Workforce Planning Profile Interviews 2012 - Adrian Hawes - WFManagement


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Workforce Planning Profile Interviews 2012 - Adrian Hawes

It is my utmost pleasure to present to you all an interview with Adrian Hawes, Senior Resource Optimisation manager at Aviva.

Not only do I consider Adrian a good friend, he is also my one time mentor and boss, he is an absolute guru in workforce planning and with over 11 years’ experience in senior planning roles he is one of the leading lights in the contact centre planning profession. To this end in 2010 the Professional Planning Forum ( awarded him a ‘Planning Hero’, to put alongside his many other awards and accolades of which I have listed some of them below;

  • 2011 - Professional Planning Forum - Accredited at "Professional" Status
  • 2011 – Professional Planning Forum – Innovation of the Year Award Judge
  • 2010 – Professional Planning Forum – Planning Hero Award Winner
  • 2010 – Professional Planning Forum – Innovation of the Year Award Finalist
  • 2006 – Professional Planning Forum – Innovation of the Year Award Judge
  • 2004 – Professional Planning Forum – Innovation of the Year Award Winner
  • Regular key note speaker, facilitator and panel member for PPF industry seminars

You can discover more about Adrian’s career to-date from his LinkedIn profile - Adrian Hawes (Profile)

Interview Questions

Can you briefly describe your workforce planning team? (Number of planners, agents, main activities)

I manage a team of 8 workforce planners – we plan for a large insurance claims operation which consists of over 2000 claims handlers (agents, team managers and technical managers). These claims handlers are spread across 8 UK locations and 1 offshore (India), whilst my planning team are all based together in a central location.

Each claims location is a “centre of excellence” which specialises in a particular type of claims handling. Some of these claims centres of excellence are heavily telephony based whilst others are primarily back office based or a good mixture of the two. No two centres are alike!

Our planning activities are tailored to meet the specific requirements of each claims centre of excellence and the nature of the work in each centre – and include:

  • Long term forecasting (up to the 3 years ahead but practically used up to 18 months ahead) – usually at a monthly level
  • Short term forecasting – either to a weekly, daily or intra-day level
  • Long term capacity planning and scenario panning
  • Short term capacity planning – usually to a weekly level in back office centres
  • Scheduling and hotspot planning
  • Provision of tools to enable the centres of excellence to manage real-time themselves
  • MI reporting and tracking relevant to our forecasting and planning

There are many planners aspiring to move to the next level. How did you develop your workforce planning skills to the point you were ready to start managing?

 In truth (and I believe this is key to development of planners today) it was largely through two main drivers

  • Trial and error – perhaps I was fortunate to be given scope to experiment and try things out without fear of failing – but it was a critical part of developing and honing my skills as a planner. To understand what will not work is as important as knowing what will.
  • Constant learning from and searching out best practice – my heavy involvement in the UK’s Professional Planning Forum gave me access to see what the industry was doing – seeing the great case studies of success whetted my appetite and taught me what could be possible – I used this as a big inspiration for what I wanted to try in my own organisation… sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but it never quashed my desire to learn more and experiment with it. I retain that same desire today – the day I lose it is the day I will give up workforce planning.

Mathematics plays a big part in workforce planning. Has this helped you build better workforce planning capabilities? And if so How?

I have no mathematical qualifications other than my ‘A’ levels gained some 25 years ago and I genuinely feel no worse off for it. One of the greatest risks to planners is that our work is seen as some great “black art” by our customers.

This is an area where I know I am slightly at odds with some of my peers in the industry. However, I am a firm believer that your customer needs to understand your plans as well as you do – if we shroud them in very complex mathematics we risk losing buy-in and then all is lost.

I would rather have a “simple” plan (ok, none of our work is truly simple!) that my customer understands, buys in to and will take clear, informed management actions as a result of it, than a brilliant piece of mathematics that my customer doesn’t “get” and leaves on the side of his desk to rot.

Now, I would by lying if I said that my team don’t use some reasonably complex tools. However, where we do use them, they are completely invisible to our customer – we focus on telling the customer compelling stories with simple outputs – preferably more words than numbers to drive those management actions I mentioned before.

What’s your greatest workforce planning success story?

I am perhaps best known for winning the UK’s Professional Planning Forum’s Innovation of the Year Award in 2004 for using workforce planning to completely turn around an ailing business and transforming it in to a high performing one. That was pretty much done through implementation of workforce planning.

However, I tend to be someone who doesn’t look back – thus my greatest story (I hope) is always whatever I am working on at the moment.

I am immensely proud right now of how my team have embraced Vanguard’s Systems Thinking methodology. This methodology has been adopted by the wider organisation as the “way things will be done around here”. When it first arrived it looked like it could be the death of workforce planning as we know it.

