Part 4: Improving workforce capability

Workforce planning in Crown Research Institutes.

In this Part, we set out our findings on how CRIs were establishing workforce initiatives to improve their organisational capability. We discuss how the CRIs were:

We also set out our views on the CRIs’ approach to improving their organisational capability.

We do not have a set view on the systems or methods that CRIs should be using to improve their capability. We do consider that, as a matter of good practice, organisations should be following a planning process that enables them to examine their needs and risks and establish the most appropriate response to these. Figure 8 outlines some factors that organisations should consider when establishing workforce planning initiatives.

Figure 8
Considerations in establishing workforce planning initiatives

Interpret needs and risks Consider the options
What do workforce assessments show?
  • existing/potential skill gaps
  • potential loss of critical skills/knowledge
  • existing/potential risks arising from skill supply and demand
  • recruitment/retention risks.
What needs to be done?
  • gather more detailed information
  • internal/external skill development
  • collaboration
  • targeted recruitment/retention
  • different ways of working
  • better use of technology/information systems.
Does something need to be done? What will be needed to establish the initiatives?
What are the consequences of doing nothing? Which initiatives are best suited to the organisation's situation?

Addressing workforce risks

Each CRI identified similar workforce risks such as skill shortages, increasing competition for skills, loss of critical staff , and the ability to provide competitive pay. Most CRIs were establishing initiatives to address these risks.

All CRIs had initiatives designed to improve their workforce capability. Some common initiatives were:

  • building skills with leadership programmes, mentoring, and internal development opportunities;
  • establishing arrangements to ensure that crucial knowledge and skills were kept within the organisation;
  • using organisation structures to create development opportunities and establish career options;
  • promoting science as a career through student summer programmes, scholarships, participation in career days, and encouraging student visits;
  • taking a proactive approach to recruitment; and
  • establishing relationships with universities.

Five CRIs with more established or developing workforce planning were using a mix of these initiatives to ensure that they could find staff with the required skills and knowledge now and in the future. Their initiatives had a short- and long-term focus. The two CRIs in the early stages of their workforce planning and the two CRIs with developing workforce planning did not have a similar mix of initiatives or were just starting to set initiatives up. They recognised that they needed to consider options other than recruiting to improve their workforce capability. They were beginning to establish systems to support this.

Initiatives to develop leadership skills

Most of the CRIs were using leadership development programmes to some extent. Few scientists have exposure to leadership concepts through their science training so it can be difficult to find the combination of science and leadership skills needed in some CRI roles. Providing leadership development programmes helps staff to develop these skills and creates a pool of talent from which to recruit. Figure 9 outlines how one CRI, HortResearch, had established an effective leadership development programme.

Figure 9
HortResearch’s leadership development programme

HortResearch identified that many of its staff were highly qualified but had little exposure to leadership concepts. It considered that effective leadership was important in an organisation’s success. So it introduced a programme of modules, practical assignments, coaching, and peer assessments to help improve leadership skills.

The programme first targeted senior positions but has evolved to include team leaders and other staff with leadership potential. Focusing on the latter group allows these staff to develop leadership strengths before they progress to more senior roles.
Important elements in establishing the programme
A robust research base for its leadership programme
Internal workshops and literature reviews were used to identify characteristics that contribute to great leadership and were relevant to HortResearch. These characteristics formed the programme framework.
A programme focused on improving existing leadership strengths
HortResearch’s research showed that improving three or four leadership characteristics that were existing strengths could improve a person’s effectiveness as a leader. Improving existing strengths gives the programme a positive focus. A pre-programme assessment enables participants to identify areas that will be easiest for them to develop as well as any characteristics that may detract from their leadership abilities.
Programme content structured for easy and practical delivery
The programme content was delivered through short modules. The course content has practical applications and participants were encouraged to use everyday examples from their work. After completing a module, participants continued with periodic feedback and coaching sessions to encourage behavioural change.
A measurement framework for the programme
HortResearch collected data about the programme so it could evaluate progress and show the return on its investment in the programme.
Evaluation on a continuing basis
Programme evaluations allowed HortResearch to show improvements in performance and the value of the programme. As more people participated in the programme, the data base grew. Proving benefits using one’s own data is more meaningful for staff.

Using mentoring to develop skills

Seven CRIs were using mentoring to help improve their organisational capability. Formal and informal arrangements were being used to develop staff in the early stages of their careers so that knowledge and skills central to the CRI’s business would not be lost as older staff retired. Four CRIs reported using transition-to-retirement arrangements to keep skills within the organisation and encourage staff to pass on their knowledge.

Figure 10 describes some other initiatives to improve the organisations' capability.

Figure 10
Initiatives to improve capability

Organisational flexibility
Scion had established a model to distribute leadership across different roles. Under this model, a scientist could be a project leader in one area and a team leader in another. This approach exposes staff to different roles, helps skill development, and provides opportunities for career development. It helps to share and spread knowledge through the organisation, developing capability from within, and ensuring that knowledge and skills are not concentrated in one person.
A summer student programme
HortResearch offered summer studentships, where students apply to work on projects at the CRI. The programme was intended to be more than just a workplace experience, with students receiving an induction, career advice, coaching, and guidance. The programme focused on development and establishing a connection with students.

