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Workforce planning won’t save you [Blog]

Whilst the concept of workforce planning is not new by any means, implementation and optimisation of workforce planning can sometimes be low on the organisational agenda. This can be due to several factors, but a primary contributor as to why Workforce Planning can be viewed as a low priority, is that previous workforce planning exercises have resulted in little or no real benefit to the organisation. How is it that an activity, which has been generally accepted as crucial to organisational success, can fail to deliver outcomes for an organisation? One reason is that the expectations of the workforce planning process are unrealistic, and the other is that workforce planning isn’t conducted effectively. The following article explores the key outcomes that can be mistakenly sought from workforce planning, and how organisations can ensure that maximum value is generated from workforce planning.

Workforce planning won’t tell you why

The first stage of most workforce planning processes, after setting the context and understanding the organisation, is to conduct workforce analysis at some level. Trends and indicators such as employee turnover, demographics, absenteeism, recruitment success rates and retention figures can all provide an insight into how the organisation is performing and the likelihood of certain trends continuing into the future. However, if you have a high turnover rate for example, rudimentary workforce analysis is unlikely to reveal the causes of this other than applying general statistics (e.g. On average, 60% of employees leave their employer due to the actions and behaviours of their direct manager). Prior to conducting the workforce analysis, a workplace climate or employee engagement survey, even a very simple one, can provide useful insight into workforce trends and data, and help complete the picture as to why certain trends are occurring. This can be invaluable when developing strategies for the future, and will ensure that the workforce plan doesn’t simply focus on the number and skills of staff required, but also the organisational and individual development strategies that will ensure the organisation is able to achieve its objectives.

Workforce planning won’t do your dirty work

Whilst workforce planning is generally associated with organisations that are in a growth phase, recently there has been an increase in workforce planning for organisations in a period of restructure or rationalisation. This is particularly true in the public sector, where organisational priorities and budget reduction targets require significant strategic workforce readjustment to meet tight budgetary and resourcing constraints. However, whilst a workforce plan can clearly demonstrate that certain skill sets or positions aren’t needed, this doesn’t necessarily make the process of implementation any easier. Especially during periods of workforce reduction, it is vital that not only workforce strategies are considered, but that specific change management is implemented to guide managers, those leaving the organisation, and those left behind through the process and assist with transition to the new way of business.

Workforce planning isn’t just for the HR Department

Too often managers look to the HR team to deliver a workforce plan, without any support or input from the business. Managers ask the HR Department to do workforce planning, thinking that this will resolve a specific issue or trend that is emerging within their organisation. Whilst workforce planning can be a catalyst to address key workforce issues, it’s important to recognise that workforce planning is not HR Planning. Workforce planning articulates what the organisation is going to do as a whole to meet the workforce needs of the organisation into the future, and needs to be informed by the needs and the priorities of the business. Furthermore, whilst a renewed workforce plan may be helpful to ensure that strategies reflect current trends and organisational objectives, this isn’t going to address the problem. Specific action needs to be planned and implemented, often by managers and supervisors. With recent studies consistently reporting that over 60 percent of employees make a decision to leave their organisation based on their direct manager, strategies will of course need to be focused on this crucial segment of the workforce.

Workforce planning won’t achieve anything – unless you implement it!

Too often workforce planning exercises focus on workforce analysis – it is easy to get caught up in the analysis of numbers, and spend time asking questions as to why specific trends are occurring. However unless the workforce planning process then includes the development of strategies and actions, it isn’t, by definition, actually a plan.

Finally, and most importantly, if the actions aren’t implemented, nothing will change. The most important element of workforce planning isn’t the planning process itself, it’s implementation. It’s vital to nominate those responsible, set deadlines and deliver.

If your organisation is lost in the wilderness, workforce planning won’t save you. But if you do it right, it will give you a clear map. All you have to do is follow it.

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About the author

Natasha Corbin