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Strategic Workforce Planning: What You Need to Know

February 01, 2019 by Josh Hrala

Strategic workforce planning involves taking a look at how well your talent – the skills of those working for you – aligns with your overall business goals. By using proper workforce planning techniques, you can help push your business forward, reduce costs, and complete projects in a timely manner.

But what does it take to enact a strategic workforce planning initiative? What tools do you need, and most importantly, what should you consider throughout the whole process?

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To help answer these questions, we’ve decided to dig into strategic workforce planning in greater detail to get you started on the right foot.

First, What Is Strategic Workforce Planning?

Workforce planning, in general, is a simple term. In short, it’s an examination of how well your workforce aligns with your business needs and goals in the short and long term, allowing you to prepare for projects by having the right people working for your organization while also reducing redundancies that aren’t helping push your business into the future.

“Strategic workforce planning is how an organization or team analyzes its workforce and determines the steps it must take to prepare for future talent needs,” reports Stanford University.

Strategic Workforce Planning

“While you may think of this as primarily a staffing tool Human Resources uses to anticipate employment needs, it can also be critical for your staff training plan, organizational design and team development goals.”

In other words, workforce planning involves painting a picture of your current workforce by using a workforce planning template that can easily be accessed by managers and HR. This template should show who is working on what, what their skills are, how well they work as part of their team, what areas they could develop, and what future projects they’d be a great fit for.

It sounds like a lot – and it is – but having these details on paper can make planning your future successes a lot easier.

Using Strategic Workforce Planning to Understand Your Talent Pool

The first step in any workforce planning initiative is to understand your current situation. You need to first look at what business goals you’re working towards right now and how your current team is aligning with them.

For example, say that you hired an artist for an ad campaign for a product that you have moved away from. Do you need to keep that artist on staff or consider moving them to a freelance position for when you may need their services in the future? Maybe, you want to move them to a new team to start designing ads for a future product that is still in development. The ball is in your court, but the real takeaway here is that you need to understand who you have on staff, what their talents are, and how they can be useful to the business.

Sometimes, as with any workforce planning examination, you may find redundancies, which you will have to offboard. To learn more about that process, check out our reduction in force (RIF) guide here:

You can download our reduction in force letter here.

You may also find that you have people working in the wrong department or role. Take, for instance, someone who you hired as a receptionist. Upon evaluating their skills, you come to find that they are an expert at social media, running successful campaigns as a freelancer outside of your workplace.

This is an opportunity to provide some development to your staff members. Maybe that person would be better suited for a role in marketing and PR than their current role. Not only would this help your marketing team and, therefore, your business, the person tapped for the new role is probably going to enjoy their job more and give the company a bigger boost than if they were undeveloped.

The key here is to thoroughly examine your staff to ensure you have the proper people working the proper jobs. If you do, you will help future-proof your organization, which we will get into now.

Strategic Workforce Planning: Understanding Your Future Needs

A lot of business leaders are always looking into the future. What products or services can they off that will give the business a bigger boost? Where is the market going? What can we innovate?

When topics like this comes up, new projects often follow, requiring new talent to help bring them to life. If you’ve already used a workforce planning template to help you understand what staff members you have, you will be easily able to fill in the gaps with new hires.

Download Our Workforce Planning Template!

Most businesses fail to do this because workforce planning can be a lot of work upfront. However, those that do can move quicker and complete projects faster. By understanding what talent is needed for your future endeavors, you will be able to hire, develop, or reduce your workforce in a way that accurately handles those needs and fills in those gaps.

Strategic Workforce Planning: The Continuous Process

For many HR leaders, workforce planning is a one-and-done type of analysis, but for it to work properly, you need to constantly come back to your plan.

The first step in any strategic workforce planning initiative is to take stock of what you have right now. This can involve passing out workforce planning templates to all of your managers so that they can accurately paint you a picture of your current talent.

While that’s happening, it’s important to work closely with higher level leaders to see what the business needs are in the present and what they will be in the future. You will also need to look at the labor market, economy, technological advances, and other things that are outside of your workplace, too.

Strategic Workforce Planning

In the end, this initial analysis will get you started. However, jobs and people change over the years. Technology is constantly making new roles pop up. Just because you hired one software engineer for one project doesn’t mean they are equipped for a new project with completely different technology.

It’s little things like this that can get lost if you do not continuously monitor your workforce and make sure it aligns with your business’s overall goals.

“New roles emerge as technology evolves. HR professionals need to know if different skills are becoming critical for existing positions, how jobs are changing and which entirely new professions are emerging,” reports Roy Maurer for The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

“With a combination of current, historical and predictive data, employers can see which abilities are in high demand and how that may shift over time. (Note: Looking for new skills doesn’t necessarily mean looking for new people.)”

Strategic Workforce Planning: A Recap

When it comes down to it, we recommend using and easy-to-follow workforce planning template that can be passed out to your managers and teams to help you get insights into your current talent pool.

From there, you can see what jobs you may need to fill in the future, what roles your current staff might be a better fit for, where you need to develop key employees, and a bunch of other interesting takeaways.

While this is going on, make sure you have a clear plan for the future of your business, allowing you to understand what gaps you may have in your talent pool. Remember that technology and jobs change pretty quickly. In order to keep marching into the future, your workforce has to change with it.

Want to get started enacting a strategic workforce planning initiative? Check out our resource here:

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Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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