Strategic workforce planning: what have we learned from the Great Rehire?
Robin Sanders

4 minutes

Strategic workforce planning: what have we learned from the Great Rehire?

Ask any CEO or HRD about their biggest current challenge, and chances are they’ll say it’s something around talent attraction, retention and acquiring the skills and capabilities they need to navigate an uncertain business environment.

During what’s been called the Great Rehire, many firms have needed to quickly bolster their workforces as business demand spikes. Aligning talent needs to the company strategy and corporate goals is imperative if companies are to react in an agile way and meet the changing needs of their customers.

But how can organisations use effective strategic workforce planning to deliver results in a post Covid world, where the war for skills is rife and the nature of work itself has been transformed?

What is strategic workforce planning?

Strategic workforce planning in its simplest form is about understanding future workforce needs. This typically involves:

  • comparing the current talent situation in your organisation against the skills you need
  • using people analytics to identify the critical gaps
  • making a strategic plan for the mid to long term, with room to manoeuvre factored in.

Taking this approach means that, when unforeseen events such as a global pandemic strike, the business can easily pivot and adapt without having to take drastic people decisions.

Scenario planning involves human resources scrutinising the numbers, such as turnover and attrition rates, but also zeroing in on the hard to source skills that are crucial to achieving organisational objectives. Digital transformation and cybersecurity are two such areas that have greatly impacted business performance during the pandemic; the former to boost online sales, the latter to prevent lost trading days.

The input of business leaders will be key in establishing timeframes and providing a clear understanding of the hiring volumes needed, and what those mission critical roles are. It will also help to budget for staff salaries and external supplier costs, so that these can be factored into the financial planning process.

Having the right technology will allow organisations to adopt a data driven approach to talent, which is crucial given that many businesses often lack detailed people data, the kind of intelligence that will enable them to instantly know which skills are in ready supply and which are lacking. Assessments and surveys can help you learn more about the skills you have and the training you might want to provide to upskill and reskill your workforce. This will boost engagement, as investing in the long-term growth of employees is a huge personal motivator, while also helping with your equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) efforts.

Strategic workforce planning minimises business disruption

The other point to consider in a strategic workforce plan is quality, which is why it’s so important to know who your high performers are across any segment of your workforce – whether that’s permanent staff or those who make up your temporary resources.

But you also want to uncover talent further down your pipeline, individuals who you see as having high potential for future leadership roles or even one-off projects. In these cases, it’s important to design training and development programmes to give these people the experiences and stretch assignments that will prepare them for leadership roles in the future.

Your talent acquisition strategy shouldn’t just look at external talent pools – there may be people internally who could be redeployed. In other words, you might want to focus more on talent building than talent buying to address any scarcity of talent. This is one reason why it is so important to track data on diversity and inclusion. For example, how many women or people from ethnic minority backgrounds are being promoted or choosing to stay with the firm? What message does it send out to your own employees about their opportunities for advancement if you always hire externally for critical roles when the ideal people may already be in the company?

There is no right and wrong answer, but the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder that talent building is a critical part of strategic workforce planning. Conducting a skills audit can help build the business case for redeploying people. In some cases where you need niche specialist skills quickly, looking outside your organisation may well be your best bet.

Getting specialist support with strategic workforce planning

Whichever option you go for, the workforce planning process will need to be regularly reviewed as variables constantly change and you may have to adapt to different situations. An external talent acquisition or managed service provider can help you develop a truly holistic view of your talent and the best way to approach the management of your workforce.

Any successful workforce strategy requires careful planning to incorporate every segment of the workforce – including the non-employed. A data driven approach that takes a deep dive into the talent capabilities and skills that you have at present, compared to what you need to meet future workforce demands, is the starting point.

HR professionals, aided by line managers and expert advisors, must analyse their business’s critical skill requirements now and decide how they will address and overcome the skills shortages that so many are experiencing. Whether buying externally, building talent from within, or redeploying workers, a plan of action based on in-depth talent analytics is the key to future proofing and protecting your business from unprecedented events.

Want to learn more? Get our guide

Our beginner’s guide to workforce planning explains in greater detail how HR, TA and resource management professionals can leverage strategic hiring to improve talent acquisition and drive growth. Get your copy here.

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