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Four Workforce Planning Models, Explained

January 28, 2019 by Josh Hrala

There are a lot of different ways to set up a workforce planning initiative at your organization. For example, you could do everything in-house with your own templates, data tracking, and analytics tools. Or, you could purchase a software license, use a service, or outsource the whole thing to a private provider. Regardless, you should have a firm understanding of what workforce planning models are the most used to help give your program a boost.

Workforce planning models come in many different flavors as well. However, there are really four important ones that seem to extend across the board.

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Since these are so widespread and beneficial, we’ve decided to create this simple guide for you to use when you are considering workforce planning models to make the process as easy as possible.

First, let’s start with the basics.

What Is Workforce Planning and Why Is It Important?

Though you probably already have a decent understanding of what workforce planning is, it always helps in guides like these to set some ground work before diving into the deep questions at hand.

So, what exactly is workforce planning?

Workforce planning, in simplified terms, is the act of aligning your talent with your business goals. You need to ensure that you have the right people performing the right jobs to make sure that your business is marching steadily toward success.

To do this, you need to have a firm understanding of what your talent pool looks like, what needs you have, and how your business may change in the future.

Though this sounds like a no-brainer – of course you want to have the right talent to meet your goals – the process can seem incredibly hard to those that have never performed it before. In fact, many organizations say that workforce planning is one of their top priorities and also one of their biggest burdens because they keep putting it off.

Workforce Planning Models

What this means for you is that if you were to start workforce planning right now, you’d have a leg up on your competition (for the most part). And, with a plan on paper and some easy to use tools to back you up, the process really becomes quite easy.

Workforce planning models can help this process, too, because they have been proven to help with each stage.

The term ‘model’ might be a bit confusing as well. In short, there are just ways of looking at your data. None of these are silver bullets that will take all of the work out of workforce planning – but they do help.

Without further adieu, let’s dive into the four most common.

Workforce Planning Models: The Equilibrium Model

This model is all about looking at historical data to help you future-proof your organization. Basically, if you have retention data, churn rates, development profiles, and things of that nature, you can use them to take a look at your current workforce and attempt to see what the future will bring.

For example, if you know that your organization has a poor retention rate, you may want to factor in new hires into your workforce planning strategy because, chances are, you will need to.

Of course, this type of model only helps if you actually have historical data to go by. If you are a new organization or are just paying attention to workforce planning for the first time, you may lack the needed details to help you understand your business’s past.

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That’s okay! Just remember that collecting data now and trying to go back and analyze the data from the past can seriously help you paint a more accurate picture of the future.

Also, as you will see with many of these models, they are really customizable to your needs. We will not go through and explain in detail how to do perform every model, but instead give a high-level overview of things for you to consider.

With that said, let’s move on to the next one:

Workforce Planning Models: The Deterministic Model

This type of model looks at things you know will most likely happen in the future. Most HR leaders talk about promotions within this model, but the same could be said for retirement as well.

For example, after you have gathered intel on your current workforce, you find that there are four employees who will be up for a promotion this year based on their performance, tenure, and competency. This is a good thing, of course, but as they move up the corporate ladder, you will need to have replacements for them and things of that nature.

Workforce Planning Models

Retirement, too. Right now, older workers are working longer, meaning that the age of 65 doesn’t hold nearly as much weight when it comes to retirement as it did in the past. However, you can probably tell if you have workers that are looking to step down from full-time work in the future, allowing you to properly succession plan.

All of these things are deterministic in nature. You should pay close attention to them when you are analyzing your workforce to spot possible needs in the short and long term.

Workforce Planning Models: Flow Models

This type of model attempts to gauge the future of your workforce by asking simple questions. For example, what if you launch that new product?

Simple question, right? Well, if you think about it in terms of your workforce, you may need to hire new talent, create a development plan for workers already at your organization, or even hire consultants. Making one seemingly simple change can have a vast impact on your head count and talent pool.

To handle this, you may want to consider your future goals and what changes will be right around the corner and then ask yourself what would happen and what would need to change if those goals were the priority right now.

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This can help you judge just how much change is happening inside your workforce when a business goal changes. And, like we said up top, workforce planning is all about making your talent align with your business goals.

Workforce Planning Models: Optimization

The final model we will discuss is known as the optimization model and it can get really complex, really fast.

The goal of this model is, again, to try to understand how to meet your business goals with the level of talent that you currently have employed.

It works by looking at what future goal the business wants to accomplish and then dissects that goal by working backwards to see what changes need made right now to make that goal possible in the future.

The easiest way to understand this model is to use an example outside of the workforce: running a marathon. A lot of people make a goal to run a marathon every year, but how are they going to do it?

Workforce Planning Models

If you were to use the optimization model, you would lean on statistics to understand what pace you need to achieve, how many calories you should eat when running, and things of that nature. Then, you can make a plan to works up to the marathon. Maybe that’s starting with walking when you live a sedentary lifestyle. From there, jogging only a mile or so. This continues, chiseling away at the goal until it’s time for the race.

The same can be said for business goals. What is the goal? How will you achieve it. The real difference is that workforce planning models take on a lot more stats and analytical tools than our personal fitness ones. This model is likely easiest achieved through the use of complex workforce planning software systems that can help break down your data in ways you never thought possible.

Workforce Planning Models: The Takeaways

When it comes to workforce planning, the goal is always to make your talent align with your business goals. To do so, there are many different methods and models out there for you to analyze your data, which you have collected during the first stage of the workforce planning process.

Some of these models are easy. For example, understanding who is up for promotion or how your historical retention data can help you pinpoint new hires in the future. Others are hard (looking at you, optimization).

When it comes down to it, you decide what workforce planning models will work out the best for your organization. We recommend trying a few out to see what works. As always, workforce planning and workforce planning models are not one-size-fits-all solutions. You need to customize them to fit your business needs in the same way that you need your talent to help you meet your business goals.

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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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