The folks at Bersin & Associates define workforce planning as the: "...set of business processes for analyzing the supply and demand of talent within an organization, and how that supply and demand might change over time."
However the Bersin team also say it's one of the least defined HR functions.
Wikipedia says it's: "a continual process used to align the needs and priorities of the organization with those of its workforce to ensure it can meet its legislative, regulatory, service and production requirements and organizational objectives. Workforce planning enables evidence based workforce development strategies."
Further, Wikipedia states workforce planning is: "the business process for ensuring that an organization has suitable access to talent (potential candidates that have the ability to undertake required activities including decisions making) to ensure future business success."
So why should you care about strategic workforce planning?
In their April 2011 research bulletin, The Value of Advanced Workforce Planning Capabilities, Bersin & Associates identified "Developing advanced workforce planning capabilities" as #2 in The Top 10 Best Practices among High-Impact HR Functions (from highest impact to lowest). Doing so can make HR 28% more efficient, effective and aligned.
And when you consider it, it really is a vital activity to ensure the ongoing health and competitiveness of your organization. Yet according to Bersin & Associates, only 36% of all companies conduct advanced workforce planning.
So where do you start? With a solid talent management foundation
The first step to workforce planning is to get a clear picture of your current workforce. And that's where your talent management processes come in. To truly understand the skills, experience, credentials, performance and potential of your workforce you need things like:
- Up to date employee profiles that include details like education, experience, credentials/certification, skills, interests, etc.
- Up to date job descriptions that include the job accountabilities, competencies, education and experience required to perform a role
- The performance history of every employee (e.g. performance ratings from regular performance appraisals over several years)
- An understanding of the career interests of your employees
- An assessment of the career potential of each of your employees
- An understanding of who and how many employees are at risk of leaving, why and when (e.g., retirement, no career path, etc.)
- A clear understanding of your workforce's strengths and gaps relative to core, leadership, job-specific and key competencies
- A view of which hiring sources are the best for particular skills/areas
All of this information, gathered in performance appraisals, talent assessments, employee profiles, and talent acquisition reports gives you a good basic understanding of your workforce today. It can help you identify areas of strength that can be capitalized on, as well as areas where strength is lacking that you need to address.
So gather it up. Start to analyze it. Look for trends. That's the first step to creating an effective strategic workforce planning program. If you need to, get help from someone in the organization who's experienced at data analysis, or sign up for a course at your local college and sharpen your skills. Then put plans in place to ensure your organization has the talent it needs to achieve its goals.
Aligning your workforce with organizational needs
Once you have a solid understanding of the makeup of your current workforce, you need to sync your HR plans and programs with your organization's strategic plan; you need to understand how you need to manage and adapt your workforce going forward to support that plan and address environmental changes. That requires supporting both the immediate strategic plan, and the long term 5-10 year plan.
You may need to adapt or extend some of your current talent management programs, evolve your competency model, develop organizational strengths in key areas, shift some employees in the organization, do some strategic hiring, etc. Looking at the makeup of your current workforce and understanding what talent the organization needs to support its strategic plan will make the required actions clear.
Workforce planning isn't something you can master in a month, or even a year. It takes time, tools and often a new skill set for HR. But the rewards for HR and the organization are significant. So why not add creating a workforce plan to your list of goals for this year?