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What Is Strategic Workforce Planning? Our 6 Steps To Success

Workforce planning

Workforce planning answers some of a business’ most essential questions: Who do you need to employ now, and in the future? What should they bring to the role? What will they get out of it? How do you keep them?

HR leaders need to answer each of these questions for effective workforce planning to take effect. At the same time, though, they are also questions that address a much bigger issue…

How does workforce planning result in ‘workforce meaning.’ Why do people come to work and why do they stay?

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What is Workforce Planning?

Workforce planning is all about ensuring that your company has the right people. Not only that but that those people have the right skills. This, then, helps them succeed in their roles to support your organization. Essentially, it’s about employing and deploying talent to keep things running smoothly.

More specifically, though, workforce planning encompasses:

  • Analyzing your current workforce
  • Determining the future needs of your workforce
  • Identifying gaps between where you are now and where you want to go
  • Designing and implementing solutions to accomplish your goals
  • Fulfilling your strategic plan through the proper use of talent

Workforce planning might come across as a vague term. Especially when it comes to overall business strategy. But. it has a very straightforward purpose and reasoning behind it.

Workforce Planning: Technically Defined

Let’s start with the technical definition. The CIPD defines workforce planning as, “a process of analyzing the current workforce, determining future workforce needs, identifying the gap between the present and the future, and implementing solutions so that an organization can accomplish its mission, goals, and strategic plan.”

That’s a real mouthful. In simpler terms, to paraphrase AIHR Analytics’ description, workforce planning is about making sure your company has the right people. These people then need to have the right skills, doing the right jobs, at the right time, to help your business succeed.

Why Is Workforce Planning Important?

In today’s talent-based economy, the key element that keeps successful companies running is people.

But, as the SHRM states: “Despite its importance, this asset is often not carefully planned, measured, or optimized. This means that many organizations are not sufficiently aware of the current or future workforce gaps that will limit the execution of business strategy.”

As anyone who has ever experienced staff shortages will know, not having the right talent in place can cause enormous strain on a business. The professional services and HR consulting firm, Mercer, explains it well: “A weak pipeline or hidden talent issues can shake your organization’s very foundation before anyone has realized there might be a problem.”

However, if organizations are able to look ahead and plan what roles, skills, and people will be needed to meet their business goals now, and in the future, they are more likely to thrive.

Of course, this is often easier said than done. It involves a systematic, rigorous, and disciplined process combined with a:

  • Future-forward view of the world
  • Solid grasp of business strategy
  • Deep understanding of human talents and capabilities
  • Strategic, time-conscious, and thoughtful process

Making More Time For Strategic Workforce Planning

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Who Is In Charge Of Workforce Planning?

Together, line managers and HR teams have a role to play in both employing people and helping them stay with the organization. That said, the decision of what the workforce should look like in the future is often a mystery revealed only to board-level executives.

Strategic workforce planning is often designed to meet scenarios three-to-five years in the future. Therefore, it must be aligned with business needs and objectives. It also requires the knowledge and time to prepare a plan that looks at future business strategy and includes scenario planning.

This makes workforce planning particularly tough for HR leaders who already wear many hats and are notoriously short on time. Unfortunately, it’s only possible to be truly strategic once HR operations are running smoothly.

This means that finding the time and space to do workforce planning properly means getting the nitty-gritty admin of HR out of the way. That said, there are tools that can help make workforce planning a bit easier on you.

Six Strategic Steps to Optimize Workforce Planning

The National Institutes of Health Office of Human Resources has a helpful toolkit. It includes six stages of workforce planning which you can take a look at here.

Start by answering these questions:

  • Where is your business going?
  • Who is working for you now and what skills do they have?
  • Who and what skills will your business need in the future?
  • What are the gaps between what you have and what you need?
  • How are you going to fix the gap?
  • Did it work?

Workforce planning

Now you understand the basics behind workforce planning. Next, let’s consider how it all relates to what your employees want and need.

Mercer puts it this way in their Global Talent Trends Report 2020: “It can’t just be about employee capacity and business unit alignment, [workforce planning] must recognize employees’ potential and engagement and be intertwined with the company’s technology roadmap.”

That’s a big ask. So, do you know what your employees want in the first place?

Sadly, the same report which gathered insights from 7,000+ people from nine industries and 16 regions says that two in five HR leaders say they don’t know what skills they have in their workforce today!

Even if we are able to track the skills that our employees currently have, running a thriving business by matching skills to business needs and pay grades is no longer enough.

Successful workforce planning requires a combination of:

  • Vision
  • Planning
  • Strategy
  • Humanity
  • Empathy

The Meaning Behind Your Workforce

Why do people come to work?

Gone are the days where people simply worked to earn a living. Employees crave meaningful work. Therefore, when work has a purpose, it energizes people.

Ultimately, that means employees are more likely to want to come to work, stay in work, and get more value from it.

They are also less likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues. In fact, research shows that “Energized employees are five times more likely to say they are thriving and less likely to burn out (60% compared to 81% of energized employees).”

What Great Workforce Planning Unlocks

Great workforce planning can help align what a business does, why they do it, and how their employees can add value to their day-to-day work. Of course, this is all when it’s done right.

That means making it clear who to hire, what skills and attributes to find, and determining whether someone is the right fit or not (and the why behind that decision).

It also involves ensuring that employees develop. In addition, that their development reflects on your business’ ability to get the best out of them. This can start with proper performance management cycles, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

Unfortunately, according to HROToday: “Most organizations rarely take the time to get to know people before they decide if they should hire them or not, and what role is the best fit for their behavioral DNA.”

Perhaps this is related to the burden of the administrative nature of the recruitment process?

Let’s say that, if HR leaders were able to remove some of that burden, they could focus more on hiring the right people that don’t simply meet skills requirements. They can find the right people to support the organization’s future goals.

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Workforce Planning & The Meaning of Work

The CIPD says that workforce planning processes, when done right, can reduce labor costs, respond to changing customer needs, improve employee retention and their work-life balance.

This is all in addition to allowing HR to make recommendations about how the business can deliver more strategic value by making the best use of their talent.

If that is true then getting and keeping the right people isn’t just good for business, it’s good for people, too.

Perhaps the answer is in involving the right people across all levels of the organization. At the level of the individual hiring managers, at a strategic, forward-looking level, and at the level of every hiring decision.

Unlocking The Secret Army

And then, maybe, organizations can create a ‘secret army’ of individuals who can help create business inspiration, drive business momentum, and be adaptable enough to shift when needs change.

As Gina Balarin says in her book, The Secret Army, “The only way to ensure that a helpful, supportive army will step in and carry the weight of the work that needs to be done is to give them a reason to want to come to work every day. Great companies are able to do this – to make people feel like they’re not just a lowly cog in a machine. It not only goes a long way towards gaining their support, it also makes them feel great – because by doing what they do, and doing it well, they help the wheels of their industry turn.”

Effective Workforce Planning Starts Today

Are you ready for workforce planning that doesn’t just do a job, but that takes pride in doing the job? In an ideal world, perhaps that’s the ultimate form of workforce planning.

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