2019 WFM Spotlight Interview – Sharmaine Dickson

With three great WFM spotlight interviews recently posted in this series, taking us from Mexico to Argentina to Estonia we now land in Canada. In case you missed them check out the other interviews in this series CLICK HERE for Guillermo Edén Rangel López Interview, CLICK HERE for Mariano Samamé Interview, & CLICK HERE for Marc Bainbridge Interview)

This spotlight interview is with Sharmaine Dickson (Linkedin Profile Link), out of Toronto Canada.

Can you briefly describe your workforce planning team and your role in that team? 

My current workforce planning team supports 200 contact centre employees including customer service representative, support teams and the supervisory team in a publically funded 24 X 7unionized environment.

Our team is a bit different than most workforce planning teams I’ve previously worked on.  For the years 2017 to 2018 the team consisted of one reporting analyst and myself.  Our team has now grown and is a blend of WFM team and operations team. It consists of two WFM Supervisors, one Operations Supervisor and one reporting analyst.  We own all workforce functions such as analytics, capacity planning, scheduling, vacation planning, service level management and reporting as well as operational functions such as coaching CSRs and managing their productivity.  Finally, we are the points of contact to troubleshoot and escalate telephony and other technical support issues. I lead the scheduling, capacity planning and FTE analytics activities.

There are many planners aspiring to move to the next level. How did you develop your workforce planning skills to the point you were ready to start managing?
The most important step I took to develop my workforce planning skills is by asking a lot of questions. That’s how I gained an understanding of what’s and why’s.  Dissecting excel formulas to understand the math and to gain a deeper understanding of complex calculations. I also led project, drove process changes, participated on committees and I actively contributed to meeting conversations at all levels.  All these activities have contributed to my success and provided the exposure to senior leadership.  

I have been described as a natural leader who takes pride in developing those who I work with. I’ve always been open to share my knowledge and this led to others moving into more senior roles and increasing their analytical and WFM expertise. To move into more senior roles I trained others on what my current role was and then focused on taking on work from my senior workforce planners. One thing you must never forget is that as you move into more senior workforce planning roles, you are sometimes so far away from the process, so take a step sideways and don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeve and do the hands on work. This helps a ton in keeping your workforce skills current and fosters a great relationship with your team.

Finally, the most important was building relationships at all levels and functions.  Business Stakeholders, Finance, Operations, IT and customer service representatives. Get to know everyone and build relationships.

Mathematics plays a big part in workforce planning. Has this helped you build better workforce planning capabilities? And if so How?
Mathematics and thinking logically has been a huge help. Knowing the math required and finding simplified functions in Excel to do the calculations, has contributed to building robust capacity models, simplified reporting and has help me to organized large volumes of data. If you want business buy in, you need to understand the math behind the calculations.  Be warned, you will be challenged by the business. Know your math 
What’s your greatest workforce planning success story?

I actually have two success stories both of which I’m proud of.

My first greatest workforce planning success story is that I knew nothing about workforce planning when I first started working as an Analyst. I built a relationship with a scheduling analyst in the US while living in Canada. When I was offered the job as a Workforce Analyst for the same US based company she worked for, I knew I had her support to help me learn how to use EWFM. To my surprise, she resigned from the company just before I started. I developed my expertise by learning from others. I drafted a learning plan for myself and each week I would meet with someone on my team to learn 1 function. I took the best methodology from each person to grow my expertise.

My second story: I worked remotely from my home office in Canada supporting WFM teams in Asia and Africa. The WFM teams used Excel to schedule and monitored real time adherence manually. My goal was to roll out eWFM and RTA applications and processes to these teams to allow a global view of all teams worldwide. There was a lot of resistance by these remote teams. My approach was for them to continue to function in their current state and I would simultaneously enter their data in the eWFM tool to demonstrate the value of eWFM applications. After all, how could someone who was many miles away tell them how to manage their business? I did not know the culture of the countries I supported, so I invested time taking online course to understand the cultural differences and characteristics on how decision were made. It helped me to understand their resistance to change and helped me to work more cohesively with each country. This eventually led to me rolling out WFM processes, applications and helped to build strong relationship with the businesses I supported globally.

Sometimes there’s friction between workforce planning and operations teams. What’s the best way you’ve found to create positive interactions between these two areas?

Involve them in decision making and providing input to assumptions used to calculate FTE. Also I’ve found that taking a step back and brainstorming some of their pain points has gained trust and strengthened relationships.

What are the most important skills workforce planners need to be successful?
Soft skills are very important to be successful in workforce planning.  It’s not always about the math and formulas.  
      The ability to build relationships at all levels 
      The skill to influence key stakeholders
      Don’t take it personally approach 
Other skills:
      The ability to think outside the box
      An analytical and strategic mind set
      Dealing with ambiguity – sometimes things get thrown at you with little or no information. You need the ability to figure things out and know how to get it done.

      Openness to doing things differently

If you could teach all the workforce planners in the world one thing, what would it be?
I would teach them the importance of gaining trust and being able to respond to what’s and why’s from the business.  Always show confidence in the work you present…For example, if the correct assumptions are not built into your capacity model, your schedule model will not support your service level targets resulting in a negative internal and external customer experience. When service is poor, it all goes back to bad planning. You can lose credibility with your business partners.
What do you see is the biggest current challenge for workforce planning teams? Over the next 5 years?
Biggest challenges now
ü  OMNI Channel – forecasting — how does one channel influence the other?
ü  WFM applications don’t have the functionality needed to support all workforce planning functions. Some are good at one thing but not great at all. This results in using more than one application/model.
ü  Compatibility with workforce applications and payroll applications.
In the next 5 years,
ü  Changes in Technology with the introduction of Artificial Intelligence
ü  How do we FTE plan and volume forecast for AI?

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