Strategic Planning for Workforce Management
By Maggie Klenke
“Strategic thinking is about unraveling the mysteries of the chaotic world around us and harnessing powerful forces to our own ends. It means utilizing tools of analysis and tactics to take decisive and prudent action that gives us the best possible chance of achieving our objectives – whether those objectives are personal or professional.”
– Professor Stanley Ridgely, PHD of Drexel University
Strategic planning is often thought of as an exercise conducted by the senior level executives of a company or other organization. But it can actually be a powerful tool in setting and managing the direction of a department such as a contact center, a workforce management team, and even the life of an individual. We all know people who seem to have a plan for their lives, focusing all their energy on getting the education needed and rising to the top of their chosen profession. While their plan may not be as formal as the written strategic plans of a large corporation, the basic elements are present.
There are six essential steps to creating a strategic plan. They are:
- Mission, vision & values
- SWOT analysis
- Long-range objectives & strategies
- Short-range goals & tactics
- Monitor & control
As you begin the process of developing the plan for your center or WFM team, it is best to locate the overall plan for your organization. Each element of the departmental plan should link directly to one of the objectives in the enterprise plan and move it forward. In some organizations, the plan will be readily available, but in others it can be highly confidential or frankly non-existent. Nearly every large organization has at least a mission statement, but the details of the plan may not be published or available. Where there are any known elements, make sure to consider these in your plans.
Let’s start with the Mission Statement. It essentially is the statement about why this organization exists and what it is trying to accomplish. It may describe what products and services well be provided. Where possible it includes what is called the “Founding Myth” which is a bold, lofty and inspiring statement about the organization. For example, Coca Cola’s statement is “To refresh the world; to inspire moments of optimism and happiness; to create value and make a difference.” Notice how broadly this could be interpreted in terms of products and offerings the company might wish to pursue. Many mission statements are more finely focused than this, but this one
certainly meets the definition of bold and lofty.
The Vision statement provides the strategic intent, sometimes called the vision, dream, or big idea. This is essential to any powerful and effective strategy. It should inspire the team with an obsession to win and set stretch goals. If it is successful, what will the company accomplish over the long-term and how will it be perceived? A great example of a Vision statement is John F. Kennedy’s statement; “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.” The timetable was thought by many to be impossible but it inspired the dedication and effort that achieved the goal in even less time.
Another part of setting the stage for the plan is a Values statement. These state the guiding principles and behaviors that embody how the organization and its people are expected to operate including ethics and the treatment of customers and employees. Values might include such things as diversity, environmental protection, integrity, fairness, etc. By including these statements, you establish guidelines that will help the team to make the tough decisions.
Exploring some examples of how different Mission statements can guide a contact center might be useful. Let’s say that your enterprise is positioned to be the low cost provider in your market. The contact center plan would probably emphasize self-service options and back-office efficiency as well as finding ways to minimize the customer’s need for contact in the first place. However, if your enterprise plan states that it provides unique and valuable products and services designed to meet the specific desires of each customer, self-service is probably not the best option in the contact center. Now you will want to engage with customers and solicit their thoughts and ideas and communicate these to the product development team for customization. You might set a goal to “provide service few can match.” This is not a budget-squeezing call center but a true strategic partner in the organization.
Blue Ocean Strategy
Another kind of strategy that is gaining momentum is called the Blue Ocean Strategy (based on a book by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne). It is based on the idea that competing in the areas where there are a lot of providers is a cutthroat world with low profit margin potential. But moving out into a wholly new area can open up a much more lucrative opportunity. In this case you will want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Which of the factors that the industry takes for granted should be eliminated?
- Which factors should be reduced well below the industry’s standard?
- Which factors should be raised well above the industry standard?
- Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?
Applying this to your contact center will take you out of therealm of “industry standard” and into a search for that differentiating factor that will make your organization stand out and be more successful. For example, should you spend more time with agents in training to give fabulous service at the risk of slower speed of answer? Maybe follow-up outbound calls would help your customers to feel more assured that you really want to help
them resolve their issues? Perhaps even taking the time to make an outreach contact with every new customer to welcome them, explain their first bill and resolve any questions before they get a chance to call you?
