You might think that, in our ever-more connected world, the HR department would have no problem collating the many streams of operational data into a meaningful picture of where the workforce is, what it’s doing and, by meshing this with a company’s strategic goals, predicting shortfalls in current staffing. You’d be wrong.
There is time-lag between various internal and external factors affecting each and every business which can mean that getting an accurate snapshot isn’t nearly as straightforward as you might imagine. This is where Workforce Planning (WP) joins the fray.
What is Workforce Planning?
Workforce Planning, at its most basic, involves ensuring that a business has the right staff in place at the right time, with the appropriate skills sets. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development describes it as, “…a core business process to align changing organizational needs with people strategy. It can be the most effective activity an organization can engage in.”
Workforce Planning arguably got its first success from the simple act of creating company organizational charts. Charts allow companies to get a holistic picture of where their employees fit and where open jobs are, all visualized in a meaningful format. This allowed the collection and collation of workforce data using various filters, such as department and location, as well as seeing where hiring needed attention.
How does Workforce Planning help business?
Workforce Planning is about aligning the organization’s strategic and competitive goals. Often organizational objectives will be at the forefront of management’s plans. However, implementation can be impeded by an organization whose internal resources and staffing are not optimally configured to realize these goals.
Workforce Planning, where successfully introduced, helps fill knowledge gaps and highlight operational areas requiring attention in order to facilitate organizational objectives.
As Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith puts it, “As workforce plans hinge on effective forecasting, analysis and preparation, the failure to craft and implement an effective one will almost certainly deliver an adverse impact to a company’s ability to acquire, inspire and retain talent.”
However, bringing Workforce Planning into the DNA of business needs careful implementation and constant monitoring.
The Workforce Planning Process
Workforce Planning analyzes existing staff resources, looks at future workforce needs, spots gaps between the two and implements solutions so an organization accomplishes its overall objectives.
This is not a simple linear process with a beginning and end. It’s an iterative cycle where Workforce Planning should be seen as a series of steps that HR, working with other departments, is constantly revisiting. That’s because, in a dynamic environment, there will be a range of factors affecting parts of the organization and the environment in which it operates.
Workforce Planning, to be effective, must be a rolling process that becomes a central part of the HRM approach.
A Workforce Planning Model: 6 Stages
The concept is relatively straightforward. Each stage is part of a rolling cycle of processes that, to remain effective, need to be regularly revisited to factor in internal and external changes to the organization.
A. Understand your organization and its circumstances
B. Evaluate existing workforce requirements
C. Assess future workforce needs
D. Identify skills resource gaps against the future organizational need
E. Implement actions to meet shortages, surpluses or skills deficits
F. Monitor and evaluate the Workforce Plan, return to A.
Pros and Cons of the Workforce Planning model
Now we have explored what Workforce Planning is and how it can be implemented, it’s worth looking at the potential benefits and pitfalls.
Potential Benefits of WP
Provides a course of action – Plans provide everyone with a sense of the outcomes needed to achieve the desired results.
Improve resource utilization – Resources are always going to be scarce with different parts of any business seeking to command an unfair share of what’s available. By utilizing WP, everyone can see where the resources reside and where they need to be deployed for the best strategic effect.
Workforce Planning will also bring benefits in terms of goal-setting and awareness of when changes occur which need human resources to be redeployed. Workforce Planning helps define desired outcomes which will give people participating in the process a sense of their organization’s goals. In turn, a clear sense of such goals will help secure motivation and commitment of staff.
Possible pitfalls of WP
Workforce Planning is far from a universal panacea for all the ills that beset any organization. For that reason, an effective HR department seeking to implement WP needs to be aware of the potential downsides.
Plans can create inertia – A workforce plan is aimed at creating a strategic set of HR objectives which align with wider corporate goals. However, there is a danger so much time is spent researching and analyzing that the implementation never makes it to the big time.
Complacency – HR needs to be aware that having a workforce plan may create assumptions that everything is in hand, causing them to lose sight of plan implementation or to detect changes that need to be factored in. Remember that Workforce Planning is not a one-time process and must be continually revisited.
In a similar vein, the act of having an espoused Workforce Planning approach can have the potential of reducing initiatives that fall outside the parameters of the current WP, affecting creativity and flexibility.
A force for the future
We can see that a Workforce Planning model is a holistic approach to analyzing any organization based on its wider strategic goals and creating a detailed map of where its human resources are and where they ought to be.
To be effective it’s a system which needs wider management buy-in. It’s a powerful set of planning tools which, in conjunction with enlightened and proactive management, has the potential to place organizations at a competitive advantage in their respective sectors.
Yet, any tool is only as good as the person or team using it. Just as a saw needs to be handled correctly to make a clean cut, so too for Workforce Planning. To use WP requires understanding how best to use the products of its implementation and use.
Workforce Planning – Where to next?
There are a wealth of resources providing further detail on Workforce Planning and its implementation. However, not all resources are created equal so here are a few that are good examples.
- ‘The CIPD Workforce Planning Practice’ is a more detailed read (PDF) from the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
- ‘How to Do Workforce Planning’ is a web article from Cleverism, a specialist careers forum. The article provides a good next step introduction to implementing Workforce Planning.