Leveraging Coaching with Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP)

By: Micki Lewis MS-MOB, PCC

Part 1 of 2        

Coaching can be an effective tool during a Strategic Workforce Planning initiative. There are various ways to include coaching


with Strategic Workforce Planning and these ideas will be explored in two articles. The first article – Part 1 – we will define what is Coaching and what is Strategic Workforce Planning along with how to immediately apply coaching in a broader sense in group and 1:1 settings. The second article – Part 2 will dive into a specific Strategic Workforce Planning Model. Based on that model, we will discuss how coaching and facilitating in a coach-like manner enhances the SWP process.

Coaching Definition

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Highly effective coaches ask high-gain questions (questions allowing their clients to pause and think) enabling clients to move through situations empowering them to find their own solution(s). This approach supports more motivation to move to action. Coaches are educated NOT to tell the client what to do – that role is that of an advisor, consultant, expert or mentor.

There is some confusion around the distinctions of being a Mentor vs. Coach. Sometimes companies are looking for a coach with a specific industry or position title experience. That request would be considered to be request for a Mentor not a Coach. Mentors can use coaching as a method to support their Mentee. Skillful Mentors can be effective at asking questions and listening, YET many just want to tell their client or coachee about how they handled a situation and do all the talking. Coaching was designed differently – coaches DO NOT need to know the industry or situational expertise to be effective.

Coaches may brainstorm ideas or share different perspectives with the client – ideally the client shares their ideas first! In a perfect world, coaches have had formal coaching education and are certified by the ICF (International Coaching Federation) or a Formal Coaching Institution.

What is Strategic Workforce Planning?

Describing the overview of Ms. Tracey Smith’s book, Strategic Workforce PlanningGuidance & Back-Up Plans,

“Strategic Workforce Planning aims to proactively plan to put the right people, in the right place, at the right time at the right cost in order to mitigate workforce risk.”

Another definition on SWP is from the US Government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM).[1]

“Workforce Planning is the systematic process for identifying and addressing the gaps between the workforce of today and the human capital needs of tomorrow. Effective workforce planning enables the organization to:

  • Align workforce requirements directly to the agency’s strategic and annual business plans
  • Develop a comprehensive picture of where gaps exist between competencies the workforce currently possesses and future competency requirements
  • Identify and implement gap reduction strategies
  • Make decisions about how best to structure the organization and deploy the workforce
  • Identify and overcome internal and external barriers to accomplishing strategic workforce goals”

So how might a company use coaching to align and support Strategic Workforce Planning?

Below we will share a couple of ideas of how to leverage coaching with Strategic Workforce Planning in both a group and an individual setting.

Group Work:   Process Facilitation | Team Coaching

Being the facilitator of the SWP process, you may want to employ a coaching style approach; being present in the moment (having no distractions), listening intently, focusing on one person or one question at a time, stopping or returning back to a point of interest, reflecting or repeating back what was said so all can hear the questions and inquire more for clarity. These elements will assist you in gaining trust with the participants moving the process forward (or backward sometimes!) with ease.

You may want to access a couple of additional resources in being an effective facilitator.

  • The International Association of Facilitators can also assist you with other facilitation techniques to learn.
  • You may want to refer to Tuckman’s Group Dynamics Theory [2] as a coach facilitator for more ideas to support you as you facilitate. His 4 Stage model will give you added patience in understanding what stage the group is situated at a particular time in these sessions!

Additional Coaching Techniques while Facilitating

Turn on your internal radar, pay attention to your intuition, listen to what they are saying or not saying and look for those non-verbal clues.

  • At the beginning
    • As you set your ground rules, be sure everyone contributes to the ground rules and discussion. It is your role to ask those who may be a little quiet to add in their thoughts or comments.
  • Throughout the SWP process
    • Continue to ensure everyone contributes in the conversations.
    • Check the pace and attitude of who may be speaking. Everyone communicates differently. Some participants in the SWP process may speak quietly and slowly, and some are excited and sarcastic. These may be their norm. Note it.
      • Listen and distinguish subtle changes as participants speak and gesture. These subtle nuances might give us more insight to dive into or stop at a particular point or back up from a point in the discussion if you noticed people have shut down.
      • As much as our role as a coach facilitator is to draw them back into the conversation we also may have to be courageous and identify the “elephant in the middle of the room.”

These small, yet important elements might then change your line of questions into a different direction or help you to help them explore more of their thinking.

