo, when we have the diverse perspectives in the room, when we start thinking about what the future business might be, and the changes that might be required, and then the options that we start to think through.
So the flexibility is really built-in, in terms of scenario planning and solution thinking. The structure allows us to really segment each of those particular components, so that we don't miss anything, and we're not jumping ahead of ourselves.
I think it's probably also worth mentioning that at Weir ESCO, we are really firm believers in continuous improvement, and we're building on this fail fast mentality. And we try out new things, and we put ideas on the table, and we look hard at them. And we challenge ourselves, but it also allows us to be bold and creative, and to think through scenarios that perhaps previously haven't been tried and tested. And we give it a go, and if it doesn't work, we acknowledge that. We either build upon it, or we stop and we start again. So that's also pretty exciting, and keeps certainly the momentum moving forward.
This is great, Tracy. You certainly figured out how to make what might seem to be a very traditional process really engaging, business-focused, balancing science, flexibility, and process. It's really great to hear you walk through that. If you could take us through a little bit more about your planning process, for example, how do you determine the scenarios that you're going to examine? What data points do you look at, and how do you measure success?
Sure thing, I could talk to you for days on this, but I'll try not to. So the first thing we do is, we start with data and analysis, and by the way, this is not always an easy first step. Many organizations, ours included up until recently, did not collect all of our data in the one system, and it wasn't consistent. And we've all heard that saying "junk in, junk out." Therefore having consistent and quality data is really important to make sensible and meaningful decisions.
The type of information that we collect at the moment is really more of your standard demographics, tenure, age, diversity metrics, how often people are promoted, what types of promotions take place, at what point in the person's career. And that gives us a snapshot of the type of workforce that we're working with. It's actually interesting. In ESCO, we actually have some long-tenured employees and we're talking 30 or 40 years of service, and we also have multi-generational family members in the organization. So we have quite an interesting workforce.
We look at how many people are close to retirement. We look at how many new entrants are coming into the organization. We also look at attrition in terms of how long are the new entrants staying in the organization. And I'm actually hoping that as our data capture becomes a little more sophisticated in the coming years, we'll be able to incorporate information such as total rewards, in comp ratios, and looking at benchmarking practices just to give us another slice and perspective in terms of our workforce demographics.
So we do all of this work, and it's quiet work. We sit down, and we analyze information, and then we pull together reports. The second step is really looking outside of our own organization and starting to think about the market and the environments within which we work. So, as I said before, we have our political and our social economic factors. We also need to understand though the opportunities and the challenges within the areas where we work, and be able to plan appropriately, identifying resources, which may be needed into the future.
The third step is sanity-checking our analysis. So now we've got our internal data. We've got our external market and customer review, and now we sit with an executive who's involved in that area of the business. And we have a series of questions that comprise future-focused, as well as reflecting on historic successes. We ask the executive to think with us about what the future might look like. We present them with the data, and quite often that's actually the first time the executive has sat down and really looked at the data with that particular lens. And we ask questions about, what are the insights? What are the challenges? What are the potential opportunities that he or she might be seeing with this information?
The fourth step is to actually compile the analysis, the market reviews, and our executive interview input, and actually develop a picture in terms of what might we be able to achieve with our workforce planning scenarios. The fifth step is my favorite. This is where we actually bring the teams together in a workshop, and it's generally a one-day facilitated session. And in the COVID era, we've actually been doing these virtually. So that's added a degree of complexity, but it hasn't been impossible.
And we bring the leaders' teams in so that the thinking is expanded, as I mentioned earlier, to incorporate many different perspectives, experiences, and ideas. And this is where our potential prize is explored, and we deliberate. And the team dives into a better understanding of what the future might hold, what we're working with today in terms of our analysis of people and resources. And we look at the necessary skill sets, and competencies, and behaviors that we might need going forward.
We then identify projects, and we've had some great projects that we've worked on over the last few years. In some instances, where we've identified that attrition was high with new entrants... We were losing far too many people within the first 18 months of their hiring into the organization. So we actually built an onboarding program and buddy relationships, so that our new hires were actually well-supported, addressing the attrition issues. We've also developed some apprenticeship programs when our analysis has identified our technical skills required going into the future were not where we needed them to be. So even though we know that an apprenticeship program is a three-plus-year investment, we've started so that we can actually start to build internally the capabilities and the capacity that we need going forward.
The obvious measure, though, of ultimate success is the development of our workforce and the attraction of appropriate talent to meet our workforce needs. So whilst we develop our people internally very deliberately and very systematically, we're also wise enough to be able to bring in some external talent, and blend both the new perspectives and our current development approaches, so that we really do achieve and succeed in our future business.
That's great, Tracy. Thank you for sharing that. As you talk about the future, and you talk about this really systematic process to get to this planning, I'm struck by what we talked about earlier, which is how dynamic our world is becoming, and how uncertain our future is. And it's comforting to see that you're using this approach to still plan, still flex, and still think about the future in a real way as it relates to our talent.
