There are really only two kinds of people in this world: Those who love a good plan and those who would rather wing it.

If you’re the planning type, you’ve probably already got strategic planning, financial planning, and succession planning planned out in your planner. And you might be really excited about the idea of adding workforce planning to that list.

If you’re a “wingin’ it” kind of person, your planner might just be where you plop your coffee cup each morning. Besides, you’ve got a strategic plan and a succession plan already. Do you really need to go for the trifecta?

The differences between strategic planning, workforce planning, and succession planning are subtle but important. Here’s a quick summary of the purpose of each:

  • Strategic plan – defines organizational mission, goals, and objectives for a specific period of time (typically 3 - 5 years), and outlines steps to achieve them
  • Workforce plan – analyzes current staffing, including strengths and gaps, to determine what human resources are (or will be) needed to accomplish desired outcomes
  • Succession plan – prepares for the unexpected departure of key leaders, identifies potential replacements, and uses that information to target employees for professional development

To be truly effective, each of these plans should involve multiple stakeholders and incorporate organizational values and culture throughout.

First, the strategy

Many businesses have jumped on board with strategic planning, which is great. Because how can you possibly move forward if you haven’t even decided where you want to go?

A good strategic plan outlines specific goals and objectives for the future of the organization. It should be a high level document that looks at the big picture. Ideally, it will also take into account the human and capital resources needed to make it all happen.

In a perfect world, your HR team will be closely involved in the strategic planning process so they have a first-hand understanding of the various goals, targets, and action items set forth in the plan. But sometimes HR is left out of the strategic process, and this can spell trouble.

Your leadership team (or an outside consultant) can put together the absolute best strategic plan in the world, but if you don’t have sufficient staff or talent required to implement it, it’s not going to be worth the ink required to print it out.

This is where workforce planning comes into play.

Help HR help you

Workforce planning is the mechanism used to determine which organizational objectives are realistic and achievable based on current staffing. It also identifies any gaps that need to be addressed in order to make the strategic plan viable.

The process involves a complete inventory of current positions, skills, and limitations, with a focus on positions that are key to organizational success and those that may be difficult to fill. It provides information about team strengths and weaknesses and the financial cost of recruiting and hiring for specific positions and skills.

Once finished, your workforce plan will be an extremely helpful short and long-term decision making tool with regard to structuring your team, developing your employees, and determining when to hire and who to bring on board.

Aligning your strategic plan with your HR activities and making careful choices based on both will set you up for success.

How to create a workforce plan

No one said this would be a quick and easy process. That said, your planner people may love plotting out the various steps and creating charts and checklists along the way. And your wingers will be happy to know that workforce plans aren’t intended to be set in stone, and will require some level of flexibility.

So now that everybody has something to be happy about, let’s get started.

Analyze your current workforce

Things to consider:

  • Diversity – age, gender, race, etc.
  • Attrition – retirements, transfers, turnover, terminations
  • Skills – abilities, strengths, gaps, weaknesses
  • Potential – staff development, training, promotions
  • Capacity – Are you maxed out? Do you need to streamline?

Reconcile strategic plan goals with necessary skill sets

Things to consider:

  • Is the organization growing or downsizing?
  • Do you have adequate staffing to follow through with each action item?
  • Is there some overlap that needs to be addressed?
  • Are there particular initiatives that will require new positions and/or technology?
  • Would it make sense to contract, partner, or outsource for particular skills?

Complete a gap analysis

Things to consider:

  • Where are your areas of weakness?
  • Do you need to hire or can current staff members be trained to take on new roles?
  • What kind of time frame are you working with?
  • When do you need to have your new hires and/or staff trainees up to speed?
  • Can your leadership/organizational structure support these changes?

Implement your plan

Making it happen:

  • Based on the information you gathered while completing the steps above, put together a comprehensive workforce plan proposal complete with numbers, projections, timelines, and action items
  • List who will be held responsible for each part of the process
  • Secure buy-in on all levels and get approval

Implementation will only be successful if leadership fully commits to the plan and takes ownership of the process. Without these important steps, all of your hard work will be wasted.

If you’re having trouble achieving consensus, you can gently remind everyone that goals without action are simply wishes. And that executing on a logical, well thought out plan for hiring and developing employees can actually reduce inefficiencies, saving significant time and money in the long run.

Are we done yet?

Not quite. As any good “wing it” person will tell you, even the best laid plans may not work out exactly as expected.

Evaluate and adjust

Things to consider:

  • Are key stakeholders actively participating?
  • How have things progressed and what are the results?
  • Are deadlines being met or falling through the cracks?
  • Is the workforce plan reinforcing your culture and values?
  • Has anything changed in the market, economy, or business structure?
  • Does the plan still seem attainable or does it seem appropriate to scale back?

Workforce planning shouldn’t be a one-and-done event. You’ll want to schedule regular check-ins to assess progress and make sure the plan is fulfilling its purpose of supporting organizational goals.

Shout out to the planner peeps!

Great job, guys! You’ve planned your way toward achieving your strategic goals by mapping out a path to acquire the necessary resources. 

Go ahead. Pat yourselves on the back. 

And if you want a REAL thrill, you can always get started on your succession planning. : )

Photo by Congerdesign
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