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20.10.2021 Organisation & processes

A complete guide to workforce planning

A complete guide to workforce planning

In very simple terms, the goal of workforce planning is a process to ensure your organisation has the right talent to achieve long-term goals.

What is workforce planning?

The world is becoming faster and faster. In the past, people used to join a company and stay there for years. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to stay in the same position for the majority of their adult lives.

This landscape has dramatically changed, and its momentum gets faster. Nowadays, people change positions and companies if they’re unhappy with anything from workload, to management, to social opportunities or expectations.

This shift has made recruitment even more important, especially for small and medium-sized organisations. Great talent gets snapped up in the blink of an eye. In a lot of industries there are more opportunities than candidates, making for fierce competition.

One of the best ways to ensure that your employee retention rate remains stable, and that you’re not wasting precious resources on the huge undertaking that is recruitment, is to have a solid workforce plan.

This workforce plan can stretch and bend to adapt over time, as long as it follows the needs and priorities of the organisation from a long term view.

So, workforce planning improves employee retention?

Yes! But improved employee retention is not the only plus. Workforce planning is all about looking at where you’ve come from, and stably positioning yourself to carry on towards the future of your business. Generally, your workforce plan usually looks into the future by between 2 and 5 years and should align closely with the organisation’s strategy.

I have a staffing plan, is that the same thing?

Not really; although a staffing plan and a workforce plan are similar there are indeed some big differences.

The main difference between a staffing plan and a hiring plan is the length of time the two plans cover. As we discussed above, a workforce plan generally looks at company strategy in regards to employees for around 5 years into the future.

A staffing plan is a strategy that’s much more focused on the here and now and helps to plan out short-term and immediate hiring needs. Usually a staffing plan timeline will span up to 12 months into the future. 

Why is workforce planning important?

We’re sure you would agree that the backbone of any successful company is its people. Not having the best talent can cause huge strains on company resources. If an organisation isn’t focused on future hiring there can be challenges with employee retention rates. Companies are much more likely to succeed and achieve goals faster and easier when they have the right people working towards those goals.

Working on workforce planning puts the focus onto the future and encourages management and leadership teams to think about long term aims in a very specific area. This includes considering what sort of talent you should be looking for, as well as the specific skills you’ll need while working towards those aims, to make the company strategy come to life in the easiest and most efficient way possible. 

Workforce planning is going to become increasingly important in the near future. Especially when faced with recruiting or retention challenges. As the recruiting landscape and talent attraction becomes less reactive and more proactive it will be a key activity to know exactly which roles you would like to hire. With those goals clearly in mind it will make it much easier to find the right talent. 

Who is responsible for developing a workforce plan?

HR departments and line managers will be heavily involved in the workforce planning. However, directors, external stakeholders and C-Level executives will be able to plan out their future visions and guide those teams on what the future workforce within the organisation should look like, and what challenges or employment gaps they want to tackle first.

In short, workforce planning is a task that should contain stakeholders from different departments. However, there should be an upper limit on how many employees can be involved with the process, as too many stakeholders can slow the process down and provide too many viewpoints.

So, how should I go about developing my workforce plan?

A good place to start is to execute a current state assessment. The idea of this is to look at your organisation’s journey so far and get a clear picture of where you’ve been, and what you already have. This will give you an idea of where you need to improve, where there are gaps in your staffing, or possible capabilities that could be taken over by different teams. Once you have clearly identified your current state, you can use it to look towards the future and identify the most important openings that should be at the top of your priority list. 

Step 1. Analyse your current workforce

What’s the plan? – where does your organisation want to go? Is it already on track towards meeting those goals? Workforce planning should start from the top down, so there should be good transparency between executives or CEOs and the HR department and line managers who will be working on the workforce planning. 

Step 2. Determine the future needs of your organisation

What do we already have? – Think about the levels of seniority you already have, what skills your key workers are well educated in. Ideally you’ll be able to put some data together about how you’ve already arrived at this point to determine how you’ll carry on this course, or see areas that need to be improved. 

Step 3. Identify employment gaps from where you are now to where you want to be

What’s next? – Do you need to grow larger teams? Do you need to work on skills and education? Do you need more leaders, or is a flat hierarchy important? Once you have data from the past, and a concrete vision for the future you can work out areas where you’ll need to focus on talent attraction. 

Step 4. Implement solutions to put your plan into action

How shall we solve employment gaps? – Would you prefer to focus on internal promotions? Do you need a larger external hiring effort? Maybe you need to work on company benefits or culture to attract better talent. 

Step 5. Attract top talent and accomplish your goals!

Did your plan work?
– Remember to keep going back to your plan and analyse whether it’s going in the right direction. Feedback from line managers and executives will help with adapting the plan. Keep an eye on the data and the trajectory of the workforce planning goals. 

Tip: Start at the finish line. Determine your best case scenario, what would your organisation love to achieve within the next 5 years? What would be different in your organisation then compared to now? 

You can use your workforce planning to look beyond hiring, too. Other things to include in the plan could be to do with company culture if that’s something you’re passionate to improve. It could include revenue goals or customer satisfaction improvement plans – anything that your organisation would like to work on to improve the business can be included in your workforce planning.  

Think about the qualities that are most important to your organisation. A lot of people should be involved in the development of this plan, and management teams should be included when building up a picture of what’s critical to particular teams to achieve the overall aim. Some skills that might be beneficial to find in new talent might be:

  • Attitudes & behaviours
  • Skills 
  • Values
  • Knowledge
  • Capabilities & Competencies

Some things that might influence or affect your workforce planning in regards to timeline or limitations could be:

  • The strategic direction of the organisation 
  • Implications of operational planning 
  • Areas of highest priority
  • Budget
  • Staffing capabilities and numbers
  • Competencies for now and the future
  • Alignment and goal clarity

Remember that the implementation of your plan is also important. If you don’t already have a strong talent attraction team, a good onboarding process and a company culture that your current employees enjoy, then this should be something you work on. Consistently review feedback to improve all these processes and be open to knowledge sharing. A great place to start with workforce planning is possibly sourcing a strong human resources lead to set up a team that can push the whole organisation forward towards your overall goals faster. 

Workforce planning can push your organisation to achieve their goals faster, it can improve your employee retention rate as everyone is clear what they should be trying to achieve, which leads to better company culture and happier workers. 

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