Your Guide to Creating a Successful Workforce Management Strategy


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Every successful manager knows that an organization’s biggest asset is its workers. Not only are they vital to the day-to-day running of the business, but they can also give you the biggest advantage over your key competitors.

Article 10 Minutes
Your Guide to Creating a Successful Workforce Management Strategy

It stands to reason, then, that you want to boost morale and empower employees as much as possible in a bid to supercharge productivity across the business.

But in order to do this, your company requires effective workforce management. This will allow you to create the optimal flow for your organization and ensure everything is run as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.

In this guide, well also cover what workforce management means, how it can benefit both businesses and their workforce, and of course, how you can successfully create and implement a workforce management strategy within your organization.

  1. What does workforce management mean?
  2. The importance and benefits of workforce management
  3. Workforce management challenges
  4. How can workforce management tools help?
  5. How to create a workforce management strategy
  6. Workforce management vs. workforce planning: 5 key differences
  7. Final thoughts

What does workforce management mean?

Workforce management (WFM) is a strategy used by organizations in which a carefully implemented set of processes are used to maximize the performance and productivity of its employees.

An important part of effective WFM is ensuring that employees with the necessary skills are always in the right place at the right time to meet all job requirements.

Successful WFM typically involves processes such as:

  • Scheduling
  • Forecasting labor requirements
  • Skills management
  • Timekeeping
  • Employee empowerment

The importance and benefits of workforce management

Based on what we’ve discussed so far, some of the benefits of workforce management should already be apparent. However, to give you a much clearer understanding of why you should prioritize this strategy within your organization, we’re now going to look at the importance and key benefits of WFM in more detail.

In a nutshell, being able to effectively manage your teams is important for boosting performance, lowering labor costs, and increasing profits.

But more than this, in a world where the workforce is constantly changing, organizations need to be able to keep up. For example, with more people working from home, adopting hybrid working models or operating on flexitime, it’s much more difficult to manage employee schedules.

Ultimately, organizations need to be proactive if they hope to stay successful in today’s competitive market. But just in case you’re still not sold on the importance of WFM, some of the other key benefits of this strategy include:

  • Allowing organizations to schedule their workforce more effectively. This, in turn, can help to cut costs and reduce expenses.
  • Offering data insights that help to maximize resources and forecast staffing requirements for the future. This again can reduce labor costs throughout the year.
  • Being able to assign the right people with the right skills can increase operational agility and productivity, better supporting the organizations ability to respond to the changing market.
  • Data from WFM systems can reduce financial and non-compliance risks.
  • Increased transparency, better scheduling and more manager-employee communication helps to boost morale and, as a result, productivity, loyalty and staff retention.

Workforce management challenges

Despite the many benefits of WFM, there are still some common challenges that organizations could be faced with. It’s vital that you understand these if you hope to implement the best possible WFM strategy in your business:

  1. Talent shortages: It’s all well and good saying it’s important to have the right people, in the right place, at the right time, but unfortunately, this isn’t always within your control. Talent shortages both within your teams and across the labor market can present bigger issues.
  2. Holding managers accountable for their WFM efforts: Although it might seem like scheduling, timekeeping and other WFM processes could be handled by HR teams or senior management, this shouldn’t be the case. Workforce management efforts might start at the top, but they must trickle down. Despite this, too many managers aren’t taking responsibility for WFM within their teams.
  3. Decreased performance levels: Though you might be strengthening communication, offering relevant training and holding regular meetings, there will be times when external influences impact employee performance levels. For example, a struggling economy, current events or negative relationships outside of work can all impact their performance.
  4. Poor teamwork: Often, when there’s a focus on individuals and how their specific skill set can be put to good use, encouraging collaboration falls by the wayside. If your employees are unable to or neglect to work as a team, this will negatively affect the overall outcome of a project.
  5. Managing absence: Finally, both planned and unplanned absence can take their toll on an organization and its workforce for a number of reasons. This might mean that staff shortages lead to overworked and stressed teams. It might also require extra costs for covering absences if you have to hire temporary replacements.

How can workforce management tools help?

Though organizations might face some challenges on their WFM journey, workforce management tools can help to tackle some of these key problems. They can also be used to implement strategies that better support the most important WFM processes, such as scheduling, attendance tracking, onboarding, etc.

Nowadays, there’s a huge variety of tools available to organizations, but which one you choose will depend on several factors, including your budget, the size of your organization and which will best align with your overall business goals.

So, when assessing workforce management software and tools for your business, you should look out for the following features:

  • Multi-platform support, including mobile
  • Centralized timeclock for managing timesheets, attendance, payroll and benefits administration
  • Real-time staff scheduling, including insights for future forecasting
  • Accurate, real-time data collection and analytics
  • Gamification of performance management
  • Absence systems for vacation and leave planning, as well as absence management
  • Succession planning tools that allow for effective succession management

Keeping these key features at the forefront of your mind when researching workforce management tools will help you to choose the best software for your organization.