But again, long term planning is becoming more and more difficult as our world becomes more complex and changes rapidly. How do you keep your plans flexible? How often are you revisiting the planning process?
We would generally review and refresh the strategic workforce plan about every two years. We will have quarterly check-ins in terms of the project milestones and success, with some projects being able to start and finish a lot earlier, such as that onboarding program, for example. That seems like a really straightforward and simple solution. It had not been identified prior to the workforce planning event, and once we implemented it, the retention rates improved significantly. So we achieved that. We didn't need to deliberate it on any further, and we moved forward. But there are a number of projects where we need to go in, and we need to check in and make sure that we're still heading in the right direction.
And then in terms of the overall business direction and the future that we had identified, as I say ,about every two years, we go in and we just dust off the data. We take another look at the market. We check in with the team and the leader in terms of have things changed, and COVID is an unfortunate example of how quickly things can change. And just validate other steps that we're taking, and the direction that we're heading is still valid. And if so, great. And if not, what tweaks and changes do we need to make?
If you don't mind, Tracy, I'd love to shift the conversation to you as an HR leader for a moment. You bring a depth of experience to the table, experience and expertise, including global experience. How does that guide your leadership style?
Yes, you're correct. Of my 20 years, I guess, in HR, I've spent maybe 15 years of those what I call on the road. So I've traveled the world extensively, and I've had the absolute good fortune of living in many different locations, and working with so many different individuals and different cultures. So I think I bring a global perspective to the table, and it's really helped me develop a keen eye and ear in terms of, I guess, some of the messages that are not necessarily always spoken. So some of the body language signals, being able to walk in and read a room quite quickly. Understanding, for example, in some cultures where yes actually means "I've heard what you've said. It doesn't mean I agree with what you're saying," and it just allows me to be a little bit more nimble in terms of the approaches that I take, and a little more broad, I guess, in terms of some of the responses and the perspectives that I can bring into a conversation.
I guess I'm also guilty for good old-fashioned straight talk. I am fairly clear and quite deliberate in terms of the messages that I like to communicate, and I like to make sure that we all have skin in the game in terms of ensuring that we're adding value. And in fact, just the other day, somebody asked me how do I know if that's going to be successful in terms of work that was being undertaken, and my answer was, when it adds value to the business or to the function, we know we're doing great work. And if we're not adding value, we don't do it. It's as simple as that.
Thank you for providing some of that perspective that comes from your expertise and your experience, particularly your global experience, Tracy. It's really, really insightful. Along those lines, what advice do you have for up and coming HR leaders, those who want to be CHRO in five or 10 years?
Well, this is a journey I'm finding myself very actively involved in at the moment, Judith. So I basically put myself into a state of learning where I'm often more uncomfortable than comfortable. And I actually think that we learn best when we are in an area of discomfort.
So I strive to put myself into zones where there are key learnings and lessons. I'm actually still developing my skill sets in this arena, Judith. Over the course of my career, I have challenged myself to develop new skills by getting involved in projects or areas where I'm in a learning mode. These experiences have been uncomfortable, but I find that often learning is generated where we are uncomfortable. And again, one of my sayings is we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I also believe that being transparent and acknowledging our strengths and also our development needs is really important as we continue to develop ourselves. I would encourage all developing HR professionals to continually ask for and then act on the feedback that they receive, leverage their strengths. I think it's incredibly important that we focus on what we do well and we build upon that, but also to be cognizant of any blind spots in any areas where we need to focus and develop ourselves.
I think specifically for the role of the chief people officer, we need to have a really clear understanding of the business landscape from an economic, financial, legal, and cultural lens. Holding conversations and being able to contribute really effectively in these areas will give us much more credibility. And therefore, I think it's important for us to make sure that we fine-tune our confidence and our comfort levels in all of these areas.
It's also fair to say that being a trusted business advisor continues throughout our entire career, and will also be an important skill set when we hit the chief people officer levels in our organizations. We need to be able to trust in our perspectives, but also be open to learning and new thinking. And I think blending our new ideas so that our approaches remain relevant, and we continue to challenge and work with our executive teams to push them into growth mindset arenas as and when appropriate.
Wow, such a valuable advice for anyone thinking about building their career in human resources. Thank you so much, Tracy, and thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us today. It's been really a privilege to hear from you and learn a bit about what you're doing in your organization to drive our function forward. Thank you.
Thank you for having me, Judith. It was a pleasure
For further information on the topics we've discussed today, or for further details on the SHRM Executive Network, please visit shrm.org. Thank you for being with us.
This episode is sponsored by ADP. Join ADP at the Second Annual Women@Work Virtual Conference on May 5th at 11:30 a.m. eastern standard time. This complimentary event will provide a platform for you to hear how the world of work is evolving for women in the workforce today. Visit adp.com/events to register.