Individual Work: Formal 1:1 Coaching

The majority of your time during the SWP will be in a group setting. There may be instances where you will be side-bar requested for HR/OD support or 1:1 Coaching.  You may work with a leader who wants to work with you to create impactful actions or to grain traction and momentum for implementation. See these opportunities to open a conversation educating the participants around coaching for themselves or maybe they have an interest in having a team member be coached. Nevertheless, always being open to a conversation speaks volumes of who you are a person, a leader and a coach. Hats off to you!


Let’s not forget acknowledgement and celebration. Too many times we forget both of these very important aspects when facilitating and coaching.

As a group – time to acknowledge the SWP Process, what worked, what we’d like to do differently next time, will then allow participants to WANT to come back and continue the process either on a quarterly, bi-yearly or yearly basis.

On a personal note, one memorable ending of a workshop I attended was all about acknowledging others:

This activity was prefaced at the beginning of the gathering, to prepare participants to be aware of others and identify “special” elements or characteristics about each other throughout the session.  At several points during the 3-day session, the leader reminded participants to listen for the strengths in others and collect positive attributes, what stood out, what ideas gleaned or similar sentiments of what they valued from each person in the workshop.

Additionally, the leader would mix up the group so everyone would work with each other during different exercises to get a sense of each person in a smaller setting.

Each participant was to write their thoughts on the blank index cards located on each of the tables.  The leader had an envelope for each attendee at her desk.   Attendees were suggested to place these index cards inside the appropriate envelope at the facilitator’s table anytime throughout the session.

At the end of the session, the leader distributed the envelopes to the appropriate group member and requested each to share one of their index cards with the entire group.  This exercise ended the workshop with shining a light on how each was touched by others in the room.  These participants were then able to extend this personally enriched setting reviewing and enjoying the memory of the session for a very long time!


Stay tuned for part 2 including Strategic Workforce Planning framework Models and going step by step with one model – aligning specific phases to definitely leverage coaching.

IN the meantime, to discuss your strategic workforce planning needs, consult with Micki.



  1. Chapman, Jill Marie Chapman JD, SWPC, CEBS Certified HCI Strategic Workforce Planning Facilitator. Presented SWP to CODIC (Community of Organizational Development Professionals in Chicagoland), January 9th, 2016. Benedictine University, Lisle, IL
  2. HCI Human Capital Institute’s Strategic Workforce Planning Certification. Found online: http://www.hci.org/hr-training-courses/strategic-workforce-planning
  3. ICF – International Coach Federation coaching definition. Found online: http://coachfederation.org/about/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=844&navItemNumber=617
  4. International Association of Facilitators: https://www.iaf-world.org/site/home
  5. Rand Report and SWP Model: A Four-Step Process for Workforce Planning Page 31 Figure 4.2, Found online:   Rand Report on Strategic Workforce Planning 2004.pdf
  6. Smith, Tracey, BMath, MASc, MBA. Strategic Workforce Planning; Guidance and Back up Plans. Found online: http://www.amazon.com/Strategic-Workforce-Planning-Guidance-Back-Up/dp/1478317175
  7. Smith, Tracey, BMath, MASc, MBA. Found online: http://www.numericalinsights.com/
  8. Strategic Workforce Model: Found online http://www.numericalinsights.com/index.php/workforce-planning
  9. Tuckman, Dr Bruce T, “Forming Storming Norming Performing” model, 1965. Found online: http://www.businessballs.com/tuckmanformingstormingnormingperforming.htm
  10. US Government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM)   https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/human-capital-management/reference-materials/strategic-alignment/workforceplanning.pdf

[1] US Government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

[2] Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s model explains that “as the team develops maturity and ability, relationships establish, and the leader changes leadership style. Beginning with a directing style, moving through coaching, then participating, finishing, delegating and almost detached.”

Tuckman’s Four-Stage Model:                §   Forming    §   Storming   §   Norming    §   Performing

Stage 1 – Forming: In this case completing a SWP session – the team comes together, ground rules are created. Group leans on facilitator or leader for guidance and direction.

Stage 2 – Storming: Sometimes decisions and creating scenarios may take a little longer to produce. Patience for everyone is a necessary practice during this time.

Stage 3 – Norming: Decisions, commitment and working together evolve and become less tense and a bit easier.

Stage 4 – Performing: Team is more aware, look after each other more and act for the whole and as a unit for success