HortResearch created the programme to get students enthusiastic about science training, improve the students’ knowledge of the science industry, and regard the CRI as a potential employer.
A few CRIs were considering how their recruitment systems could be used more strategically to improve the organisation’s capability. NIWA was considering:
  • raising its profile as a potential employer through advertisements promoting the organisation rather than specific vacancies;
  • establishing an alumni organisation to maintain contact with former employees and use their connections in the international science community; and
  • establishing a database to record expressions of interest generated through these activities, so that when a vacancy arose suitable candidates could be notified and invited to apply.

Recognition and reward

Recognition and reward are important factors in attracting and retaining staff, and therefore in improving organisational capability. Most CRIs considered that it was difficult to provide competitive pay because they had limited funding. However, they acknowledged that pay was important in attracting and retaining staff. Eight CRIs had initiatives designed to reduce, within the available resources, pay disparities with the wider labour market. For example, one of these CRIs had established a group to review pay options after staff surveys showed that this was a retention risk.

Development opportunities and the working environment

To attract and retain staff, CRIs were aiming to provide development opportunities and an attractive working environment with a good workplace culture.

The CRIs considered that, while they might be unable to offer competitive pay to attract and retain staff, they could compete by offering development opportunities and an attractive working environment. All CRIs were providing staff with development opportunities and had initiatives designed to create an attractive working environment.

As well as leadership programmes and mentoring arrangements, common development opportunities were secondments, coaching, sabbaticals, study and conference leave, and individual performance development. Five CRIs had established internal programmes to support staff development by involving them in special projects. Staff benefited by gaining experience in project management, getting new skills, and by being able to establish their research reputation. CRIs benefited by improving capability and positioning themselves to have a mix of skills and experience that would attract funding. The CRIs were also using internal programmes to provide scientists with opportunities to pursue new ideas. We could see that some CRIs were aiming to provide initiatives that would support staff in different stages of their careers.

Many CRIs viewed establishing a good workplace culture as an important way of attracting and retaining staff. These CRIs were considering how to create an attractive working environment through organisational culture and the physical environment. All CRIs were offering a range of wellness initiatives, flexible working arrangements, family-friendly policies, and other benefits such as insurance, as part of their aim to provide a good workplace.

Figure 11 provides an example of how Scion uses its work environment as a way of attracting and retaining staff.

Figure 11
Scion’s approach to promoting work-life balance

Scion views work-life balance as critical in its ability to attract and retain staff. It actively promotes work-life balance as an important part of its workplace culture. The CRI off ers a mix of flexible working arrangements, health and well-being programmes, and support for staff with community commitments.
Elements in Scion’s approach
A culture that supports work-life balance
Trust and openness are important for flexible working arrangements. Staff need to feel that they are trusted to manage their time and deliver results without unnecessary scrutiny. Management shows its support for work-life balance and is open to trialling new initiatives. Senior support is important to keep the right balance between organisational needs and staff needs.
A focus on productivity rather than compliance
If flexible working arrangements are to work well, it is important to ensure job outcomes are still being met. The focus should be on productivity and reaching job outcomes rather than focusing on the specifics of employees’ timesheets.
A system to support productivity
A bottom line focus on productivity necessitates systems to ensure that productivity is being maintained.
The benefits
Scion considers that supporting staff to achieve work-life balance benefits the organisation. The right balance allows people to be more productive and feel more positive about their working life. Flexible hours are a central part of the CRI’s approach to work-life balance and is an alternative way for Scion to recognise the efforts of its staff.

Promoting work-life balance as part of a recruitment package is a way to compete with organisations that can off er better pay. With skills being sourced increasingly from overseas, it can be an important part of the recruitment package because people often consider the move to New Zealand for lifestyle reasons.

Assessing resources and integrating planning

CRIs were identifying the resources required to introduce workforce initiatives, and most CRIs’ workforce planning was integrated with business planning processes.

Most CRIs' strategic documents had clear commitments to workforce initiatives as a way to support reaching the organisation’s business goals. The CRIs with developing or established workforce planning had integrated this with business planning processes. The best examples of integrated planning had links between strategic plans, business plans, team plans, and individual development plans.

We were able to see how particular workforce initiatives linked to organisational capability development and reaching the organisation’s goals. CRIs in the early stages of their workforce planning had planning and initiatives that were less connected. However, these CRIs were starting to consider their workforce from a broader perspective and to set up systems to support this.

Our views on improving workforce capability

Improving an organisation's capability is supported by workforce strategies based on a thorough assessment of workforce needs and risks, and well-considered options for addressing those needs and risks. This enables organisations to invest resources more effectively by designing targeted initiatives.

In the best examples of workforce planning, CRIs were establishing initiatives to address skill shortages, create a supply of skills, and improve their organisational capability. We were encouraged to see that they were considering different options to deliver the mix of skills and knowledge they needed.

Because some CRIs did not have robust workforce information, there was a risk that their workforce initiatives did not effectively meet their workforce needs and improve their organisation’s capability. As we note in paragraph 3.17, improving the range and quality of workforce information will help ensure that workforce initiatives can be targeted effectively and efficiently.

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