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Complexity in workforce planning is inevitable; perplexity is preventable


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Workforce planning problems can seem daunting at first. Breaking them down and organizing the parts can make planning more manageable and more agile.

“How complex can workforce planning really be?” When someone asks that question, it’s often to express frustration, disbelief, or even scorn.

If an organization is earnestly and diligently trying to get the right people with the right skills in the right places at the right times, for the clear purpose of executing strategic initiatives and operational mandates deliberately, workforce planning can become very complex.

Part of the reason is that workforce planning is inherently multifaceted. Humans have a strong psychological bias to solve difficult problems by elaborating on them, adding detail and sophistication, which creates more complexity. That’s to be expected with any enterprise-level planning. There comes a point when so many working parts get added that human minds can no longer process the complexity, and instead, become perplexed.

When we reach perplexity, we seek help by investing in a technological solution, usually a point solution, like spreadsheets. Point solutions tend to be rigid in nature, so when we reach the cognitive limit of what is manageable, we insert work-arounds and add-ons, which leads to complexity, and possibly manual intervention. The way to keep complexity from deteriorating into perplexity is instead to increase the capacity of the solution to share information, model scenarios, and flag circumstances that need attention.

Straightforward, maybe. Simple, no

Fundamentally, workforce planning is a process where the outcome is a set of plans that guides how an organization identifies vital talent and capabilities, establishes proper headcount and capacity levels, and stays ahead of skills gaps and surpluses.

If it were inherently simple, workforce planning would yield a single monolithic plan dictated by finance, designed for command-and-control leadership, recognizing a narrow definition of talent (i.e., executive talent), while treating headcount as a fixed target, skills as commodities, and skills gaps as faults that can be fixed by just “staffing up.”

Complexity in workforce planning is more than multiple business functions using multiple measures to define the workforces they need. Some of the most challenging drivers of complexity involve how the nature of work itself is evolving. Many HR departments must now assess the costs of alternative sourcing options and location strategies, which, in turn, influences compensation planning, policy, and modeling in workforce planning. Finally, the prevalence of hybrid workplaces, including working from home, requires newer models to accommodate shifts in cost allocations.

How a workforce planning workflow becomes increasingly complex

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example to see how working parts can easily get layered into a workforce planning workflow and increase complexity.

HR begins by creating a headcount report covering the previous fiscal year, and reconciles it with their partners in finance, sales, and other departments. This may include resolving headcount with full-time equivalents (FTE), or adding in existing or carryover headcount by pulling in from open requisitions in recruiting. The headcount report is then shared with the full planning team as, collectively, they develop a current headcount plan and budget.

The next step for HR is to align the headcount plan with recruiting, so as to assure quick requisitioning, an efficient recruiting-to-onboarding process, and staying within budgeted compensation. For many of our customers, this is a familiar pain point. Complexity can increase quickly if this step is not modeled using a common set of data, and multiple work-around processes need to be applied. For example, if spreadsheets are allowed to proliferate, planners are often faced with reconciling multiple data formats, which includes creating ad hoc procedures to avoid data loss from integrating incompatible formats, or to retrace steps to resolve errors.

Adding in sophisticated software and refinement is highly beneficial. With such a tool, HR can begin adding in layers and assessing various scenarios. You can provide visibility into the range and variety of costs associated with the workforce, and can even extend to talent mobility by building in hiring, transfer, promotion, and turnover trends into models. You can also add the costs of contractors and contingent workers to achieve even fuller workforce visibility.

Another idea is to take a multi-pronged approach, for example, simultaneously evaluating diversity and pay equity, increasing visibility into management layers and spans of control, and assessing location strategies. Handling inquiries in parallel can be very complex, yet it enables HR to delve deeply into strategic workforce planning for critical roles and provide a line of sight into strategic objectives from operational plans.

Add Connected Planning capacity to reduce workforce planning complexity

Workforce planning is a complex undertaking, aiming to strategically align people, skills, and roles, and the work that needs to be done. Adding in more working parts during the process is both desirable and unavoidable.

As complexity increases, people often lose the capacity to manage it effectively, and employ technology to offload complexity. Point solutions can relieve some of the burden, but because they are low-capacity, rigid solutions, they eventually become another working part in the system, and thereby exacerbate complexity.

The right approach is to use a Connected Planning solution to add capacity to the workforce planning process, enabling planners to add in layers and working parts without multiplying complexity, or reaching perplexity.

Learn more about how Anaplan provides workforce agility in our agile workforce planning white paper.