The Workforce Planning Process, Explained

January 31, 2019 by Josh Hrala

The workforce planning process can seem daunting at times, especially when you are first starting out. But fear not because with proper planning and tools, workforce planning initiatives can go off without a hitch, improving your overall business in the process.

In this brief guide, we will go over the workforce planning process using a four-step method that can set the groundwork for your continuous process.

Let’s dive right in, starting with the basics and goals.

The Workforce Planning Process: The Basics

First, what is workforce planning anyway and why is it so important?

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 Process

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.

With all of that background detail out of the way, let’s start to explore the workforce planning process in detail.

The Workforce Planning Process: Step One

Workforce planning can be understood in simple terms using a four-step method. The first step is to perform an ‘environmental analysis,’ which examines all of the internal and external factors that are impacting your business.

This analysis is pretty wide. You should examine how the economy is performing, how your products are selling, how your vendors operate, whether or not their are new regulations about to impact your business, how is your corporate reputation in the eyes of the public, etc.

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That sounds like a lot because, in reality, it is. However, by taking a step back and examining the entirety of things impacting your business, you will be better equipped to look at how your talent and business goals align, which is exactly the point of any workforce planning process.

Remember, also, that things change over time. You should keep checking in with new environmental analyses as often as you can. (This can be said for every step of the workforce planning process, which we will cover in greater detail in step four).

The Workforce Planning Process: Step Two

After you have performed your initial analysis, you can start to create profiles of your workforce. The goal here is to create a summation of your current talent pool by having managers fill out questionnaires and keeping track of all the data with a workforce planning tool like this template here:

Download Our Workforce Planning Template!

You need to understand who is working for you, what their individual skills are, what projects they are working on, if they need development to work at their best, and whether or not you have any redundancies.

This can be a lot of work for a single person to take on, which is why we always suggest – like we mentioned above – that managers perform this initial audit for their team and report back to the HR leader with what they find.

In the end, this step should create a pretty accurate picture of what your workforce looks like and how they are performing toward your current business goals.

The Workforce Planning Process: Step Three

This step is all about understanding your business needs in the short and long term. To pull this off, work closely with your upper management teams to come up with a clear pipeline for the future that goes over what goals need met and when.

Once that is complete, compare this data with the skill sets of your workforce to ensure that you have everything covered.

This part of the process can uncover some interesting things from time to time. For example, you may have a person working in marketing that has been learning all about the sales process because, in their heart, they want to be in sales and not marketing.

Workforce Planning Process

If someone is doing all of that homework on their own, you may consider moving them to sales for proper training and development if you business needs to meet some sort of sales goal in the future.

You may also find that you have two designers on staff for a product that you are no longer working on. Do you need to have two designers still on staff or should one be let go? Is there a short term need for them? A long term one?

In other words, step three pulls it all together. You are able to see what your business goals are and how your staff is suited to handle them. You may find that there are several people that would be ideal fits for future projects but may need training. You may find that others are redundant, and you may find that you have full-blown gaps that need filled by new hires.

The Workforce Planning Process: Step Four, Repeat

The fourth step in the process is more like a reminder than it is an actual step. In order for your workforce planning initiative to do what you want it to do, you need to continuously check back in with it by performing new analysis as often as you can.

This means that you should schedule times during the year to review your workforce by updating talent profiles, gauging your business needs, and performing environmental analysis.

Jobs and needs change over the course of time as new technology enters the fray, new projects pop up, and goals shift around. Just because you do workforce planning one time doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it again in the future.

We recommend, again, using a template or tool to help you keep track of all of this data. After the initial intel-gathering process, it should be rather simple to keep updating as things change. Again, you can use our free workforce planning template below that can be customized based on your needs and goals.

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The Workforce Planning Process: The Takeaways

When it comes down to it, workforce planning doesn’t have to be a hard process to enact. Take it step by step and make sure you lean on your managers to help you gather your initial data.

In simplified terms, the workforce planning process can be broken down into four, easy-to-follow steps. First, you need to analyze all internal and external factors that are impacting your business. Second, you need to understand your current talent pool by making profiles and lists that accurately depict the skills and roles of your staff. Third, examining the long and short term goals of your business and see how they align with you the talent you have.

Finally, step four, continue this process over and over again, setting aside time during the year to ensure you goals and talent are still aligned properly.

When done correctly, the workforce planning process can be easy to perform and help your bottom line by making sure that you have the right people doing the right jobs to meet your goals for the present and future.

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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