Considering all of these points, develop a Mission, Vision, and Values statement for your organization (department, team, or for yourself). Think about who your customer is – it probably isn’t the caller unless you are the contact center manager. For example, in workforce management the customers are the agents who work the schedules, the supervisors and managers in the operations team who look to WFM for guidance and data, and the senior management team who is focused on finding the right balance of cost, customer satisfaction, and employee retention.
Make sure your statements link back to the enterprise statements and contribute to the overall goals.
The next step is the SWOT analysis. The letters stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. As you look at your internal environment, you will want to identify those areas that are strengths so that you can develop them and take advantage. Weaknesses are also areas where some attention could help to improve the performance. For example, you may have trouble finding talent to fill vacant positions in the WFM team or you might have the top of the line technologies at your disposal.
Looking outside of the organization, you will want to look for opportunities that you can exploit or threats that could cause problems. For example, there might be a regulatory change that would change your procedures or a competitor that is failing in a market you could take over. The SWOT analysis will serve as the foundation of the plans that follow, so you will want to be as explicit and complete in this analysis as possible. However, there are times when all you can do is make a reasonable assumption about what you expect the future holds. These need to be documented so that anyone reading your plan understands that these assumptions are part of the foundation.
This is a good point to take your plan to senior management for review. Getting their support for the basic Mission, SWOT, and Assumptions before you dive into the plans themselves will help to ensure that you are on the right track and that you have their support. It is not unusual to find that there is some confidential plan in the works at the highest level that cannot be disclosed directly but which affects your direction. Perhaps a site is being closed or a new product direction is in the development. While senior management may not tell you exactly why some assumption is not valid, just knowing that you shouldn’t use it will save you a lot of effort in the planning stage. Once you are in agreement on the plan so far, you are ready to begin the details.
The long-range plans typically consider three to five years into the future as you move toward that Vision of where you should be. The objectives that are stated are the end results that are expected, not the means to achieving them. The strategies, on the other hand, are the methods you will use to achieve the objectives. They may include multiple steps but it is important to ensure that these objectives and strategies are realistic, as you will probably be held accountable for their achievement once the plan is approved. For example, you may need to make a significant technology upgrade that will take a couple of years to accomplish, or perhaps there is a need to expand to another site. If turnover is a challenge, you may want to put an objective in place to reduce it by some specific percentage over the next three years. These are generally not things that will be finished in one year.
The short-range plans primarily focus on the upcoming budget year. They may be steps identified in the long-term strategies or be compete projects in a single year. For example, you might want to do a search for an appropriate city for the new site or develop a request for proposal for that new technology. The tactics to accomplish these short-term goals should be specific, time-bound, achievable, and have time and resource requirements defined. These short-range goals and tactics will serve as the basis of the next year of activities so should be detailed and realistic.
Presenting this complete plan to the senior management is the next step and it will set the stage for the budget negotiations that follow. If the plan has been approved, then the discussion about funding the items in it should be a bit less difficult than if the budget discussion is the first they have heard of your plans. Of course, don’t expect that you will get everything you ask for. There are limited resources and you have to compete with other departments and needs to meet the shifting priorities of the overall enterprise, but hopefully, you will find the development and approval of the budget a bit easier than before.
Monitor & Measure Results
As we all know, the best-laid plans don’t always work out as expected. It is important to monitor and measure the results ongoing. Determine if the plan is working. If it is not, then circle back to the SWOT analysis and Assumptions and see if you can identify what changed. Adjust as needed to achieve the desired results. Remember, strategy is a process. It is not a single event or decision but a series of thoughtful analyses that guides the direction of the organization toward its goals. While building a strategic plan for the first time can be a daunting task, when it is done, it is not to be put on the shelf and admired. It is living document that guides activities and should be constantly reviewed and revised as needed.
The benefits of the planning process include easier decision making, more likely budget approval based on projects that are pre-sold, a contact center and WFM department whose role in the organization is better understood, and a more cohesive team focused on the end goals.
Maggie Klenke was a Co-Founder of The Call Center School. She may be reached at email@example.com.