However, through adapting our planning approaches (including some of our modelling), he way in which we look at demand planning and the type of outputs we provide our customers we have been able to demonstrate that workforce planning has even greater value than the business previously thought. Far from dying, the demand for our support has grown enormously – and has never been greater.

If we had not adapted our approaches we would not have existed…however, now we are thriving beyond our imagination.

Sometimes there’s friction between workforce planning and operations teams. What’s the best way you’ve found to create positive interactions between these two areas?

There is no substitute for understanding your operation – in detail. Often this is tough when as a planning team you are based remotely from your operation but its essential. Thus my team spend time in the operation – not just talking to their customers – but spending time in the work to LEARN at first hand exactly what the frontline handlers and managers face on a day to day basis.

It is only through gaining this first hand experience that we can truly understand the demands placed upon them and how they handle those demands. By showing our customers that we are prepared to do this and subsequently that we have learnt about their business it creates a much better relationship. Not only that, it has enabled my team to tailor their outputs to the operation far more closely.

Following on from that it is a case of frequent, regular dialogue – being there when your customers need you and delivering to your promises.

I think a final but critical point here is that often the reputation of a workforce planning team goes before it…we can be seen as efficiency drivers, cost cutters etc. Yes, those things can ultimately be true but it’s not our true purpose. Our purpose is to ensure the operation is right-sized for the demand it has to service, and to enable that demand to be serviced in a way that is right for the end customer and our business, and the people in the operation. The more you can demonstrate this as your core purpose (rather than the “efficiency driver”) the more your operation’s customers will welcome you in.

What are the most important skills workforce planners need to be successful?

There are many but my top ones would be:

Perseverance and self belief – to do the right thing for the customer, people and the business – and to keep going despite the failures and knock-backs we all get along the way

Curiosity and courage – to try out new approaches, not fear failure and to constantly ask the “why” question. Also the courage to “take a punt” when the time is right – sometimes we simply won’t have the information/data etc that we’d like but as planners we should have an intuition and be prepared to put our heads on the line and take that punt – and not be scared that it might be wrong

Communication and conviction – the ability to translate complex models and numbers into simple, compelling stories that their customers understand and take action on

Business understanding – to know their operation inside and out and at a level that instils confidence in their customers

Managing relationships – being able to bring all interested parties together to get a consistent message and consistent outcome across the operation you support

Confidence in working with numbers – we work with numbers all the time so it almost goes without saying that this is a key skill – call it numeracy, analysis…whatever you like – but it ultimately comes down to having confidence in the numbers you produce

If you could teach all the workforce planners in the world one thing, what would it be?

To have a hunger to constantly keep learning….from the new person who has just joined your team, from the people you work with every day, from the wider industry around you – there is an unending source of learning for planners today,

We are still a relatively immature industry – no-one has all the answers. However, there are people and organisations doing great things – get out and see them and talk to them. Use and adapt what others are doing to improve your own team – there is absolutely nothing wrong with plagiarism.

The day you stop looking for that learning (inspiration) is the day you and your team stand still… and that’s the day that your organisation will start to question the value you bring.

We are planners – we need to be one step ahead all the time – we can do that by supporting each other across the industry – sharing what’s great (and what’s not) and constantly raising the bar.

What do you see is the biggest current challenge for workforce planning teams? Over the next 5 years?

Biggest current challenge:
Professionalism – workforce planning is a specialist role yet many organisations think that anyone can do what we do. We don’t have the “stamp” of professionalism that other specialist roles have – for example HR, Finance or Marketing professionals.

Workforce planning teams need to constantly raise the bar in what they are doing to demonstrate more and more tangible value in their own organisations and then drive the industry to recognise that value and to recognise us as professionals in our own right alongside those other areas I’ve mentioned already.

Whether we need specific professional qualifications to support this is up for debate (I personally believe that we do) but we deserve to be seen on an equal footing. Achieving this would help us in a number of areas not least in securing funding for specialist training and development for planners but also in ensuring we retain our talented planners and give them a clear career path.

Workforce planning must be seen as a long term career not a short term stepping stone for something else.

Next 5 years:
Delivering a mature workforce planning model across the whole end to end enterprise – including back office, field force and retail.

It’s fair to say that “call” centre workforce planning is relatively mature – most organisations do it to a reasonable standard – it will continue to evolve but I don’t see a “revolution” in this space.

Our challenge is move – at pace – on getting the same (or better) level of planning in place in all those other parts of our organisations. Some companies here in the UK have delivered some great techniques in back office and one or two have managed it in field forces. I’m not convinced anyone has truly made it work across their end to end business fully – and that’s the challenge.

It requires us to look at demand in different ways to how we have in the past in our call centres. We will need to understand the complete relationships between the different areas of our enterprise, what drives failure demand and how to maximise the value in each demand/contact.

It’s a great challenge and one that can draw on some of the brilliant successes that have been seen in different sectors up to now.