Strategic workforce planning: all about right people in the right time and place

By Paul Turner

There’s a growing interest in workforce planning worldwide. This is because organisations have identified a compelling need to be able to ‘shape’ and skill themselves to deal with both expected and unexpected events: as well as to control costs without damaging competitiveness. A key lesson from the economic upheaval of 2008 is that the organisation must be able to respond to dynamic and unpredictable circumstances. Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) supports these objectives and helps in the quest to become flexible and agile.

After all SWP is a core process of human resource management. And we know that HR professionals have a key role to play in its development and application; but what exactly is this role and how can we ensure that we make a difference? One the one hand SWP involves excellence in HR analytics using predictive modelling and other techniques; on the other SWP means providing insights to an organisation’s competitive advantage through people.  In reality HR professionals need to see the dynamics of the workforce from both perspectives.

Making sure that we have the right people in the right place with the right level of skills at the right time to deliver both short and long term objectives requires information and insight. It’s possible to look at this in four stages:

  1. Data– provides the core elements of people understanding; number of employees; demographic information, labour turnover and so on
  2. Information– occurs when we start to analyse our raw data; what are the levels of productivity in various levels of the workforce; what is our bench strength for talent; how do our rewards stack up against our competitors
  3. Intelligence- We then need to apply this information in a way that will help to make our organisations more effective. What are the implications for organisational development and design from our international expansion; what are the best solutions to the demand for new talent
  4. Insight- But it’s the question of insight that will really differentiate the HR contribution. Insight is an ‘accurate and deep intuitive understanding.’ It will require HR professionals to provide knowledge about people that will allow the organisation to differentiate itself; and insight about the cultural or organisational development implications of business strategy for both employee engagement and effective leadership.

As we face the challenge of how to align our people strategy and practice to the business strategy, we as HR professionals will seek to contribute excellent qualitative and quantitative information on which strategic decisions can be made. To do so we will have, in the words of Dave Ulrich, to act as strategic positioners and capability builders.

The key elements of this new approach will be that the strategic workforce plan will be integrated with business strategy: It will be used in short-term resourcing as well as longer-term planning: It will incorporate flexibility. And most of all it will be insightful.

Paul Turner is a Professor at Birmingham City Business School. He was formerly Vice President of the CIPD, Group HR Business Director of Lloyds TSB, President (EMEA) of Convergys and a Director of BT. He is author or co-author of HR Forecasting and Planning, and Workforce Planning, both published by the CIPD.

Paul is speaking at the upcoming Workforce Planning and Analytics Conference in Dubai in January 2014.

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