U.S. economic data suggests that the worst of the 2020 recession may be behind us, but as we’ve learned over the past few months, we can’t take anything for granted. Our workforce planning efforts will need to take that uncertainty into account.
Organizations that think through possible scenarios and create flexible plans to meet each one stand a better chance of thriving no matter what happens. “Those are the folks that are going to be successful,” says Jon Thurmond, mid-Atlantic regional HR manager at Team Fishel and producer of the #HRSocialHour podcast. “When things do improve, those that don’t plan are going to be so far behind; it’s going to be a real struggle to catch up.”
Workforce planning isn’t a new concept, but the volatile economic climate we’ve experienced for months demands a new approach to it. Here’s how to develop one.
Assemble the Right Team
Workforce planning isn’t a solo venture -- it should account for input from across the organization.
Start by bringing the right people together to share resources and set goals. Creating a comprehensive workforce plan will require you to understand how all business functions work together to deliver the customer experience. “All of that needs to have some connective tissue, and that’s a great role for HR,” says Al Adamsen, founder and CEO at both People Analytics & Future of Work and the Talent Strategy Institute. As HR, you have connections across the organization and are in an excellent position to bring to life a cross-functional workforce planning committee.
Bringing these representatives together gives you a better sense of your needs and allows you to thoroughly assess your resources. You may already have a lot of workforce data, for example, but it takes a cross-functional committee to understand and utilize the resources you already have at your disposal.
Take Stock of Your Changing Needs
Workforce plans, like your workforce itself, need to be agile to provide the most value. Assess your existing workforce’s skills and mobility and weigh them against potential internal and external needs. “You can’t know what you need until you know what you have,” says Ivelices Thomas, CEO at HR & Beyond. “Begin by conducting a current state assessment by reviewing organizational charts, current position structures, job tasks, and competencies required to perform current tasks.”
Think about different economic scenarios that might occur, and develop a flexible plan. Possibilities include tapping into contingent workforces to balance your talent needs with your available resources. Workforce planning includes talent development, too. Are you laying the groundwork for internal mobility and long-term employee relationships with your company? Work with managers to develop long-term plans for employees — and get their buy-in. Workforce engagement, especially in learning and development, is essential for workforce planning, Thurmond says. Employees need to know what they’re working toward.
Link Long-Term Goals With Short-Term Realities
Sometimes workforce planning committees get caught up in the long term, but you can prepare for the immediate future, too. “Whatever plan is on the horizon has to connect with the here and now,” Adamsen says. “When you just put workforce planning into the long-term bucket, it becomes non-value-adding.” In an uncertain economy, short-term realities can change rapidly, and that affects your long-term goals. You can’t plan your workforce in a vacuum.
Set goals for three distinct periods. Look at your talent deployment needs in the short term (the coming weeks and months). Evaluate your potential workforce needs over the next six to 12 months. Finally, use workforce visioning to plan for the next two to four years. Being specific about your planning period provides clarity about your needs and your workforce planning committee’s specific roles. You can develop metrics for each period, assess the skills you’ll need, and put a plan in place to achieve them.
“If you have the skills that you need, or know that you can develop those skills with the workforce you have,” Thomas says, “then you can more confidently meet the needs of the organization — both now and in the future.”