3 Steps to More Strategic Workforce Planning

July 16, 2020

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Strategic workforce planning is critical for filling the skill gaps of today and tomorrow, but many HR leaders lack capabilities and maturity to tackle this key activity.

HR leaders are focused on building critical skills to drive business growth in 2020, but their inability to plan strategically may leave them unable to close existing and future skill gaps.

“When we asked HR leaders to evaluate their function’s ability to successfully execute workforce planning, only half felt at all confident,” said Emily Rose McRae, Director, Gartner. “These initiatives are short of resources — including talent analytics skills — and awash in data that isn’t always current or accurate. So building workforce planning capabilities and maturity is vital for HR.”

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To succeed, you’ll need to gather the right information to inform workforce planning and build your own workforce planning capabilities. Here are three things you can do.

1. Get business input on evolving needs

A process is only as good as its inputs, and it’s even more important when business and operating models are constantly changing to be current on what’s needed to drive enterprise ambitions. To do this:

  • Develop productive partnerships with business leaders and educate yourself about the future of the business. 
  • Integrate workforce planning into business planning so it isn’t a stand-alone process and can’t be easily dismissed by business leaders. 
  • Give the business leader something to react to — try starting the conversation with a plan instead of a question.

Read more: Get a Grip on Critical Skills

2. Gather external labor market intelligence

Organizations don’t operate in a vacuum, so they shouldn’t assess the talent situation in a vacuum either. Still, many workforce plans fail to recognize and account for external information, which is critical to the organization’s strategic success, including:

  • How key roles are evolving in the industry
  • How talent is flowing in and out of key competitors
  • How specific trends are affected by location 
  • How available diverse talent is in the labor market

Without this information, you’re unlikely to identify — or may misidentify — talent risks, so you can’t preempt and plan for them. Perspective from beyond the organization can also help you to gain credibility with business leaders. In fact, if you can come to the table with insights that business leaders aren’t thinking about, you can get them excited about what HR can contribute to strategic conversations, energizing them to participate in workforce planning conversations. 

Make sure to prioritize the need to leverage data on talent and skills even if the business doesn’t. Many organizations are new to using talent data, so business leaders don’t even know to ask for it. 

To get a better understanding of the external environment:

  • Close the gaps in your own market knowledge by reviewing the types of data that are available and determining what data will provide the most needed insights. Ways to gather information include studying macroeconomic trends, talent competitor insights, skill set insights and candidate insights. Publicly available information, such as official government labor market statistics, is a great place to start.
  • Consult HR subfunctions (e.g., recruiting) and any intelligence teams in other functions in the organization (e.g., competitive and supplier insights) that might have a pulse on useful data and experience in developing best practices to address data challenges.

Read more: Power Your Talent Search With Data: 5 Lessons Learned

3. Build HR’s ability to use and interpret talent data

Leveraging data isn’t only important for identifying talent; it can help determine the best strategy to close talent gaps. Gartner research shows that only 12% of organizations use talent data effectively to inform business decisions, but data can drive your decision to build, buy, retain, outsource, automate or look for gig workers, depending on the type of talent gap you face, the business environment and your overall talent strategy.

For example, to fill a talent gap with a build strategy, HR might recommend formal training programs. To shrink a talent surplus, HR might recommend a job rotation. Using and interpreting data is a key input to such decisions.

To improve HR’s ability to understand future organizational talent needs and the external labor environment: 

  • Improve talent analytic capabilities in the organization. HR teams must work to build the business acumen or analytics maturity they need to analyze and interpret data effectively and efficiently — at the speed required for today’s business environment. Required skills include predictive analytics, but aren’t only technical. Communication and data visualization were rated by talent analytics leaders in 2019 as the top two skills most important to the effectiveness of talent analytics professionals over the next five years.
  • Tap non-HR talent from internal functions. CHROs can also identify non-HR and non-line-HR talent, such as former consultants and intelligence analysts from internal functions (e.g., competitive intelligence, supplier intelligence), to help build workforce-planning capability in the HR team.

Read more: Trouble Finding Critical Skills? Widen Your View

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