So many organizations have had starts and stops with workforce planning, yet they continue to march right along achieving successful outcomes.
As such, many leaders contend, “We’ve done well without a workforce planning process. Why, then, do we need one now?” This is a fair question. Answering it honestly and accurately, however, is rarely done well.
First, not many business leaders know what workforce planning should look like in 2016. What does a great process look like? What decisions will workforce planning help inform? How would it be different than headcount planning?
Similarly, workforce planning will look different for different organizations and industries. Still, human resources has struggled for too long to socialize concepts like “strategic workforce planning” by putting forth models and language that suggests it knows a by-the-book approach. The trouble is, there is no such approach. And even if there were, it likely wouldn’t be the right one.
Why will workforce planning be different for different organizations? There are a few prominent reasons:
- Talent markets are tighter in some industries and locations. For example, the labor market for technology, health care and energy is tight, while the market for financial services, retail and construction is less so.
- High-growth companies, those considering shifting locations, or those with an aging workforce will seek different insights.
- The planning horizon will likely be different based on pace of innovation, growth, market constraints, etc.
Despite these differences, there are also commonalities seen within organizations doing workforce planning. Among them:
- Workforce planning has a clear, well-socialized definition of what it is and what it isn’t. For some organizations, it might not even be called “workforce planning.”
- Workforce planning means to inform talent acquisition strategy, talent development, budget and organizational design.
- The various functions involved, including finance, operations, information technology, talent acquisition, learning and development, compensation, communications, etc.
- A data strategy to guide the approaches to technology, analytics and ultimately talent-related decision-making. Workforce planning records the questions leaders want or need answered, along with the data and insights that will help answer those questions.
Given these differences and similarities, what should workforce planning look like in 2016?
First, all those involved need to view workforce planning with a common purpose. Workforce planning is a systematic way to forecast talent demand and plan on how best to meet that demand. This should be the standard view.
This informs what we’ll then call the four Cs of workforce planning:
- Capability speaks to talent with the right skills at the right time.
- Capacity speaks to the amount of necessary talent.
- Cost refers to budget constraints.
- Construct refers to how talent is going to be constructed or organized.
Second, how can leaders get to this point? The ideal organization clearly understands the external talent markets in which they do business as well as the feelings, desires and ideas of its internal talent. There are some great vendors that can help understand the external talent markets, including CEB, EMSI and Burning Glass.
In large or rapid-growth organizations, if HR is going to be seen as a true strategic talent adviser, at least one of these organizations should be retained.
Third, HR needs to facilitate a measurement strategy that informs the company’s data and technology strategy. This has been in reverse for too long, leaving analysts with data that’s inappropriate to answer the questions leaders want answered.
Leaders wonder why they’re not getting the insight they want. In 2016 and beyond, talent leaders have to start with the questions or stories they want told, and then build from there.
Can talent leaders find insights with existing data? Sure. But that’s often counting on luck and not planning. Workforce planning can help take luck out of the equation.