HR’s traditional approach to workforce planning is no longer current



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Businesses are preparing for a post-pandemic boom. They cannot afford HR to be reactive and disconnected as they plan the workforces they’ll need.

To say that HR has been an indispensable business partner during the pandemic is an understatement. HR’s contribution to crisis management, engagement, talent deployment, and employee wellness has guided countless businesses through significant threats. As the world returns to work and the workplace, HR will likely have a significantly enhanced role, affirming itself through an epic crucible of leadership.

But one area where HR is likely to stay stuck in survival mode is workforce planning. The pandemic forced HR to take the lead in assessing workplace scenarios and determining the best courses of action, yet lacking the advantages of good alternatives or leverage in the organization. The only feasible choices were to work from home, furlough, or lay off, which are typically driven by costs and dictated by finance. Most likely, some of the wrong employees were furloughed or laid off, an inevitable consequence of the disconnect between finance in driving workforce decisions. Were HR truly connected with the business, necessary reductions in force would have been made with a scalpel instead of a chain saw.

A year later, HR is still reactive and disconnected from key planning units when it comes to workforce planning. The pandemic reinforced several persistent organizational snags around workforce planning. While HR was rightly preoccupied with managing a once-in-a-century reconfiguration of the entire workplace, it reverted to old scripts in managing the once-per-accounting-period task around planning the workforce. Two of those scripts are the spreadsheet carnival and the point solution fix.

The spreadsheet carnival

Spreadsheets get passed between departments and persons within those departments, each being pressured to fill out their respective portions, often according to inadequate guidance. The unfortunate person assigned to be the “filler-outer” wastes tremendous amounts of time guessing what is truly needed to satisfy requirements, building a spreadsheet according to the best guess, and watching the data go stale in a fraction of the time.

Few organizations quantify the time and resources that go into building and managing planning spreadsheets. The sheer number of tasks is daunting, from collecting raw data from multiple sources to crunching the numbers, building individual sheets, and finally producing the rollups. The drain on time and resources intensifies as this cycle is repeated over time for each part of the organization.

Nevertheless, it is easy to revert to spreadsheets, especially when the systems are siloed and there is no ready way to make them compatible with one other. Off-the-shelf connectors tend to be too rigid to allow the data to integrate with the idiosyncratic tech stacks in most organizations. Because decisions cannot wait for technology, people tend to take matters into their own hands and revert to the old familiar tool, which also happens to be readily available, but not cheap, in terms of manhours.

The point solution fix

It is tempting to turn to sparkling new HR point solutions to fix integration and visibility challenges, but with separate systems for recruiting, talent management, learning management, and various others, and thus the old silos of data live on. Often, integrating data from all these systems for analysis requires IT intervention. When that fails or is too slow, HR practitioners default to spreadsheets and manual integration, which is neither repeatable nor scalable.

Additionally, workforce planning often involves reckoning with many variants. Different workforce segments need to be treated accordingly and require disparate sets of data points for effective planning. All of the data must eventually align in terms of individual records, organizational structure, geographic regions, and other factors. To answer “what-if” questions, new models may need to be developed. Variants of models can also be required for different employee populations, all of which should roll up well. Doing it all using spreadsheets is inherently manual. And point solutions cannot keep up with providing ready-made models for every scenario.

Agile, connected, and current

HR departments need agile workforce planning to build a workforce master plan that guides businesses through the recovery phase. At Anaplan, we call this master plan a dynamic workforce blueprint, representing a comprehensive map of an organization’s workforce, how it is wired to other key business functions, and what happens when any changes are made.

Building a dynamic workforce blueprint moves HR from being reactive to proactive in workforce planning by enabling planners to model numerous scenarios and achieve consensus regarding the best, worst, and most likely cases. More importantly, the rest of the organization is in a much better position to respond and adapt quickly. HR, in particular, is better able to manage the execution of workforce planning directives, having already rehearsed the scenario and being therefore capable of responding automatically. A blueprint also forces HR to connect with other parts of the business and review the scenarios and their likely outcomes, enabling all departments to react quickly to actions from the different parts and not lag or impede any other department from executing a decision.

Become agile and connected...and stay indispensable.