Critical Roles (As Well as Skills) Still Play an Important Role in Workforce Planning | Brian Heger

Workforce Planning

An organization’s ability to identify and plan for its critical roles—sometimes called pivotal roles — is an essential component of workforce planning and talent management. And while there has been a much-needed shift in expanding our view of “work” beyond the limitations of roles (e.g., skills and tasks), critical roles can still play an essential part in an organization’s workforce planning. However, organizations often hit common traps in identifying critical roles, such as including criteria that don’t best indicate a role’s criticality. These less relevant criteria range from, a) basing a role’s criticality on job level (e.g., only looking at executive level roles), b) determining criticality based on how difficult the role is to fill, and c) basing role criticality on the person who occupies the role (the incumbent) rather than the role’s impact on creating value for the organization and other stakeholders. As HR, workforce planning, and talent management practitioners help identify critical roles for their organizations, I still think some of the best thinking on this topic is captured in Mark A. Huselid, Richard W. Beatty, and Brian E. Becker’s 2005 Harvard Business Review article, “A Players” or “A Positions? The Strategic Logic of Workforce Management.” Page 3 of their article provides one example of how to differentiate critical roles from others in the organization. As I mentioned in my 2019 People + Strategy article on strategic workforce planning (SWP), using skills and roles as the basis for SWP can enable more impactful SWP than using skills or roles alone; the extent to which each should be integrated into SWP will vary by organization and depend on how they structure and organize work.