Enable businesses to build workforce readiness through collaborative planning

Rupert Bader

Senior Director, Workforce Planning

Michael Purdy, Director at Deloitte MCS, and I hosted a virtual roundtable with heads and directors of human resources to discuss how adopting a more agile, collaborative, and systematic approach to planning workforce requirements enables businesses to address grander economic, social, technological, and other disruptive events.

Following the Chatham House Rule, which permits the use of information shared but not the identities of the participants, I will only refer to individuals in generalities. 

Our conversation was wide-ranging, but for this summary I will focus on the following: 

  • The demand for a more strategic role for HR leaders 
  • Addressing challenges in preparing a comprehensive workforce plan 
  • How workforce planning tools can meet these challenges 
  • What it takes to put workforce planning into practice 

The strategic HR leader 

The role of the HR leader has always been challenging, adapting both to the evolving requirements of the business and those of the workforce. For many organizations, HR has long since advanced beyond simply “hiring, firing, and personnel admin.” It is at the center of building a workforce that is ready, willing, and able to meet the current and future demands of the entire organization, and occupies a pivotal role in a collaborative and integrated approach to planning. 

I frequently see HR leaders increasingly required to be more agile and adaptive in the face of new challenges, and more strategic and innovative in the ways they anticipate the future demands of the business. 

The challenges of preparing a comprehensive workforce plan 

The demands of the strategic HR role run in parallel to the day-to-day responsibilities of the HR profession, but at the core of any successful strategy is an effective plan, one clearly articulating where the organization is today, where it needs to be tomorrow, and how to get there. It also must reflect the needs of other stakeholders within the business and communicate how those needs are going to be met. For example, as the global director of organisational effectiveness and analytics at an international consumer goods company put it: 

“Right from the beginning, collaboration and cooperation
with the finance group were critically important.”

This is partly because the data and assumptions HR uses to formulate a workforce plan have to reflect the view of Finance, especially as it moves toward cost-conscious workforce planning. 

A vice president of human resources at a global spirits company spoke about needing all its people to be aligned and thinking in the longer term, but that it can be challenging to get busy leaders to think beyond the immediate challenges and about the workforce capabilities they need for the next five to 10 years. In addition, their organization’s challenges included the way they prepare the plan: 

“A lot of our planning is very manual; we have tools that are great
at capturing the current state, but not necessarily at projecting forward.”

Finally, a common point raised by several of our roundtable participants were the various planning horizons they need to address; short, medium, and long-term plans typically require different things of the planners, with the added stress of an uncertain and volatile environment where, no sooner have you produced a plan, it is out-of-date. 

The value of a workforce planning tool 

HR leaders need tools that enable them to address both the short-term resourcing needs of the organization while also addressing its strategic business goals across multiple time horizons. As Purdy put it: 

“The demands of short-term rostering are very different from those
of producing a plan for the organization in a decade’s time.”

Purdy went on to say how, in the short term, the plan tends to be driven by how the resources, the capabilities, and the organizational structure you have today (the “supply”) can be deployed to meet the immediate “demands” of the business.  

The longer-term plan typically focuses on what the organization will be doing in the future and what that implies in terms of the kinds of resources and capabilities needed (but not necessarily the structure).  As one global HR director stated:  

“We need to be able to model the ‘to-be’ organization in a way that is easy, quick, safe, and encourages staff to want to use the tool.” 

Having a common, efficient data platform is critical. Everyone agrees about how manual and tedious the workforce planning process can be, and it often involves the creation and maintenance of lots of spreadsheets. When you consider that an effective planning tool will need to interact with finance and operations systems, HRIS, applicant tracking systems, and others, there are — and will be — many challenges. As the HR director for an international heavy equipment supplier put it: 

“Too often, workforce planning tools are too static. They must be flexible, accurate, and relevant to the business, and able to cope with a volatile world.”

The “commonality” aspect of the tool is critical. From the data it uses to the decisions guided by the insights (and the process), it all needs to be accessible and usable by all stakeholders, especially as they juggle short-term demands with formulating their own strategy. For example, I work with many clients who have successfully integrated the Anaplan financial planning solution with both supply chain and workforce planning. 

How to put workforce planning into practice 

It can often be daunting knowing where to start, especially when short-term operational needs are pressing. I cited above some of the challenges needing to be met: building a data foundation upon which to construct the plan, having an agile mechanism for analyzing different scenarios, taking decisions across multiple time horizons, collaborating with other business functions and stakeholders, and so on.   Nonetheless, these challenges can be overcome. 

First, have a very clear understanding of what you need from your workforce planning tool. I suggest engaging with stakeholders and partners early, and aligning your vision completely to the business strategy.  By doing so, you can decide what capabilities your workforce planning tool will need and how it needs to scale, then prioritize your requirements. 

Second, I recommend starting small. My experience has been that you also need to think beyond the technology, build the supporting team, fit it into your overall planning process, and, most importantly, consider how the business will use the plans in practice. 

Third, anticipate that HR itself needs to make a cultural shift toward being a more data-driven function, and needs to develop its skillset accordingly. HR is already used to engaging with the rest of the business in discussing short-term resourcing needs; now it needs to demonstrate it can play an active role in supporting wider business strategies and longer-term thinking. 

Finally, I would like to finish with a quote from the VP of the spirits company mentioned earlier: 

“It comes down to people understanding the business and knowing
what the fundamental questions are, and then
having the capability and confidence to provide the answers.”  

Better understand the partnership between finance and HR to manage talent imbalance.

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