The 5 Most Common Workforce Planning Tools

employees working with workforce planning tools

More strategic thinking helps unlock more success. That’s the beauty behind using workforce planning tools, as they enable your HR team to plan around your current workforce while looking ahead to the future. Essentially, if you bring more strategy into the mix, you’re bringing more success to the ‘organizational party.’

But, what are some of the most common workforce planning tools that people teams use? What do they rely on when it comes to strategically planning out the needs of their workforces? Let’s introduce you to these essential tools, and how they can feed into your workforce planning strategy.

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Do You Need Workforce Planning Tools?

Workforce planning tools can help offset some of the uncertainty surrounding workforce planning. That’s because it is an attempt to bridge the gap between where your workforce currently stands, and where it can go.

So, as far as planning is concerned, workforce planning tools can be invaluable.

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The 5 Most Common Workforce Planning Tools

The following are the most common workforce planning tools to help build stronger processes…

1. Organizational Strategy

This first one is less of a proper tool and more of a guide that can have the qualities of a tool. Your organization’s top-line strategy, usually set out by the management team, is the best tool your HR team can have at its disposal.

Of course, HR should have a role in that strategy, but then they should use it to govern strategic workforce planning. Think of it as a guide, an outline, or a blueprint to help plan things out.

That’s because your organization’s strategy is a top-down plan, typically planned out for 3-5 years in advance, of where the organization wants to go based on:

  • Market trends
  • Product/service fit
  • Competitors

This kind of broad alignment is exactly the tool your team needs. It gives your HR department the ability to operate off a strategic vision and to build workforce planning initiatives with that vision in mind.

Essentially, we can think of it as the strategic impetus for workforce planning.

2. The 9-Box Grid

The 9-box grid, otherwise known as the performance-potential matrix, is a common workforce planning tool created by McKinsey in the 1970s. While instructive for workforce planning, it also has its roots in succession planning and talent pool development.

Essentially, it serves the goal of mapping out the current state of your workforce. How? By plotting your entire workforce across two key scales:

  • Potential
  • Performance

This allows you to plot your workforce in terms of low potential and low performance, to high potential and high performance. While it may lack complexity, it can give your organization, at a glance, an idea of where your workforce currently stands.

But, what do you do with it? The first thing the 9-box grid can show you is if you have any holes in your talent pool. Do you have a lot of up-and-comers, but lack experts? Or, maybe your workforce has a lot of proven talent but lacks raw potential.

Then, with the talent you do have on hand, you can start to build performance development initiatives to shift sections of your workforce along the 9-box grid.

This could mean shifting the majority of your workforce, sections of it, or simply trying to reach a more spread out and varied collection of talent.

Lastly, it can also be used on a more granular level. It can be used to identify specific people in the organization who have a high potential for leadership, singling them out for development to help grow the organization.

In short, the 9-box grid is a helpful workforce planning tool to get a good read of your organization’s needs in the moment.

3. HR Analytics & Reporting

Strategic workforce planning is rarely based on feeling alone, it needs data to back it up.

That’s the key when you want to make it a success, as you need to be able to quantify it, make it real, and then track it. That’s why great workforce planning needs a great HR analytics software.

Especially when it comes to the alignment between management and HR, your team needs to bring data to the table. That could include:

  • Understanding overall and team-by-team absence rates
  • Numbers regarding applicant management (time-to-hire or application-to-offer ratios, etc.)
  • Staff turnover and attrition rates/trends

Having numbers like these can make or break your workforce planning initiatives.

So, you need software in place that can not only collect this data, but present it at the click of a button and ensure that all of the data is safe, secure, and GDPR compliant. T

hat way, you not only can use your data to power change, but you can sleep soundly at night knowing it’s safe.

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4. Total Compensation and Benefits Analysis

Let’s say that one of the key elements of your organization’s overall strategy is attracting and retaining world-class talent.

That means not only keeping people around but closing gaps in your workforce by ensuring that you can attract the best people for the right roles in the first place.

Here’s one workforce planning tool that can help. It’s a compensation and benefits analysis, which is essentially distilling the ‘price you pay’ for top talent and how it currently squares with the market at large.

This means not only benchmarking internally, in terms of how much people are paid, but leveraging outside data to see what the market (and your direct competitors) are doing on a much larger scale.

Simply put, for workforce planning to be successful, you need to determine the cost for top talent in your industry.

At the same time, compensation isn’t merely the number that appears in your bank account. It helps to also think about how benefits, and who you want to attract with them, can serve your strategic workforce planning.

Here’s our quick guide to employee benefits to help get you started. 

Let’s think back to the 9-box grid. If we have an organization that is high on potential, but only middling on performance, we may have a bunch of great potential leaders on our hands — but we need to be able to nurture them.

In terms of benefits, that may necessitate a development budget, paid out yearly, to help high-potential workers get better at what they do.

In that case, we can use this model of both ‘over-performing’ and ‘underperforming’ employees to determine benefits that help bring out the best in everyone.

5. Contingency Planning

Don’t forget, the future is everything to your business. It’s not only a vision of where you want to go, but it’s the reality of what will eventually happen.

That’s why contingency planning, or scenario planning, can be a key workforce planning tool in HR’s holster.

As an HR team, think about potential situations involving:

  • Changes in technology (innovation, adoption, etc.)
  • Political or economic changes
  • Attitudinal changes (consumer tastes changing)

In each of these scenarios, the needs of your workforce may change. So, in terms of workforce planning, it can help to plan around these various scenarios and what your team might action.

After identifying each, you need to assess both:

  • Importance, and
  • Uncertainty.

This is to help assess how much an event may impact your business, and how uncertain your team’s estimation of these conditions might be (how likely or unlikely they are to happen).

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How Do You Choose The Right Workforce Planning Tools?

As you can see, each of the five listed tools above can help meet your workforce planning needs in different ways. But, it is just as important to recognize that they effectively happen on a continuum. This means that they should happen in order.

So, which is right for your team? The answer is all of them! Here’s how we’d recommend doing things:

  • Start from a place of top-level organizational strategy
  • Assess your current workforce
  • Build the data around that workforce
  • Identify ways to improve or optimize it
  • Plan for a variety of futures

For all of the above, each has both its own merit and individual impact.

We hope this run-through helped and that it gave you a bit more insight about workforce planning tools that you can use starting today!

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