Future-proofing your business with workforce forecasting


Gaz Willott

Sr. Customer Success Business Partner

Knowing where to focus on your strategic workforce plan can mean the difference between mere numbers on a slide and actionable intelligence.

So far, I've written about aligning business goals and data considerations for strategic workforce planning. In this post, I will explore the art of predicting the future with workforce forecasting. I'm not ashamed to say it: after almost two decades in and around planning functions and teams, forecasting is one of my favorite activities. Who doesn't like trying to predict the future? And nope, I haven't figured out the lottery numbers yet.

In strategic workforce planning, this particular flavor of forecasting differs from the classic “number of calls in 30-minute intervals,” where there is a mountain of historical data to build upon. It's usually around trying to forecast material movements in the overall plan based on a small data set. There is less science involved (sorry), less data, and far more uncertainty.

Have you considered…

A strategic workforce plan should include some of the following forecast elements:

  • Understanding business demand and how this will be impacted by the goals your organization is setting is key. How will this change over time, and what are the levers that your organization can pull to mitigate unexpected changes in business performance? ?
  • How will the skills requirements of the organization change as the business evolves? How will each person contribute toward this in a way that is clear and linked to business strategy?
  • Workforce demographics have evolved. There are now more generations at work than ever before. It is common for a large organization to have up to 5 generations employed at the same time. How do you cater to the varying needs of these generational cohorts? 
  • How do you think technology is going to impact your business? Everyone is talking about AI, but this is just the latest disruptor/enabler. 
  • Consider econometric components (external factors). Lots of companies miss this one. Try to have a view of what your competitors are doing and how you can react or preempt this to maintain a strategic edge. How will the talent market and macroeconomic environment change? How will the economy impact the availability of skilled people?
  • Consider changes to your premises strategy and operating locations. Since the pandemic, businesses have quickly capitalized on the availability of specialist remote employees whilst shedding real estate costs. It is worth thinking about how this could change in the future.

That's a lot to anticipate. 

Chart your course through the uncertainty 

Generally , the more historical data your forecast is created from, the more confidence you can have in that forecast (forget random variation and volatility for the moment). Forecasting any of these elements is about setting a line in the sand, articulating what you think will happen, and being prepared to test it. 

When creating the workforce view, you are focusing on what will happen in the future (>18 months) and using larger blocks of time (maybe quarters or months if you are particularly detailed). This is where the challenge for a strategic workforce plan comes in — it is difficult to see the progress you are making toward a goal that could be a couple of years away. Lots can happen, things can change, and senior management can get twitchy, increasing the demand for robust scenario plans, so you need to learn to break that forecast down into the near-term signals that can identify whether you are on the path to success.

As strategic forecasting involves a lot of inherent uncertainty, you should take steps to maximize the parts of the plan that can be derived from historical data. Best-in-class organizations leverage machine learning algorithms to provide a level of sophistication that would otherwise require much effort, allowing more time to review forecasts and cost impacts to inform decision-making.

If you can identify the parts of the plan that can be predicted, leveraging technology can help you deliver greater accuracy with less effort. This, in turn, means you can invest more time in the harder-to-predict parts, those elements that require more research and dialogue to get to the right conclusions.

See how EA, a leading video game company, unleashes its most powerful resource — its talent — to thrive in the market.