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Kingdom of Chaos: Domesticating Workforce Planning to Conquer Corporate Confusion

As soon as I stepped out of the Uber in front of my clients office, the stench of hot asphalt and exhaust fumes hit me like a punch in the gut. “Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come” I thought to myself as I made my way to the front door.

The client was a large, multinational corporation, and they had called me in to help them with workforce planning. They had grown fast and were struggling to manage their people and processes, and they needed my help to develop and implement strategies that would help them achieve their long-term goals and streamline their resources.

As I sat down with the client’s management team, I could sense the tension in the room. They were a group of highly intelligent, driven individuals, but they were also plagued by confusion and chaos. They had been operating in a state of perpetual crisis, with everybody stretched way too thin and an organisational structure that was no longer fit for purpose, and they needed a way out.

I began by explaining the underlying neuroscience and philosophy behind effective workforce planning. I talked about the importance of creating a sense of purpose and meaning for employees, and how this can help to improve engagement and productivity. I also talked about the power of social interactions and how it can be used to drive performance and innovation. I paused and asked ‘So, what do you think?’ There was a pause as they processed the information.

“I think it’s a load of horseshit,” came a voice from the back of the room. Suddenly, I missed the hot asphalt and exhaust fumes.

As I delved deeper into the topic, I could see that my words were falling on deaf ears. The client’s management team was too focused on their own internal politics and personal agendas to truly engage with the material. Or, I wasn’t delivering it in a way that was connecting. Either way, I needed a change in game plan and had to think on my feet.

It was like trying to teach calculus to a pack of wild dogs. I could see the confusion and apathy in their eyes as I rambled on about effective workforce planning. It was like they had never heard of the concepts of motivation, engagement, or purpose before. And honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they hadn’t. These were bottom line thinkers.

I realised that I needed to take a different approach if I was going to get through to them. So, I decided to use some metaphors to find some common ground and shared experiences. I abandoned all of the jargon and scientific language and started talking to them like they were actual human beings.

“Look, guys,” I said, leaning forward in my chair, “I get it. You’re all busy and stressed and you’ve got a million things on your plate. But let me ask you this: why are we even here? What’s the point of all of this?”

They looked at me like I had just sprouted a third eye. They were paying me, and I was the one asking what we were doing here. But I could see the wheels turning in their heads. They understood the questions. They were starting to engage.

“You see,” I continued, “your employees are not just cogs in a machine. They’re people with hopes and dreams and fears and aspirations. And if you want them to be productive and engaged, you need to tap into those things. You need to give them a sense of purpose and meaning. Otherwise, they’re just going to coast through their days, doing the bare minimum and collecting a pay check. We can do things to engage them on a deeper level. That means more engagement, more job satisfaction, more growth and development and, ultimately, more stability and profit in the organisation.”

I could see the lightbulbs going off in their heads. They were starting to understand that effective workforce planning wasn’t just about creating spreadsheets and filling in boxes. It was about creating a culture of excellence and passion. Put in the foundational work, focus on the people, and the business grows itself.

“And here’s the thing,” I said, my voice rising with excitement, “when you create that kind of culture, you’re not just improving your bottom line. You’re creating something that’s truly transformative. You’re creating a legacy that will last long after you’re gone.”

“Imagine your organisation is a kingdom,” I said, “and you are the king or queen. Your workforce is your army, and your strategy is your battle plan. Without a clear and cohesive strategy, your army will be confused and directionless, and you will be unable to achieve your goals. But with a well-planned and executed strategy, your army will be disciplined, focused, and unstoppable.”

This seemed to catch their attention. They leaned in, their eyes fixed on me, as I continued to weave my narrative.

“Think of your workforce as a wild animal,” I said. “If you try to tame it with brute force, you will only make it more aggressive and uncontrollable. But if you approach it with a gentle hand and a clear plan, you can domesticate it and harness its power for your own purposes.”

I could see the ideas beginning to take root in their minds. They started to nod their heads and some even started to write on their notepads. Time to use some visual imagery to bring it home.

“Developing and implementing a successful workforce planning strategy is like building a house,” I continued. “You need a strong foundation, solid walls, and a well-designed roof. Without these things, your house will collapse. But with them, you can weather any storm.”

I pulled out my trusty marker and got up to draw on the whiteboard. “First, you need a solid foundation of purpose and meaning for your employees. This gives them a reason to come to work every day, and a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. Without this foundation, your employees will lack motivation and engagement.”

I drew a square at the bottom of the board and labelled it “Purpose & Meaning.”

“Next, you need to build solid walls of positive reinforcement to support your employees,” I continued. “This means recognising and rewarding their hard work and achievements, and providing opportunities for growth and development. Without these walls, your employees will feel unsupported and undervalued.”

I drew two rectangles on either side of the foundation and labelled them “Recognition” and “Growth & Development.”

“And finally, you need a well-designed roof of strategy and planning to guide your employees towards long-term goals,” I said. “This means setting clear expectations and targets, and providing the resources and tools needed to achieve them. Without this roof, your employees will lack direction and focus.”

I drew a triangle on top of the walls and labelled it “Strategy & Planning.”

As I stepped back to admire my handiwork, I could see the lightbulbs turning on in the room. They were starting to see the big picture, and how all of these elements fit together to create a successful workforce planning strategy.

“So, now what do you think?” I asked, looking around the room.

There was another pause until… “I still think it’s a load of horseshit,” the same voice rang from the back of the room.

My heart sank. I knew there are always naysayers, but it still stung to hear it out loud twice in one meeting. It was time to unpack the objection.

“Why do you say that?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even.

“Because this is all just theory,” the voice continued. “What about the real world? What about the politics and the egos and the bullshit that we have to deal with every day? What about the storms your precious house need to weather? You don’t even have gutters on there!  And how are we supposed to implement all of this when we can’t even agree on where to have the Christmas party?”

I took a deep breath and walked over to the person who had spoken. I don’t actually mind people like this. In fact, I like them. Call me out. Tell me I’m wrong. Let’s work through it. Let’s find the truth in it. Disagreement means passion. Disagreement means engagement. Disagreement means they actually care. I just needed to make sure he cared about the right things.

“Look, I get it. The real world is messy and complicated. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make things better. We may not be able to control everything, but we can control how we approach the situation. And if we start with a strong foundation, solid walls, and a well-designed roof, we’ll be better equipped to handle whatever comes our way. Once we’ve built the house, it’s not hard to add on some gutters. And, if we build it big enough, we can even have the staff Christmas party there.”

There was a murmur of agreement from the room, and I knew I had them back on track. I hadn’t completely won them over, but now they were open to doing things properly. It wasn’t going to be easy, but with a little bit of grit and determination, we could tame the chaos and conquer the confusion.

And with that, we got down to business. We started brainstorming ideas and strategies, bouncing ideas off of each other and feeding off of the energy in the room.

By the time I left the meeting, the mood had completely changed. The atmosphere was electric. They were no longer a group of disconnected individuals, each with their own agendas and motivations. The guy who had called me out twice was one of the biggest drivers of change in the room. Everyone was a team again, united in a common purpose, the room was buzzing with energy and excitement.

As I walked out of the office, the smell of asphalt and car fumes kicked in again, but this time I felt a sense of satisfaction and pride. I had managed to turn chaos into order, confusion into clarity, and wild beasts into domesticated animals. And all it took was a little bit of neuroscience, a dash of philosophy, and a healthy dose of connection.

Until next time keep exploring, keep questioning and keep that prefrontal cortex firing.

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