If I had a recruiting-magic lamp I’d only need one wish, and that would be for organisations to have better workforce planning.  Regardless of whether you are an in house, agency or RPO recruiter this is the one thing that would set us up to succeed in our roles. I’m sure the majority of my fellow HR/recruitment professionals will agree with the above, yet we still face huge challenge when it comes to large numbers of vacancies being passed ‘over the fence’ last minute or even brand new niche-roles being created and hiring managers expecting us to fill them yesterday. It all leaves me scratching my head a little…surely there is a way to avoid this?

Now, I know the intent is there. Many of the organisations we work with are all too aware of the benefits of good workforce planning and lots of them are making it happen. Unfortunately though for many of us we seem to get stuck in the reeds when it comes to how we can apply it to our organisations. A quick google of the topic returns thousands of links to software that promises to change the world or white papers explaining why we should be doing this (I think we all now know why we should be planning!). What we are missing in the industry however is some simplification. Which begs the question ‘How can I make this work in my organisation?’ 

Whenever I have been involved in any form of workforce planning previously I have always followed the pointers below.

  • Workforce planning should be considered a dynamic initiative, it’s not a once every 5 year type of activity. It needs to be reviewed regularly to ensure that it still suits the organisational needs.
  • This is not a budgeting exercise. I repeat, this is not a budgeting exercise. Yes use your finance and headcount data to help build your picture of the current state but workforce planning is so much more, it’s a tool to help business leaders make informed decisions. It’s the business strategy brought to life to construct your workforce around.
  • For me there are two types of planning, workforce planning focusing on 1-2 years out and strategic workforce planning 3-5 years out. Please don’t think you can do the latter without doing the former first.
  • Look at where are you now (current state) – headcount, known leavers (including redundancy, retirement, resignation), long term absence (illness, maternity), live vacancies, skills gaps and so on.
  • Then look at where do you want to be (future state, 0-2yrs and 3yrs+) – heavily linked to organisation strategy and what skills/location/workforce composition (perm/temp/FTC etc), perhaps overlaid with socio-economic data.
  • Don’t get stuck in too much detail predicting requirements for each individual role, stick to job families as this will provide some scalability and hopefully themes across your organisation.
  • Use the data to talk to your business and demonstrate what has happened previously and what might need to happen in the future to realise the organisation goals and strategy. Running some different scenarios with them will help uncover all the possible requirements if the future might be uncertain.
  • Perhaps most importantly, get the buy in from your business leaders. Stress that this is not an absolute, set in stone predictor of hiring numbers for the next 2 years for example (and they won’t be held to it) but a way to gear up appropriately for the likely workforce needs. Be that scaling up the resourcing team, building a pipeline of data scientists that will be needed in the next year or planning where you need to grow your own through emerging talent programs.

For me workforce planning is less of a science and more of an art form. A long time ago a previous manager once told me, it’s not the tool you use but the ‘quality of the conversation’ that will ultimately produce your plan. I believe that he was right. All the data in the world will not solve your workforce planning problems unless you have quality conversations with the right people and put it into the context of where your organisation wants to be. For many this is a new and different way of working and it will take time to adapt to the change. Your predictions are unlikely to be accurate from day one. However, with each iteration the margin of error will become less and you’ll find your palatable levels of tolerance.