Data-driven strategic workforce planning: Where to start?


Gaz Willott

Sr. Customer Success Business Partner

Most leading organizations already have well-developed strategic workforce planning programs — if yours doesn’t, here are some things to consider.

It can be daunting for organizations to undertake a comprehensive strategic workforce planning program for many reasons. Mainly, workforce planning, as a specialty, hasn't been around for that long and is still fighting for the same level of recognition as the finance and HR functions.

It's still a “side of the desk” role for many businesses, but the more successful, future-leaning organizations have invested heavily in this space over the last few years. And those investments are already paying dividends.

How to get started

When looking to establish a strategic workforce planning program, I've seen quite a few organizations go “blue-sky” too soon, thinking about where their ideal workforce will be in 5–10 years without considering where they currently stand. A more sensible approach would be to fully understand today's workforce and what value it's driving for your business — and go from there.

Getting a clear view of crucial workforce demographics, the skills of your employees, effective productivity metrics, and better insights into what made your staff join your organization in the first place (and what makes them leave) are all necessary to start plotting out the future.

Key workforce planning data and metrics

  • Workforce demographics: A regular, clear snapshot of the current mix of age, gender, ethnicity, role, locations, and contract types (not an exhaustive list) — all of which will also support your diversity and inclusion strategy.
  • Skill inventories: Forget the roles and think about the people. What skills do your people bring to your business, and how can you quantify this? Many organizations make half-hearted attempts at this, but it requires effort to get it right. You need a process to segment skills, collect and track current competencies in those skills, and a regular review and update mechanism to drive it forward.
  • Productivity metrics: This isn't performance management. It's about understanding the metrics individuals can affect and how they could change if you improve skill competency. It's about tying the output of the individual to the underlying business performance. This will help you chart the future workforce strategy aligned with the overall business strategy.
  • New hire and leaver sentiment: Most companies will have some sort of exit interview process, which feeds into the recruitment process, but I often feel organizations miss a trick when someone new joins. Maybe that new joiner was out of work or, more likely, joining from another organization — that intelligence can be useful. Why did they decide to join your company? What are their expectations? These are all useful sentiments to understand and feed into your effective talent retention strategy.
  • Customer base: How well are you meeting your customers' needs today, and how do you want this to look in the future? Be aware of where you might want to take things based on your strategic goals and how that could impact your existing customer base.

All this analysis requires rich, detailed data that can be gathered efficiently and interpreted in a way that can drive decision-making and inform your overall business strategy. Connecting all these data points can further enhance the effectiveness of your recruitment process, improving the acquisition of key skills and enabling you to retain talent.

Integrate these insights in real time throughout your business to elevate your workforce planning processes, more effectively allocate your resources, and put your organization in a better place to understand skill gaps when considering future needs. The key to planning for future success is to ground your workforce strategy in the present and build from there.

Are you ready to get serious about workforce planning? Forrester provides six steps to get you started.