Igniting new #Stories & old #Debates with #interdisciplinary approach


If few marvellous people work hard to put together some data or view; findings or suggestions; warnings to end the wrong or ground to start something new, the knowledge torch, if lighted must be taken through a thought relay around the world, just like we do with an Olympic flame(The flame emphasises the connection between the ancient games and the modern ones).

Workforce planning is not an easy maze. With lots of startups gearing up for the long run, and Goliaths, consolidating or re-innovating, this subject is no more just a Human Resource Dept/HR Professional’s concern. It has long before indicated at several instances and made experts realise the requirement of an interdisciplinary approach to set the team picture and the organisational chart right. Here I have tried to analyse the in-depth work of A Größler, A Zock from out of Germany perspective in 2017.

Considering one of the important findings of this study a relevant one till today- “the structure of the planning process generates cyclic phases of workforce surplus and shortage.” Corporates, today require an out of ‘service industry’ analysis of the same.


The paper discusses an important and relevant issue in current times faced not just by logistics sector but many other service industries. Though the title is succinct and to the point, the summary fails to clear where the real centre of gravity is: on workforce planning or factors that cause delays in aging chain. In case there is strong correlation between the two, gaps are felt in the summary itself. As the summary states impact of delays in recruiting, training and promoting employees on aging chain is a key finding in the study, there is no mention about countering such delays or supporting strategic decisions in this regard with dynamic modelling.

“….A case study from the service industry” The intro gives indication of research and application of the study in the entire service sector but later as the study builds up it pins down to a single logistics company in a specific country with no supporting about the generalization made. So the question: Study conducted is for all service sectors or just for the logistics company? remains unanswered. With claims like principal usefulness of system dynamics for HR management can be demonstrated using an aging chain model of employees in an organization and long term workforce planning decision can be enhanced using dynamic modelling, the paper presents a great value proposition by applying a concept in one discipline to another for solving a crucial problem.

A good connection is setup between supply chain management and human resource management by explaining their core structure and possible synchronization with clear demarcation of the extent to which it is possible.

The flow of the paper is lucid and framework of the study is well set. The paper structure is well constructed and beautifully connected but for a part of the main issue ‘optimal workforce planning’. To say, not just right number of intake at right times is important but right kind of people through right selection process hold equal weight when discussing about optimal workforce planning, which the researcher has completely set aside from the start (‘This paper does not address how the company selects trainees who have the ability to acquire the required skills and are motivated to remain in the organization for a long time’(Gobler and Zock, 2008:p.4).Assumptions made are not clearly defined like it is assumed that the company in consideration has well placed and tested recruitment process, retention plan and motivating work environment. The conditions required for the study to be relevant in other cases demands more clarification like is it applicable for a company which is not a market leader? or to a service firm that does not have a quasi-monopolistic status. Can other industries with different competitive scenario be considered? As ‘service industry’ is a huge ocean and all industries or companies require skilled work force to be a good player in the game.(‘The case-study company is a German service provider in the logistics industry that is the market leader in this industry in Germany and that has a quasi-monopolistic status’ (Gobler and Zock, 2008:p.4)).The summary provided for ‘System Dynamics’ sounds clear and solid and substantial idea of the original concept.

The graphical syntax used to generate simulation models and the equation formation using variables in a system required a little more emphasis in the beginning but the demonstration of the same on practical problem took the ball to the court.

Limitations of the system dynamics modelling as stated ‘insights from the model

can be deduced only indirectly by formulating its equations and running different simulations’(Gobler and Zock, 2008:p.3) ‘system dynamics research is substantially empirical: it does not involve developing ideal models, but rather it depicts reality as precisely as possible’(Gobler and Zock, 2008:p.3) in the paper clearly indicates that an attempt can be made through this to get to the depth of the problem and thereafter finding a solution for it after many validity tests.It does not give direct output , it is empirical sometimes and thus the process of solving an issue through this is not sacrosanct or even completely dependable.

This puts up a clear question mark on the effectiveness of the study inspite of considerable work and research in this area since 1958 as stated.

Extensive use of references are made at appropriate places which develops a solid ground for the further study.**

Highlights of the study are not presented in their full capacity. The study has many interesting points that lay in wait of a highlighter.
The analogy drawn between the material in supply chain and a staff member in service company opens new window on one side to application of concepts in different disciplines, paving way for interdisciplinary studies in new perspectives. While on the other side the comparison holds valid only when certain real factors are ignored like complex human behaviour, interactions and aptitude. Thus restricted observation of the cases and then comparison of the same might lead to outcomes which can not be confidently adopted or used for prescriptive analysis.

The researchers make it clear that the attempt is to solve problems that can be generalized considering groups working in corporates or industries (service industry here) rather than individuals working in particular positions.

Workforce planning has following integral parts: Recruitment, Selection; Training, Motivation; Retention, Appraisal;

The study has not touched upon the issue as a complete pie and restricts the discussion to a slice which is-number of men to be hired in workforce planning. The point is definitely significant for research and studies and demands solution that may save companies cost and improve productivity. The study also puts the spotlight for short span on the importance of appropriate demand analysis for the matter.

Though only a slice of the big picture is studied, that is done extensively following an example of a quasi-monopolistic logistic company in Germany.The schematic of the company’s workforce planning is a bit low on complexity which surpasses practical problems and realities but paves an encouraging path for further progress in the research. Another vertical point that requires consideration is the type of workforce requirement, type of training and approaches for managing the diversity in this regard. Few horizontal points also need a mention.Like -

(1)Whether the study findings can be applied to other companies outside service industry or in similar companies outside Germany.

(2)What role corporate or professional culture has to play in workforce planning and implementation needs further study.

(3)Even other logistics company that have different recruitment process, market demand cycle or competitive scenario are eligible or not to use the study is unknown.

The design approach for the system dynamics model is well planned and systematic. Validation is also appropriately done that proves the relevance of the study. Scenario analysis is well explained with respect to the company in consideration. Company member involvement and engagement is taken care from the very first phase that offers double side value to both the company and the researcher leading to refined study that stands a good chance for real-time application. The insights drawn after months of stepwise working are really beneficial for the company in the case study. The quantitative approach along with qualitative insights takes the study to an interesting level. The fitment of the case into bullwhip effect of the supply chain management is commendable. The various factors considered in the simulation model and in scenario analysis are very close to real issues and do not depend on simplification of the model to provide a solution or insight. The study report would have become more useful and convincing if the before and after results can be demonstrated quantitatively. Though variables were considered, equations formed, solutions found and implemented in this particular case, not representing the measure of improvement or benefit quantitatively gives the study an overall theoretical face.

The outcomes of the study demands few changes in recruitment policies , adoption of the suggested system dynamic simulation model by the management and awareness of the same not just at the central level but at the department level too, all this was understood but whether implemented on a sustainable basis or not is still a question to ponder upon.

As stated in the paper that the case study concentrates on the question of providing the right number of the right people referring to the area of strategic human resource planning, the later part of providing the right people was just a line only the numbers have been worked upon.

How the simulation models can be put into best use is well stated in the study for the implementers to have a fair idea in addition to providing a good base for future developments both in research and practical application fields. An emphasis on the quantification is good but not sufficient to prove the supremacy of suggested technique.Confidence in finding the optimal solution through this is on lower side of the scale but it does scores good for its novel approach towards interdisciplinary studies and problem solving. All in all the study is a good start in the direction leaving many open ends to be explored further via research.

After all, the world is always on the search of an Igniting research that builds new #Stories & starts old #Debates in a new way!

#VachSoch Thanks A Größler and A Zock for sharing their exemplary work on such a crucial topic through this paper.