Why will a workforce model improve your agency’s performance?

Workforce planning – determining the size, composition, organization, and deployment of a workforce – is critical to organizations of all sizes, scales and missions. The performance of an agency or organization suffers for several reasons, to include organizational inefficiencies, improper staff size or lack of the required skills or expertise.

In the Federal government, there exists a legislative mandate for workforce planning. The Government Performance and Results Modernization Act (GPRAMA) requires federal agencies to create and publish a human capital strategic plan that aligns an agency’s workforce with its overall mission and objectives.

Fulfilling the GPRAMA mandate, and pursuing workforce planning generally, is a challenge for Federal agencies. The ability to link human capital strategy, workforce, mission, and strategic objectives together – is more difficult than managing a workforce against a bottom line.

The bigger challenge facing an agency or organization is in maintaining the connection between workforce and mission. Your organization’s mission requirements and operating environment can change rapidly due to new electoral changes, new legislation, regulatory churn or other political events. Your agency or organization’s workforce needs to evolve with changes in the mission and operating environment. A workforce model is a primary tool that your agency can use to keep workforce planning current while maintaining a close link between your workforce and your agency or organization’s mission and strategic objectives.

Federal agencies and organizations can plan their workforces through two different mechanisms: a single-point study or a workforce model. A single-point study provides a fixed, static view of workforce requirements. With a single-point study, you can evaluate your workload requirements and then match the “right” workforce to those requirements. You may learn what the optimal size and composition that your workforce is now, but what if things change? A new program may, for example, be introduced, or new legislation may create a new mandate for your agency. In a rapidly changing operating environment, single-point studies can quickly become stale. You can waste a lot of time, effort and energy studying and restudying your workforce even as the mission and operating environment are shifting.

In contrast, a workforce model is a dynamic tool that allows Federal agencies to plan and re-plan their workforces quickly, accurately, and effectively.

To build a workforce model, you must first identify the unique workload drivers for your agency, or for individual pieces of your agency. For instance, what are the factors that create workload and change the number of people that you need? In many organizations, for example, it is possible to predict human resources workload by the total size of the workforce, and as an organization grows, HR workload grows as well. These workload drivers become inputs into a workforce model. The outputs become information about your workforce needs – total headcount requirements, of course, but many models can also yield insights into competency needs, pay grades, organizational structures, and other key workforce planning concepts.

The critical difference between a workforce model and a single-point study is that the inputs (the drivers of workload) are adjustable. You can account for changes in your agency’s mission requirements or operating environment by updating the inputs in your workforce model. Your workforce model will then provide a new picture of your workforce requirements. This requires that your workforce model have the right inputs. The model must be based on meaningful workload drivers – which can be analytically and conceptually difficult to ascertain. However, once this hurdle is cleared, a workforce model is vastly preferable to a single-point study for your long-term workforce planning needs.

What are the key benefits of a workforce model?

A workforce model requires some investment of time, energy and often additional upfront expense – it is harder to build a workforce model than it is to study the workforce. Identifying workload drivers, determining the relationship between workload drivers and workforce needs, and creating a model interface are difficult and take time. So, what is it about a workforce model that justifies the investments in its development? The benefits of a workforce model fall into three categories: performance, speed, and innovation:

  • Performance – Workforce models provide a dramatic increase in workforce planning capabilities over a traditional single-point study. By having an adjustable set of inputs that are based on true, tested workload drivers, a workforce model allows you to keep your workforce plan and human capital strategy current in the face of changing mission requirements or operating environments. A workforce model will also help you get out ahead of any future changes. By choosing inputs based on what could happen in the future, a workforce model lets you test various scenarios and plan forward so that you know how to adapt your workforce even before changes actually occur.
  • Speed – Workforce models let you rapidly plan and re-plan your workforce while eliminating the churn of studying and re-studying the workforce. At one federal agency, we found that the average time to conduct and validate a single-point study was 18 months. This example was only the average, and there were other examples of 2-year or 3-year studies. Many offices were continually studying their workforce because the length of time required for a study meant that the results were already invalid by the time the study was concluded. The introduction of a workforce model dropped the time required to approve workforce requirements to less than a month. You can expect similar results in your agency, and a workforce model will enable you to be more nimble and efficient in planning out your workforce and in keeping your workforce plan current.
  • Innovation –  Workforce models are often used by centralized human capital, or workforce planning, offices within federal agencies. However, they can also be made available to programs and offices located outside of the headquarters. Although version control and consistency are important, allowing the broad use of a workforce model encourages innovation and new thinking. For example, at one Federal agency, we found that 11 acquisition programs were required to use the same workforce model to generate headcount requirements. In one program, the agency began to use the workforce model to assess general position descriptions and job roles. Another program taught how to drive workforce effectiveness by reducing the workload associated with lower-value activities (e.g., streamlining a laborious travel request process). You can drive this type of innovation through a workforce model that provides new insights into the workforce.

Are all workforce models created equal?

The short answer is no. There are lots of high-quality workforce models in use at federal agencies, but there are also models across the federal government that underperform for a variety of reasons. Based on our workforce modeling experience with dozens of agencies, Censeo has developed a simple tool to help you evaluate the effectiveness of your model. A workforce model must be based on a solid foundation of baseline data. It must have rigorously identified inputs, and its logic should be independently validated. It should provide a variety of outputs – not just an overall workforce estimate – and its outputs should be used in the core business process within the organization. It should be easy to use, easy to adjust and update, and its use and updates should be managed effectively. Not every workforce model meets these high standards – in fact, most don’t – and models can still provide value if there are gaps in certain areas. If your model isn’t perfect, it’s not “wrong” – far from it – but there may be some significant areas of improvement.

See How Your Current Model Stacks Up Against Workforce Modeling Best Practices


Managing Director