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What is the goal when workforce planning?

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 — March 26th, 2018

What is the goal when workforce planning?

HR teams understand that the organization's success hinges on HR's capability in workforce planning: ensuring the right skills are in place for what the business needs, both now and in the immediate future. But with the increasing pace of technological change and the risk that nimble competitors can emerge rapidly and take market share, developing workforce plans gets more complex. Keeping focused on the goal can help: and that means breaking down the ultimate goal into smaller steps that HR can work towards as a team.

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The overall goal: appropriate staffing levels, always

It's a big ask no matter your industry or size. So many factors influence the mix of skills an organization needs, including not just internal factors (like the company's strategic business plan) but external pressures beyond your control, like changes in the regulatory environment, disruption from competitors, or new and prescriptive demands from customers.

Research from the World Economic Forum revealed that many organizations may not yet value the skills that they will soon need most. These next-generation skills may be part of the capabilities of the organization's existing talent pool, or not, but its competitiveness may depend on these talents in the medium to long-term. In 2016 the WEF predicted that, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations "will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.”

So how do HR teams determine what their critical focus area should be? What does success look like in a workforce planning model? Here are 3 goals to aim for:

1) Understanding your current talent pool in depth

Foster open communication across the organization by staying in close touch with staff at all levels, listening to team members' feedback and incorporating their ideas as part of the workforce plan. Your aim is to get a strong grasp not just on existing skill sets but on aspirations: what are the skills or tools your team members want to develop? The organizations most successful in workforce planning are those who genuinely embrace employees' own career goals and help them work towards these, with schemes like tuition reimbursement or even sabbaticals which let them pursue long-held goals such as travel or pursuing a passion. The staffing agency Mondo did this, offering sabbaticals to employees after 3 or more years of service.

2) Understanding where the highest staff turnover is, and why

Are the reasons for churn operational? Line-manager related? Surveying team members and listening to feedback might reveal inefficient businesses processes which make it impossible for team members to achieve job satisfaction or do their work well, possibly because they're being criticized by customers for inefficient service or broken promises.

3) Your workforce plan must aim to meet the future halfway

The Harvard Business Review talks about "the illusion of having time to react." This is the concept that, because the impact of technology can take time to be felt - "over time, and not overnight" – HR teams may have a false sense of comfort that they don't need to take action just yet. They may delay things like assessing what skills will be needed in the medium-term and be recruiting to attract this talent, a slowness they may feel is justified as it's hard to be certain what future skills will be needed.

Effective workforce planners aim to meet the future halfway, proactively looking to the horizon by watching competitors, industry thought leaders and journalists to see what may be hot and what skills are likely to be in demand in the near future. But don't forget that internal communications here are also vital.

Are you surveying your team members and getting a sense of how they'd like their careers to develop? Technical teams, in particular, may have a sense of which emerging technologies are up and coming and may welcome the chance for subsidized training in these -- a win-win for HR, as this can both improve job satisfaction and begin to evolve the skills pool of the company as a whole.

Whatever workforce planning model you use, do remember that prioritizing open and regular communication with staff members will enhance your knowledge, give you rich data to feed into your model, and remind employees that the organization is genuinely interested in keeping them informed and helping them accomplish their own career goals. And that's the kind of organization that builds loyalty.

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