Why strategic workforce planning matters

The benefits of strategic workforce planning are now almost universally accepted within business circles – and with good reason. By predicting both the behaviours of internal employees and market demand fluctuations, the ability to map out a coherent plan to overcome forecasted skills gaps and bring in expertise can both encourage growth and help to push an organisation into new markets.

However, despite the obvious benefits that robust and dedicated people strategies bring, a historic overreliance on agency recruitment can be a barrier to implementing effective workforce plans.

This may explain why a recent Workday/Human Capital Institute survey of 400 professionals who deal with strategic workforce planning within their business revealed that 69% consider the function either an “essential” or “high” priority – but that only 44% actively engage in it.

Strategic workforce planning benefits

Through analysing skills demand based on growth projections, transformation strategy and expected attrition – and then referencing this against talent supply both internally and within the wider workforce – business can effectively determine, and plan to overcome, skills gaps. However, success in this area relies on a cohesive and coherent recruitment and wider HR strategy.

The benefits to those organisations which get it right are valuable and far reaching.  As well as aiding a reduction in expensive contracts in the use of external recruitment agencies, robust workforce plans enable leaders to identify not only skills gaps, but also skills surplus. Essentially, effective talent planning boosts productivity by ensuring that the right people are in the right place at the right time – while simultaneously providing the flexibility for workforces to expand and contract as demand dictates.

This strategy also enables businesses to identify strengths and training opportunities within their teams so that investment into development can be directed accordingly. This, in turn, boosts not only staff retention, but also engagement and profitability through the preservation of skills, culture and relationships within a business.

Tools to aid strategies

Both internal data and industry trends are usually an excellent source of knowledge of individual jobs’ attrition rates, which can lead to a surprisingly detailed forecast of skills needed for the future.

Senior leadership teams now have access to reliable information regarding which employees are eligible for up-skilling and re-skilling, helping to predict gaps within the workforce – although these may open and close as market demand fluctuates. In this way, the data can also be used to implement a policy of growing your own internal talent, which can subsequently help to close projected managerial gaps in the future. In addition, technological tools can also be used to predict likelihood of employees jumping ship, including through social media monitoring applications.

One common misconception about a successful workforce plan is that it is rigid and set in stone when, in fact, exactly the opposite is the case; what might be needed for a business now may be totally different in five years’ time. Naturally, it is important to address the organisation’s most critical needs first, and not rush to implement an overarching strategy.

This allows for progression and, critically, facilitates the avoidance of paying premium rates associated with external recruitment fees while trying to fill immediate skills gaps. An effective plan must be adaptable and almost constantly fine-tuned in order to stay in line with market demand, new products and emerging markets – especially when reacting to or predicting competitors’ moves.

In fact, it is vital to keep your competition at the very front of your mind when constructing a workforce strategy. It is highly likely that you will be fishing from the same talent pool down the line, and predicting skills gaps means that your business will be able to create pipelines and contacts within these areas long before anyone is needed on board. This provides the best chance of winning top talent – and these acquisitions can make the difference to staying a step ahead of your competitors.

Dedicated recruitment function key to unlocking benefits

Strategies to overcome existing or incoming skills gaps include not only recruitment, but also development, retention and restructuring. With this in mind, in order to create and manage truly effective workforce plans, full autonomy around hiring is key.

Internal talent acquisition teams have the significant advantage of full visibility of the company’s wider talent management plans. By taking a bird’s eye view of the people strategy, in-house recruiters can plan and execute detailed hiring roadmaps to ensure the right roles are filled at the right time. This, in turn, offers the freedom to pipeline talent for future or alternative positions – or to flex role criteria to increase access to hard-to-source skills.

An external recruiter may be able to run with a rigid job spec and fill it accordingly. However, only an internal recruiter will have the oversight to understand and map complex workforce interdependencies – and shift role requirements in real-time – in order to prepare for tomorrow’s workforce today.

To find out how strategic workforce planning can impact organisational outcomes in your business, get in touch today.


February 27, 2019

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