Developing and Retaining Workforce Planners

By Rick Seeley, Conduent

Workforce planning personnel are the hub of the contact center. Yet often the center is so focused on attracting and retaining agents that little attention is paid to keeping talented workforce planners. This article explores effective strategies for hiring, training, developing and retaining talented workforce planners.

The Hiring Challenge

First-level training by vendors can teach employees what buttons to push to create a forecast and run a schedule. It takes an experienced workforce planner, however, to recognize forecasting and scheduling anomalies that put service goals at risk. For example, someone with limited experience may not think to include a schedule variance to accommodate a new marketing campaign.

Yet either because the center doesn’t see the need or simply due to budget limitations, many contact centers don’t employ an experienced, full-time planner. Instead, workforce planning gets added
to the supervisor’s laundry list of responsibilities, data entry staff gets moved into the position, or there’s a part-timer put in place. Whatever the case, without someone dedicated to staff planning, the workforce management system will be underutilized and the service goal attainment will surely reflect a lack of focus.

Develop from Within

If hiring an experienced planner isn’t possible, a viable alternative is to develop from within. The premise is to “borrow” floor agents for 60, 90, or 120 days and teach them the workforce management basics. Intern duties would include manning the call-out line, watching real-time screens, entering data into the workforce software, and gradually increasing their duties until they become fully proficient.

Not only does this internship method build a pool of candidates that would be able to fill a vacancy, it also builds a better appreciation and understanding of workforce management’s role in the company among the agent pool.

Hold Refresher Training

The majority of today’s contact centers have a workforce management process in place and use an automated system to power the process. When the workforce management system is initially installed, there is system training conducted for the base staff. Refresher training or knowledge expansion usually comes through peer training instead of formal, leader-led courses. When training is conducted through knowledge transfer instead of through formal training courses, it might limit the organization’s ability to proficiently handle the task using a best-practice method. So when there is turnover in the department, setup a refresher training course with the vendor instead of relying solely on a veteran employee to train a new planner.

Cross-Train the Team

Cross-training is also important. The planning group is usually divided into silo forecasting, scheduling and real-time management roles with little cross training between job functions. No cross-training equals missed opportunities for both employees and the company. For example, let’s say the department’s forecasting planner quits. If the other members of the team can’t perform the job proficiently, it will be difficult for them to fill the spot when it opens. As a result, career possibilities are limited and productivity is lost.

Retaining Top Performers

In today’s competitive job market, everyone is competing to be the “employer of choice.” Just as abysmal agent retention will hurt the organization; the workforce team can certainly make an adverse impact on the efficiency of the center.

One of the best ways to ensure retention in the workforce planning team is to structure the group in levels. For instance, someone entering the group may start off conducting real-time monitoring and then move up a job grade once they learn how to perform the forecasting and scheduling functions.

Remember, the same attrition issues the center faces in the agent population can arise in the workforce planning team. Don’t forget to build hiring, training, and retention strategies into the center’s plan.

Rick Seeley is a founding member of the Board of Advisors for the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals (SWPP). He can be reached via e-mail at