How to create an effective workforce management strategy

An effective workforce management strategy needs to focus on all the processes required to create, manage and sustain a productive and happy workforce.

But how do you go about achieving this, especially if you feel like youre starting from scratch?

Well, although every organization is different, there are some similar steps that you can follow to help you create the best possible workforce management strategy:

Step one: Standardize all processes

Before you begin, its a good idea to standardize – or at least plan to standardize – all WFM-related processes across the business.

This means getting a standard set of rules in place that apply to everyone in your organization. This not only helps with your WFM strategy but consistency and transparency are also vital for effectively managing employees’ time, attendance, absences, etc.

Employees must clearly understand all policies and procedures, for example, how and when they can book a holiday, how to cancel a shift or what to do if theyre going to be late to work.

Step two: Think about your key goals and priorities

Whenever youre rolling out a strategic initiative across an organization, it needs to be aligned with both the short and long-term goals of the business – and your WFM strategy is no exception.

By identifying any processes or areas of the business that need to be prioritized, you’ll know where to start and you can achieve better alignment from the get-go, leading to more positive outcomes further down the line.

For example, if one of your biggest problems is regularly being understaffed, you should prioritize scheduling and deal with absenteeism. This might mean one of your key goals is to reduce understaffing and better support those who are on shift.

Step three: Determine which processes need work – and begin to fix these

With your new list of priority areas, you can get to work. You should now have a better understanding of which processes within the business simply arent working and which could use some changes.

This might require a candid evaluation of the current practices at your company, so you can pinpoint and, as a result, fix any processes that are letting you down. In most cases, this can be done using the right technology.

Step four: Embrace automation and get the right tech in place

Automation and workforce management tools are going to be vital in implementing your strategy. By investing in the right tools, you can automate:

  • Time and attendance tracking
  • Employee scheduling functions
  • Employee self-services, such as making holiday requests
  • Absence management procedures
  • Gathering real-time employee data

By embracing automation and using the right tools, organizations can ensure more accurate tracking, better scheduling, and easier payroll. This also takes away some of the labor-intensive data entry work that HR and other relevant employees once had to do. This gives them more time to focus on important tasks such as empowering the workforce.

Step five: Consider the next steps

By following these steps, you can begin to implement an effective workforce management strategy across your organization. But remember, this is not a one-and-done solution.

Keep revisiting your strategy to ensure youve got the best possible processes and tools in place. You can also use the goals youve set for the organization as a yardstick to measure the success of certain WFM processes. You can then improve these if necessary.

Workforce management vs. workforce planning: 5 key differences

It’s a good idea to briefly touch on the differences between workforce management and workforce planning, as the two are often confused and conflated.

As we’ve covered above, workforce management refers to the various processes used by organizations to maximize the performance and productivity of employees. Essentially, the goal of WFM is to support employees with things like scheduling to avoid under or overstaffing, as well as dealing with processes such as payroll and timekeeping.

This helps to save money, cut costs, empower employees and boost profits.

However, a workforce planning strategy is used by organizations to anticipate labor needs for the future, so they can ensure they deploy enough of the right workers in the right areas of the business.

Workforce planning is more about working out how to balance labor supply (skills) with demand (numbers of workers needed), and it tries to anticipate any future staffing gaps that might occur so you can get ahead of the game.

In this case, in order to make their workforce planning a success, organizations must assess the workforce as it stands, look at relevant insights and try to anticipate the workforce of the future. In summary, the key differences between the two are:

  • Workforce management focuses on the here and now of supporting and enabling employees, whereas workforce planning is about anticipating future staffing needs.
  • WFM is designed largely to support employees and empower them in their roles, so they’re more productive. WFP, however, is focused on larger business goals such as reducing costs of hiring new employees.
  • The two strategies will require different tools and software to make this possible.

Final thoughts

No matter what industry you operate in, if your organization is attempting to run without an effective workforce management strategy in place, you could be setting yourself up for failure. WFM is crucial, and without it, your business could struggle to achieve the level of productivity, agility, flexibility and employee empowerment that it strives for.

Not only this, but in todays ever-changing world, you need to be able to keep up with new technologies, market trends and the needs and expectations of the workforce. Workforce management can help your organization to better cope with hybrid working models and flexible working styles so that both employees and the business benefit.

Though there might be challenges along the way, creating a strong WFM strategy is vital. By using our step-by-step guide above, you can get effective workforce management processes in place – and it wont be long before you begin to reap the rewards of your hard work.

Further reading:

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