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What Is Workforce Planning?
Workforce planning is the process of analyzing your current and future workforce needs in order to accomplish your strategic goals. Workforce planning goes beyond just recruiting. It focuses on the bigger picture of what your organization is trying to do and the kind of workforce you need to meet those goals.
You need the right people with the right skills doing the right things. Beyond that, you need the right number of people and need to anticipate when you’ll need a new hire or additional skills. Workforce planning will help you determine those needs.
Workforce planning helps you move from a reactive role to a proactive role (hello, strategic HR). You will be able to anticipate the needs of your organization rather than responding to those needs only after they become problematic.
Why Is Workforce Planning Important?
Workforce planning is important for a variety of reasons:
- You (HR) can’t do it alone. Although we know HR professionals do have superpowers, seeing every need of the organization is not one of those powers. You need the perspective of every part of the organization. A solid workforce planning process can provide that perspective.
- Your workforce is changing. Sometimes on a daily basis, your workforce changes. While it’s impossible to anticipate every change, you can prepare for changes by having a plan.
- You need the right talent. Obviously, you need people to get things done, but how many people? And what skills do those people need to have? Which skills do you currently have? Which skills are you lacking? These are the questions workforce planning will help you answer.
- You have a budget. Gone are the days of thinking of employees as costs, but you must be financially responsible. You want to invest in employees in the areas that will be most beneficial.
What Is the Role of HR in Workforce Planning?
HR plays a central role in workforce planning, but as is often the case, you need the buy-in and perspective of others. HR usually serves as the driver, helping to initiate, organize and follow through throughout the process. HR also can help to provide structure to the others involved, steering them in the right direction as they analyze their own areas.
In addition to HR, workforce planning should involve both finance and key company leaders. HR and finance must work together from the start to make sure your workforce decisions (hiring, training, succession, etc.) are in line with company financial targets. Company leaders provide additional perspective and will also be the ones who see a lot of the plans through.
The Steps of Workforce Planning
Now that we’ve covered the “what” and the “why,” let’s talk about the “how.” This can often be the most daunting part, but don’t worry! Here are a few basic steps that will get you started:
Step 1. Analyze Current Workforce
The first step is to take a good look at your current workforce. You should look generally and specifically. Generally, you can look at things like employee count, team structure and budgets. Specifically, you can dive into the skills of current employees (this can take some time), workforce demographics, turnover or any number of relevant people metrics.
Don’t forget: you can’t do it alone. You’ll need help throughout every stage of this process, but especially as you seek to understand the current state of your organization.
Step 2. Identify Future Needs
The next step is to narrow in on what your organization’s priorities are. Likely, this is something that is already discussed at the executive level, so you won’t be starting from scratch. A SWOT analysis can be beneficial during this step, especially to help you think internally and externally. What’s happening in the market and among your competitors plays an important role in determining your needs.
Remember that you don’t want to just be planning for today or tomorrow. Think about the long-term here.
Step 3. Find the Gaps
This step is when you bring all the preparation from steps one and two together. What gaps does your current workforce have if you’re hoping to accomplish x, y or z goals? Are you under or overstaffed on certain teams? Are any skills in high demand in the current market? Where do you need to invest now to meet your new business priorities?
Step 4. Fill the Gaps
This might be unfair to put into just one step, but the idea here is to act on what you’ve learned in steps one through three. In reality, workforce planning is an ongoing process, so you will be constantly learning, acting and adjusting.
But as you act to fill the gaps you’ve established, this will affect your overall HR strategies, including recruiting, training, development and even performance management. Make sure you keep things in line with the broader plan that you have set throughout the process.
Example of Workforce Planning in Action
While workforce planning can look different, here’s an example of how this might look in action:
- You’re an HR admin at a small, startup software company and the CEO has asked you to figure out headcount needs for the next year.
- First, you pull up your favorite Eddy article to remember the steps of workforce planning. Step one is to analyze your current workforce. You pull some general numbers from your HRIS, then you sit down with each function leader at the company to learn more about their teams.
- Step two is to identify future needs. You pull up your organization’s priorities for the year, as well as the most recent SWOT analysis the leadership completed. With those in mind, you talk with the CEO about the strategies to accomplish those priorities.
- Step three is to find the gaps. You may already have heard some of the pain points from around the organization — IT is understaffed, marketing needs a more experienced designer, etc. With function leaders, talk through both these current needs and what will be needed to accomplish the company’s goals. What are people worried about? Where are there skills missing?
- Step four is to fill in the gaps. By now, you’ve gathered a lot of info and you need to bring it together and make some actionable recommendations. You might see the need for additional headcount in some areas, offering some external training or certifications in others, or even adjusting performance reviews to key in on what you need to focus on.
- This process is ongoing, so these steps won’t be as clear cut when you put them into practice. Still, you can use them as a framework to help you not get lost.
Other Tips For Effective Workforce Planning
As you get started, here are some helpful tips to remember:
Do your research and planning before you call people together to start the workforce planning process. As the driver of this process, you should have a clear outline of what the steps of the process will be.
If leaders don’t see why workforce planning will be impactful, they won’t care about the process. Like all of us, executives are busy and need to focus on the priorities, so show them why this is a priority. Before you formally get started, have individual conversations with those who will be involved to talk through any concerns.
This might seem strange given that workforce planning is a broad analysis, but even so you need to bite off only what you can chew. Set reasonable deadlines for yourself and others. Once you’ve been through the process, you’ll get a better idea of how it all works.
Do It Again
This is not a one-time process that will solve your problems for the next five years. As mentioned before, your workforce is always changing, as is the market. Even your organization’s priorities will change over time. Come back to these steps regularly and think of this as an ongoing project rather than a one-time event.
Tools to Help You With Workforce Planning
Make sure to use softwares or other digital tools of your choice to help manage this process. Here are a few to explore:
Human Resources Information System (HRIS)
If you already use an HRIS, that’s a great place to start. From your HRIS, you may be able to easily pull the metrics you need for planning. Some more advanced HRISs may even have specific tools to help with budgets, forecasting, succession planning and more.
Never underestimate the power of a good Excel spreadsheet! Excel is great because of its wide variety of uses, from simple tracking to complicated data analytics to data visualization.
A simple internet search can be a great place to start, especially to learn the basic structure of workforce planning. Some websites might even offer templates of how to get started or resources that you could share with leaders to help them prepare.
Although it can be pricey, you may choose to get help from an HR consultant, especially if you feel unsure about a lot of the steps in the workforce planning process. Make sure to find a consultant that is rated well and can provide you with a clear picture of how they’ll offer benefit to your company.
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