Like most people, my life is split between my day job, my family, and my hobbies. Over the past 20 years, as a human capital management consultant and strategic advisor, I have helped dozens of large and small public and private sector clients understand and build a successful workforce through workforce planning. By night, I indulge my favorite hobby, cooking, which I have been able to do a lot more of during the pandemic.

I’ve never really thought about cooking being anything more than just a delicious way to relax and feed my family at the end of the day.  I definitely didn’t see any connection to workforce planning. I mean how can cooking have anything to do with how I help organizations shape their future?  Then one night while cooking dinner, it hit me…workforce planning is like cooking. As I went through the steps of putting my meal together, I could see how I do similar activities on workforce planning engagements, and here is how my hobby and work collided:

Getting the Ingredients Right… Everyone knows that you need to have the best ingredients in the right amount to create a great meal.  It’s the same with workforce planning; you have to get the right people with the right skills into the right job to shape the workforce that your business demands.

Monitoring your Meal… You would never throw ingredients together and leave them to burn on the stove – the same is true for workforce planning. You need to monitor and collect continuous workforce data (e.g., critical roles, supply, demand, gaps) so leadership has the information needed to make proactive decisions.

Taste and Adjust… I’m always taste testing while cooking to make sure the flavors are balanced, and the spices are layered correctly to hit the right notes. I find that I do the same thing when workforce planning by checking that the tools we use (e.g. workforce analytics, accession/attrition forecasts, supply/demand analyses, demographic assessments) target the needed workforce requirements (e.g., capabilities, headcount, staff-to-leadership ratios, talent pipeline) and then make the appropriate adjustment to the workforce plan as the organization strives to become more agile.

Feedback… For me, the best part of cooking is seeing others enjoy the meals I prepare. I look forward to the “mmmms” of my dinner guests and their feedback about what they liked and, more importantly, what they didn’t like so I can adjust future recipes. In workforce planning, you need to fearlessly engage stakeholders and monitor external/internal environmental factors to make sure the workforce you’re building is aligned to changing mission requirements and objectives. This feedback loop allows you to adjust accordingly to make sure that you are moving the workforce in the right direction.

Practice Makes Perfect… You don’t become a great cook overnight, but with practice and planning, you improve your recipes and your technique. Workforce planning is no different; you keep collecting workforce data, assessing your workforce, and making adjustments until you get to the recipe right (right people with the right skills into the right jobs) and your organization has the workforce it needs to succeed.

The next time your organization thinks about workforce planning, remember that like any great meal, building a high-performance workforce requires practice, consistent monitoring, and the willingness to adjust to changing conditions. From my experience, getting the right people with the right skills into the right job to meet current and future organizational needs can be deliciously rewarding.

Joy Papini, PhD, is the President of CIDIS LLC, a Management Consulting firm located in Reston, VA.  For more information please visit