What is Workforce Planning and Why Does it Matter?

The common definition of Workforce Planning is simple enough: Ensure you have enough of the right people in the right positions doing the right things at the right time. The tricky part is the execution.

Most managers consciously or unconsciously evaluate these considerations every day.  Without much calculation, a savvy leader can guess if the day will be slow enough to let employees go home early, or busy enough to require extra help and overtime.  But this kind of improvisational management style is reactive, and while it may work well enough to forge through the peaks and valleys of immediate operational demands, it does nothing to help the essential longevity of an organization.

A recent study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (I4CP) showed that Workforce planning is “in the room “ at a rising number of companies, but even then, the significant focus is on immediate hurdles, not long term strategy.  This may imply that what these companies are engaged in is actually Workforce Staffing, and not really planning at all.  Not to say that short-term goal attainment isn’t an import aspect of Workforce Planning, it absolutely is, but unless the short term approach is aligned with a long term vision, the future success of these businesses is at risk.

Here are the can’t-miss components of effective Workforce Planning:

  1. Operational: Focuses on current systems and processes. The operational perspective is primarily centered on the nuts and bolts of daily activities and the immediate market reality. It examines the tools, talent, and techniques already in place to meet existing demands.  This component chiefly analyzes employee, process, and technological efficiency,  as well as quality control and customer service.
  2. Tactical: This is the middle ground between the Operational and Strategic focuses.  While Operational planning concentrates on today, and Strategic planning looks 3-5 years into the future. Tactical planning is the road map for getting an organization from here to there. It is the analysis that determines where resources will be positioned in order to achieve long term goals, and specifies what training and technological investments are needed to meet the strategic vision.
  3. Strategic: Looks at long-term considerations such as projected knowledge loss and talent gaps as well as projected knowledge requirements that will enable a company’s ability to evolve and advance. Of these considerations, bracing for knowledge loss (succession planning) is perhaps the more straightforward consideration. Leaders can roughly estimate the timeframe in which talent will retire, and narrow in on the knowledge and skills needed to fill resulting gaps. Knowledge requirements demand greater scrutiny of analytics and long term goals. New skills, emerging technologies, future consumer demands and spending trends are just a few items to consider.