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Strategic workforce planning: how to win business support

Tips on most effective ways to convince business sceptics of the importance of strategic workforce planning.

Published by Orgvue 

In today’s highly volatile, complex and uncertain business environments, there are sceptics who doubt the value of strategic workforce planning as changes have become so rapid. But without forecasting future trends and incorporating them into your on-going planning process, your organizations won’t be able to react to changes in an agile way. It’s not about getting the exact forecast number right, but about exploring the plausible future scenarios and designing the right interventions.

The case for strategic workforce planning is clear

More businesses realize that right-sizing is not as simple as cutting headcount across the board using a ‘magic number ‘or a ‘slash and burn’ approach. A rigorous method is needed especially since the recent economic turmoil demands workforce transformations to occur substantially faster, more regularly and with a bigger stake than ever (read more about the ideal span of control). Adding to this, with the raging war for talent, businesses need to be mindful about nurturing their hard-won, scarce talent pool to remain competitive. This brings to the fore the significance of embedding strategic workforce planning in your business journey to secure future success.

How HR teams can win support for their strategic workforce planning initiatives

Despite a clear case, executive sponsorship for strategic workforce planning initiatives in HR is still tepid because practitioners often face the challenge of interpreting and acting on the data. This leads to the difficulty in demonstrating ROI of strategic workforce planning to the board.

Many people seem to think that strategic workforce planning can only give value if the data is 100% clean and a fully-fledged analytics system is already in place. In reality, investment in an analytics system is only secondary to identifying questions that are truly valuable to the business. Make sure your analytics plan is guided by key drivers and challenges that are aligned with the business plan. Most of the time, the data to answer these questions already exists somewhere in the organization. The earlier you engage with managers across different functions in the journey, the easier it is to build the solution bottom up.

The greatest benefit of strategic workforce planning doesn’t come from producing an accurate business forecast, but from the action you take on a particular insight (read more). Although strategic workforce planning might be an HR initiative, it should concern the whole organization. Focus on training your HR team to work with the business to interpret and act on the data. They should become capable strategic workforce planning consultants that can collaborate with managers to develop the right plan in place for different future scenarios. For example, they need to understand how various business trajectories will impact the workforce capacity, people’s roles and competencies.

While some strategic workforce planning projects may be driven by external events and time-critical, the on-going value of strategic workforce planning comes from its integration into your business as usual planning process. Strategic workforce planning needs to be a continuous process with a feedback loop that drives on-going insights and improvements of the workforce ‘as-is’ to its ‘to-be’.

The most effective way to convince business sceptics of the importance of strategic workforce planning is by demonstrating its benefit. Bolster your business case by blending your workforce data with business data. Data-driven HR professionals should be able to collaborate with Chief Financial Officers to provide insight into the relationship between workforce change initiatives and business KPIs. For example, they could look at relationships between employee absence and productivity; which competencies of the sales force best predict sales productivity; what the impact of various training programs are on various outcomes, e.g., CSAT, engagement, retention, productivity and so on.

The steps above should help HR to demonstrate the significance of strategic workforce planning to the business. By taking these initiatives, HR teams can also help the whole organization to sustain long-term success.

Image credit: Jakub Szepietowski