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Four Main Steps of Strategic Workforce Planning

by Richard Correia

Is yours a company that engages in strategic workforce planning and as a result, is reaping the benefits of having the right people in the right jobs at the right time? If so, you know the makeup and capabilities of your current workforce. You’ve planned for future scenarios based on company growth. And you constantly review and take proactive steps to align your workforce with the future you foresee.

For companies like yours, it was all going swimmingly until COVID-19 showed up and threw a monkey wrench into the works. Almost overnight, companies had find new ways of doing business. Revenue projections and forecasts for company growth had to be reevaluated. All of a sudden, companies had too many employees who could not work on site and their jobs could not be done remotely. So workforce plans had to go back to the drawing board.

COVID-19 with its accompanying uncertainty is making workforce planning more important than ever. Let’s take a closer look at strategic workforce planning and the advantages it provides. Strategic Workforce Planning: What it is and What it’s not

At the job level, workforce planning assures that the right talent is in the right job at the right time. At the company level, workforce planning assures that the organization is neither understaffed nor overstaffed. At the strategic level, workforce planning identifies the gaps between the current and future workforce (2-5 years out), and takes steps to assure the desired quantity, quality, cost and agility of personnel are in place as the company advances.

The long-term focus of strategic workforce planning involves the whole company. It should not be confused with short term HR analytics, which is used primarily by HR personnel to analyze and optimize the performance of the current employees. It’s not the same as forecasting the company’s desired growth trajectory; determining the make-up of the workforce that will be needed at different points in the future; and planning the steps that will help the organization recruit, hire, promote, train, and retain the right people in the right jobs at the right time.

Four Main Steps of Strategic Workforce Planning To determine the human resources your company needs, you must first know where you want to go.

Step 1: Strategic workforce planning begins with the business and organizational strategy of the company and flows from there.

Is the company growing current product lines? Is it venturing into new markets, products or services? Is it phasing out older products and services? Is it anticipating technology advances or competitors that will disrupt the market? Once the company strategy is clear, workforce planning can commence.

Step 2: Analyze the current workforce in terms of size, quality, cost, agility, performance and future potential. Once you understand the workforce formation that you already have, you can begin to map out the future skillsets and roles that will be needed. Companies that are diverging and pursuing new business paths often find that mapping current employee skills, potential, and cost to future needs is especially challenging. For example, is it more advantageous to re-skill in-house staff or to recruit contingency and freelance talent from a global talent pool?

Step 3: Envision the future in multiple scenarios and prepare for probable outcomes. Since the future is never certain, strategic workforce planning creates multiple scenarios of the future and uses tangible examples to plot possible outcomes. This process often highlights weaker or unpleasant indications of change that you might otherwise overlook. Think of this phase as an evaluation of various “if-then” scenarios that help you prepare for continuity, expansion, disruption and even surprise.

Step 4: Determine your future workforce and take the necessary steps to achieve it. This process necessarily occurs in stages. The important thing is to aim for the right talent in the right place at the right time. For example, a manufacturing product line has a manual operation that is slated for future automation. For the next two years, manual operators will still be needed in some capacity. But after that, full automation is expected to kick in. Strategic workforce planning helps you foresee interim and ultimate formations of the workforce and prepare for them accordingly.

Strategic Workforce Planning is Essential to Successful Businesses Strategic workforce planning is how successful organizations solve staffing issues both in the short term and the long term, and gain many business advantages, including:

Cost Reduction: By analyzing different future scenarios, you’ll know whether it is more cost-efficient to hire local talent and place them on site, or to outsource operations and services to contingent workers and freelancers. You’ll know precisely how many workers you need at any given time and how to plan for turnover. And you can reduce the cost of unexpected attrition through better talent recruitment and management.

Efficient Talent Recruitment and Management: Once you have a plan, recruitment efforts will be able to target the right skill sets and onboard them at the right time. Training programs can be created to prepare employees for planned technology advances such as automation, or to master new applications and systems that the company is adopting. You can also improve career development opportunities as you plan to re-skill employees in tandem with company advances.

Better Business Agility: Considering a number of future scenarios help you build flexibility into workforce planning and avoid surprises. Even though your strategic workforce plan may follow a particular scenario, you will have considered other possibilities and how they would affect your business and your workforce. And if a disruption like COVID-19, comes in out of left field, you will be well practiced in assessing and acting upon the gaps in your current situation and where you want to be.

Strategic Workforce Planning is Worth the Effort Strategic workforce planning will help you reduce and optimize costs; prepare for market changes and talent pool fluctuations; create an effective recruitment strategy for both short and long term; and ultimately, improve the productivity and viability of your business.

To read more about workforce management and workforce optimization visit our Workforce Optimization (WFO) guide.

Richard Correia Richard has many years of experience in Product Management and Product/Solutions Marketing, with time at Cisco, Turin/Force10, Dell, and CyrusOne. Accomplishments include managing the product direction and revenue of Turin/Force10 data center solutions from a few million, to just under a hundred million. At Dell, he was focused on marketing the different hardware and software components of the data center solutions. At CyrusOne, he changed the direction and strategy of marketing, focusing on greater ROI. Richard holds a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering from University of Rhode Island and advanced degrees in Business & Engineering from Southern Methodist University.

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