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What is Workforce Planning & How It Can Benefit Your Business

Good planning is the secret behind any good business. You need to know what direction you want to take your business in, what your goals are and have a plan to make it all happen. This means having a plan for all aspects of your business — that includes a plan for the future of your workforce. That plan may lead you to update your human resource processes or implement a workforce management system to help with your planning. So, what is workforce planning and why should you implement it into your business practices?

Look at it this way: say you’re playing a game of chess. Generally speaking, there are two different ways you could play. You could plan your moves strategically; each one made specifically to achieve various objectives in order to win the game. Or you could just wing it. You can simply try your best to get to your opponent’s King while making reactionary moves in order to protect your pieces.

Which method seems like it’ll give you the best chance to win? Obviously, the first one. Whether you’re playing chess or you’re a Chief Human Resources Officer, forward-thinking is a must in order to succeed. There are several crucial long-term initiatives that every business implements — or should implement, anyway — but one of the most important is what’s known as workforce planning.

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What Is Workforce Planning?

Workforce planning is defined as the process of planning for current and future employment needs. The main goal of workforce planning is to make sure that the business always has the human capital it needs in order to run efficiently and effectively, both now and in the future. Developing a cost-effective talent acquisition strategy that closes any talent gaps you may have is also a major component.

Additionally, effective workforce planning includes regular analysis of how productive the business’s employees are, both as a whole and individually. If the workforce is in any capacity underperforming, then changes such as adding a learning management strategy can be developed to increase productivity.

Similarly, strategic workforce planning is the process of organizing the needs of the workforce with those of the business, based on long-term business objectives and goals. This includes succession planning, which ensures that there’s a plan in place to quickly fill essential management roles (typically with employees that already have the most important skills) when they’re vacated.

Workforce planning involves many moving pieces. It includes your individual employees, their active development and your organizational goals. Because there are so many moving parts, it will be most successful if you actively evaluate and update your plans, which will require that you implement a system for workforce planning. While that might seem like a heavy workload, it can easily be automated by implementing a workforce management software with features that can track and analyze data for you — making your planning process easy as pie.

Goals of Workforce Planning

Implementing workforce planning can accomplish a variety of things. It can help you identify where your organization would benefit from expanding teams, as well as areas where your employees would benefit from additional training. However, there are a few key things you’ll be able to accomplish by actively implementing workforce planning practices.

One goal of effective workforce planning is problem prevention. A major part of workforce planning is making a thorough assessment of the skills each department requires and whether the employees in those departments possess those skills. By conducting this assessment, you’ll be able to recognize gaps where skills are missing and be able to correct that issue before it becomes a source of pain.

Another goal that workforce planning can accomplish is maintaining successful leadership. Effective workforce planning will help you recognize the leadership positions that are currently open or soon will be open. With that knowledge, you’re able to begin assessing which employees would be successful in those newly open positions. You’re also able to plan for them to be trained to fill the role, making for a smooth transition.

Finally, the ultimate goal of workforce planning is to increase productivity and efficiency. Integrated workforce planning will help provide you with analytics that can help show you the specific details of how your plan is affecting the business. Planning will give you a clear overview of your organization’s performance metrics so that you can set realistic goals for the future. Implementing a strategy for workforce planning that includes both quantitative and qualitative metrics to measure success will set your business on the path towards long-term success.

It sounds like there will be a large workload required to meet these goals. In reality, there are really only a handful of core tasks to complete in order to benefit from workforce planning. However, if you’re new to workforce planning, or just incredibly busy, workforce management software can help streamline these tasks to make the entire process easy.

What Is Workforce Planning?

Core Workforce Planning Steps

Successful long-term planning involves evaluating a number of factors, such as current and future needs as well as recognizing your team’s strengths and weaknesses. If you have a large organization, you might find that assessing all of these factors at a high level is sufficient, while a small business might benefit from a more granular assessment. No matter at what level you’ll be assessing your business, the basic steps you’ll need to complete to successfully plan for the future of your workforce will be the same.

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Assess Your Team’s Strengths

The first step in workforce planning should be an assessment of your team. You’ll want to evaluate where your team’s strengths lie and how those skills directly contribute to meeting your organization’s goals. You’ll also want to consider things like which employees are nearing retirement so that you’ll be aware of which positions you’ll need to fill in the future.

You should also consider conducting an external assessment. It will be beneficial to be aware of the condition of the talent pool outside of your organization. Knowing what talent is available, how hard it is to acquire and the cost of acquiring it will all be key to planning for the future.

Consider Future Objectives & Goals

Assess your business’s performance metrics, and review your future business plans and organizational goals. You’ll also want to estimate what you’ll need to reach those goals — that might mean additional staffing or readjusting workloads.

