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Workforce planning doesn’t just mean HR analytics

A definition of workforce planning, including strategic and operational workforce planning.

Published by Rupert Morrison 

People often say one thing but really mean something else. They say our “Vision” but mean “Goal”. For instance, our “vision is to be in the top quarter of x”. A noble goal, for sure. But not a vision. And so it is equally with Workforce Planning.

All too often, what is meant is an overview of the workforce demographics. The kinds of questions referred to often include:

But this is not workforce planning, it is HR analytics.

Workforce planning is about the numbers of “workers” (be they perm or temp; full time or part) required for each time period (by year, month, week…) and what the gap is given the current headcount, given likely attrition and the required skills sets/competencies. I.e. it is temporal in nature. It requires planning, gap analysis, and tracking of progress.

Two main points of view here:

  1. We like to think of workforce planning across three time horizons:
    1. Strategic/Multi-year
    2. Operational/In year
    3. Tactical/within the window of current recruitment and staff-turnover churn/replacement cycles
  2. We think a better term would be “Workforce Management” than “Workforce Planning”:
    1. To start with, yes, it is about having a robust plan. A necessary but insufficient requirement
    2. It is about knowing the gap between actuals and plan. It is about knowing why there is a gap. What is the root cause? Is it because you didn’t recruit the number in the plan? Is churn highly than assumed? Has the plan has changed?…Only when you know why you are off plan in any given area are in you in position do actually do something about it
    3. It is about knowing how the plan is changing and being able to adapt to change in flight. It is about communication. Everyone knowing the state of play. Everyone being clear what they need to do and how well they are doing. This is management, pure and simple.

Three time horizons of workforce planning

The below figure highlights the relative amount of effort required at a point of time vs the “number of years forward looking”. At most points in time, the Tactical Management absorbs the majority of time, but only has a relatively short horizon.

Strategic Workforce Planning

This is the multi-year stuff. It is related to helping and even driving the overall strategy. If people are your most important asset, then how are you going to make them your differentiator to “win” in future years?

Example of strategic planning include:

 Operational planning & management:

Think budgeting. Think detailed operational business plans and the workforce part of that. Think through core assumptions such as attrition, training to plug skills gaps, which recruitment channels

Examples of Operational workforce planning

Tactical management

This is the reactive. This is the day-to-day. It is reacting to unforeseen changes. A key member of staff leaves. Attrition suddenly jumps. Candidates dry up.

We call it “Tactical management”, because it is the execution of both the strategic and operational plans. It is knowing which recruitment channels are working well and which aren’t. It is being able to better predict attrition from sources such as Fast Feedback surveys.

Tactical workforce management gets the least amount of air time but takes the most real time and what we do in reality is what counts at the end of the day.

Rupert Morrison

Founder and Deputy Chair of Orgvue, Orgvue

Rupert Morrison is the founding pioneer behind Orgvue, the leading organizational design and planning platform, which has won numerous accolades including Gartner’s ‘Cool Vendor’ in human capital management software. Rupert’s aim is to help businesses realize their goals through data and analytics. With over 20+ years of experience in consulting, and 17 years in developing software, he blends a deep understanding of board level business issues with new data driven methodologies to give real and sustainable business impact. Rupert is the author of the industry's foremost thought-leading books, considered to be essential 'must reads' for all org design and workforce planning professionals: "Data-driven Organization Design" (now in it's second edition) and "Organizational Planning and Analysis".

Photograph of Rupert Morrison