Why agile workforce planning is challenging
Learn about the value of and challenges in agile workforce planning from workforce planning experts across a broad range of industries.
When the pandemic broke in late 2019, one of the biggest disruptions it caused was to the workforce. Recall the chaos of millions of workers shifting to working from home, caring for children whose schools had closed, or scouring bare shelves for toilet paper and hand soap. Some lost their jobs due to forced closures or plummeting demand in some industries, or furloughs and hasty layoffs in others.
As organizations scrambled to manage all these changes, they realized their existing workforce planning systems had major underlying vulnerabilities. They needed a highly agile approach, where they could rapidly access accurate data and insights to make quicker decisions, manage multiple scenarios, and forecast downstream impact.
In early 2021, we hosted a panel with several business leaders, executives, and workforce planning experts across a broad range of industries. We asked about their experiences with workforce planning and their expectations for the future of work. We heard that while many companies see the value in agile workforce planning, they face the following challenges in bringing that vision to life:
In many organizations, the data needed for planning is often spread across multiple geographies, departments, systems, and spreadsheets. The analytical tools themselves also tend to be rigid and purpose-built, while different groups need to apply varying methods to forecast, often based on entirely different assumptions. The pandemic exposed an additional layer of complexity: The behavior of suppliers, partners, and customers is also continually changing, often requiring many small, frequent changes and adjustments to planning approaches.
“We were dealing with different and autonomous lines of business, each with their own P&L, their own data, practices, and models. The result was expending lots of effort just trying to assess the current situation.”
– Transformation Director, telecommunications industry
Disruption caused by the introduction of new technology, regulation, or competition is inevitable, and many organizations already consider this within their normal planning cycle. However, the pandemic altered everything in terms of scale, speed, and scope—no part of the value chain has been unaffected. Every time there is a change in circumstances, the impact is felt throughout the organization, and the workforce plan needs to be revised.
Even before the 2019 pandemic, the world of work had been going through fundamental changes. Business leaders told us that uncertainty represents the most significant concern to their organizations. Although historical data is still helpful in understanding the relationships between cause and effect under stable conditions, unexpected events would challenge those assumptions.
One of the best ways to address uncertainty is to focus on what is needed from the future workforce; then explore multiple scenarios and multiple versions of what-if, based on comprehensive, reliable data and insights.
The path forward to address the challenges in workforce planning
Uncertainty will likely remain a top consideration for the foreseeable future. The ability to pivot will demand good data that is analyzed adeptly to deliver accurate insights promptly.
The ideal approach should assemble data from and integrate with other systems to provide a comprehensive view of business demand and the resources available while allowing what-if scenario modeling. Such capacity enables organizations to develop a talent strategy to deploy resources where and when needed while providing insights into the end-to-end business impact.
“By using our Anaplan workforce planning system, we reduced our operational planning time by nearly 90%, with near real-time response to changes, and with a third less staff than we estimated.”
– A large financial services company
One more point in support of agile workforce planning
The dynamics of the workforce are also evolving rapidly: How and where they work, their potential to contribute, and how they will need to be led, managed, supported, and developed moving forward. Using accelerated, continuous workforce planning, organizations can conduct ongoing evaluations of gaps and cost impacts between what exists and what is needed—a critical input to every planning iteration. More broadly, agile workforce planning illuminates the links between strategy and operations, enabling organizations to have confidence in their assessments of the current situation and their ability to accommodate changes.
And above all, organizations need to move beyond reacting and shift to reliable forecasting and scenario planning as quickly as possible. To do so, managers need true, actionable insights, with options that include costs, benefits, and recommendations.