This step will be particularly easy if you’ve adopted a workforce management app that can help you to collect and analyze business data. A system that can generate data reports will show you the specific details of how your business is doing. This kind of information can help you to calculate realistic goals based on past performance.
Then use all of the information you gathered from assessing your team’s strengths to see how well your team is able to meet those needs. You’ll also want to be aware of the needs that your team won’t be able to meet. For example, if you have plans to implement new software you’ll need to be sure that you have employees who are able to learn the ins and outs of the new system and then teach others how to use it.

Identify Missing Skills

Now that you’ve assessed your team and looked at what you need to meet your goals, you may notice some gaps that need to be filled. If you’re implementing a new software system, but your employees don’t have experience with integrating software, then that will be a problem you need to address. Identifying these gaps will ensure that you aren’t caught off guard in the future — planning ahead will help you what things might come up in the future and will prepare you for how to address any issues.

Problem Solve

Now that you have a clear vision of what your goals are, how to accomplish them and what you still need to accomplish them, it’s time to address those needs. You’ll want to consider a variety of solutions to determine how best to meet your needs and fill the gaps in skills among your workforce.

One potential solution you might consider is training. If your employees have most of the skills you need, then training and development opportunities may be the simplest solution. However, if you find that you require a different skill set entirely, then you’ll want to consider hiring externally to obtain those skills. Remember that external talent assessment we talked about earlier? This is where all that research will be useful.

Regardless of the solution you choose, you’ll want to have a plan for how to move forward. That might mean scheduling additional training for your employees or preparing for integrating new team members or entire new departments.

Benefits of Workforce Planning

At a basic level, short-term workforce planning can ensure that you’re scheduling the right people with the right skills at the right times. However, there are many long-term benefits that will come from implementing a successful workforce planning system.

Workforce planning can help managers to plan and be prepared for things like retirement. When an important team member is preparing to step out of their role, effective workforce planning can help make the transition smooth. By planning ahead, you’ll be able to train a replacement and have them ready to step into the role without any hiccups.

Effective planning is an excellent tool when preparing for new projects. If you have an upcoming project that will require a new skill set, workforce planning can help you determine how best to tackle this project. Perhaps you’ll be able to divide tasks and reallocate staff, or you might find that you need to hire additional employees to do the job. Whatever the case, workforce planning will help you plan and prepare ahead of time so that there are no unexpected surprises.

One of the big picture benefits of workforce planning is that companies will have an accurate high-level view of how the business is performing. This means that your business will be able to avoid situations where you would need to hire en masse when needs aren’t being met. If you find that you are not meeting goals, you’ll be able to quickly assess performance and see where additional training or support is needed and implement a solution.

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Challenges of Workforce Planning

Workforce planning sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses as a business and using that knowledge to plan for the future will obviously result in better business practices. So why doesn’t everyone have a planning system that they use regularly? There are a few barriers that prevent widespread workforce planning practices.

One of the first challenges that managers face is determining a time frame for planning. Many managers don’t think far enough ahead when it comes to workforce planning. Typically, when it comes to developing plans, managers focus heavily on yearly business goals. However, workforce planning works best when it addresses long term needs and does not always show immediate results. However, if you implement a workforce management system to assist in your planning you’ll be able to collect, track and analyze data to get a big picture understanding of how your plan is or is not working.

Another challenge that HR managers face is focusing on the correct level of detail. A major part of workforce planning is distinguishing various jobs from each other. The problem here lies in determining how specific this distinguishment needs to be. Managers can separate jobs from one another based on a variety of different factors, as broadly as by department or as narrowly as individual jobs. Determining how broad or narrow these distinctions should be can stop managers before they ever truly get started. The best practice for distinguishing job types is to focus on high-level job categories and narrow distinctions from there if necessary.

Finally, traditional forecasting methods prove to be insufficient for providing data that is useful for workforce planning. Forecasting tools are unable to successfully predict which departments will likely experience high turnover, much less which individuals are at high risk for this. Because of this, planning long-term for which positions will need to be filled and at what level becomes extremely difficult. This is perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome for workforce planning. The best option for managers will be to try implementing newly advanced predictive analytic technology, which will help provide more detailed data about employee risk and demand.

Workforce Management Software Features

Workforce Planning Tools

Workforce planning is a lot of work. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all on your own — there is a multitude of tools at your disposal. One such tool is a planning map, which can help show how your workforce plan relates to organizational strategies. There are also a variety of different software options available that can automate and streamline the entire workforce planning process.

You can use workforce management software to make the workforce planning process easier. This type of software aids many aspects of workforce management, including scheduling, time/attendance and other administrative tasks. But possibly its biggest benefit is how it combines talent acquisition and employee skills development into one platform. This helps streamline your workforce planning efforts, as you can keep all of your data on past and current employees with that of your future employment needs.

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The Wrap Up

Successful workforce planning can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are software options that can help you streamline that process — even automating some of the processes involved. Begin by looking at our workforce management software requirements template to help you determine what you need from a system and make sure that it can help with the important planning tasks you’ll need to complete.

What are some of your workforce planning strategies? Let us know in the comments!

Mariah HansenWhat is Workforce Planning & How It Can Benefit Your Business

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