Achieve Successful Workforce Planning in 6 Simple Steps


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Following a step-by-step guide to workforce planning will help your company better understand and build strong relationships with your people.

Article 7 Minutes
Achieve Successful Workforce Planning in 6 Simple Steps

It’s undoubtedly a difficult time to be in business, with ever-increasing competition and escalating expectations from clients and customers meaning planning is essential for those that want to stay ahead.

Attempting to foresee upturns and downturns in particular sectors is par for the course, but chief human resources officers are increasingly becoming aware of the need to prepare their current and future workforce for potential shocks too.

At a time when adaptability is essential, effective workforce planning is more critical than ever in the fight to perform effectively.

What is workforce planning?

Workforce planning is the process by which organizations ensure they have access to all the human capital they need in order to perform effectively. If done correctly, workforce planning can bring huge benefits to your business, like improving your workforce's productivity and reducing labor and recruitment costs. 

In short, it's putting the most qualified employees in the right roles at the best time to create a Goldilocks situation: neither over nor understaffed, but just right.

This requires careful analysis, forecasting and assessment of workforce gaps to explore the best ways to make appropriate staffing decisions so you can deliver for your customers and achieve your organizational goals.

It's also worth noting that strategic workforce planning and operational workforce planning aren’t the same. Acknowledging the difference between the two will help you keep aligned with your overall business strategy.

  • Strategic workforce planning links HR procedures to business goals and objectives in a proactive manner to manage personnel demands. It directs future plans and choices made by employees, ensuring they're in line with the company's long-term goals. Senior leadership typically engages in strategic workforce planning, which concentrates on overarching objectives such as staffing budgets and maintaining capacity.
  • Operational workforce planning emphasizes more on the company's pressing priorities such as ensuring that employees can respect objectives and deadlines efficiently.  

Why is workforce planning important?

CHROs are under more pressure than ever to attract and retain the best talent, particularly at this time of economic uncertainty. With workforce planning, managers are able to use the information that has been gathered to anticipate change and address forthcoming problems with personnel.

For example, you might be experiencing challenges such as having a lot of people on the cusp of retirement, or you're approving so much overtime that the cost is eating into your budget.

An effective workforce planning process will help you anticipate staff turnover and other human capital issues and plan ahead for them, whether that's through moving people from other teams, hiring temporary staff, implementing mentorships to ensure older workers pass on their skills or any other initiative.

Workloads can be redistributed and resources assessed to respond to challenges and identify risks before they affect the strategic goals of the business as a whole. This may be vital in achieving a competitive advantage going forward and meeting your future goals.

6 key steps to efficient workforce planning

Effective workforce planning relies on rigorous and comprehensive analysis of your organization's work, personnel and strategic direction. Following these steps will help you break your workforce planning process down more easily.

1. Analyze

The first thing to work out is what you'll need to measure to get you started on your workforce planning process, whether it's productivity, sales, seasonal customer demand, staff turnover or anything in between.

Once you have a clear idea of the key concepts you need to explore, you can find the right tools and make the most of HR analytics to offer insights into your current workforce. A good business optimization tool could be your ally here, as it’ll provide an overview of your business and a simple way to see when staff are working, what people and skills you have, your overtime situation, all budgeted hours and much more.

When the quality and quantity of your personnel are mapped out through analysis, you'll be able to move on to the next stage of planning ahead.

2. Project needs

The next step is to make projections, and to do that you'll need to understand and respond to the goals of your organization. Establish a detailed and concrete set of ambitions for the months and years ahead and ask yourself what the company needs, in HR terms, to achieve this.

You can then use insights, such as when your busiest times occur and when clients most need help, to build up accurate forecasts and work out how to have the right person in the right job at the right time.

3. Identify gaps in your workforce

With your projections in hand, you can then move on to the next stage of the workforce planning process, which is identification of gaps.

What barriers are standing in the way of your company goals? Where can you see that not enough skilled individuals are employed at busy times? This is your chance to take an objective look at the business opportunities that might be falling through the cracks and how that problem can be avoided in the future, perhaps by training existing employees or moving to an alternative recruitment model.

4. Model relevant scenarios

The fourth step will really get the ball rolling, because it involves laying out and modeling different scenarios to see how they impact your workforce and how they should be managed for the business to achieve its goals.

For example, could you model how many calls a sales rep can make each day to see how staffing levels in this department will affect lead nurturing and conversion rates? How about examining the impact of a long-term absence in your busiest department?

In doing tasks like this, you should be better able to create new schedules, workflows and team strategies that are a better fit for your organization and your people. This is important, as improved working methods can cut costs, make employees and customers happier and raise productivity. In the long run, that makes future planning easier too.

5. Implement your plans

When you have your new strategy ready, it's time to think about implementation. Perhaps you've realized that you're in need of employees at different times, so you're bringing in flexible workers to plug the gaps.

Maybe your communication has been lacking, so you're implementing new collaboration or project management software to keep teams on task and informed about what they need to know? It could be that the gaps you've identified can't be fulfilled within your organization, so some strategic hiring is required.

Remember that your overall aim is to save time, lower costs, boost productivity and make your employees happier, which means they’ll be willing and able to deliver better results for the business.

6. Monitor results

Finally, don't assume that once your workforce planning is done for now it's done forever. It's vital to see the plan as constantly in motion and therefore in need of regular monitoring and adaptation where necessary.

By being flexible, you'll be able to make your business model more intelligent, achieve your goals more easily and create an engaged workforce that makes customers feel more valued and important.

Implementing these steps will help you make real progress towards truly understanding your workforce, preparing for the future and making positive changes that generate the best outcomes for your employees and the business as a whole. 

The link between workforce planning and succession planning

Workforce planning and succession planning are separate concepts, despite the fact that their goals (right people, right jobs, right time) are closely linked.

Workforce planning is more budget-driven and concentrates on using predetermined objectives to compare the requirements of your people with the needs of your business. It provides refined information on how anticipated changes might affect competency going forward.

In contrast, succession planning provides insight into who has the right skills to ensure the workforce is trained and ready to assume future leadership positions. It takes a more systematic approach in addressing gaps and reducing costs.

However, they are intrinsically linked and CHROs are likely to see the best results when both management approaches are combined to provide a wider overview of how everything is working together.

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