Written by
Changeboard Team

24 May 2013

Planning for the future

24 May 2013 • by Changeboard Team

Sustaining the business

Strategic workforce planning (SWP) is your answer. Aside from the clear necessity of catering to future workforce requirements in terms of numbers, skills, locations and source of potential employees, this complex exercise rests on your understanding of the business’s corporate goals and direction.

SWP is essentially about one thing; sustaining the business and ensuring its future success by providing the right talent, in the right place, at the right time to execute the company’s five year corporate strategy.

How can you execute your strategic workforce plan?

It’s no lie that SWP isn’t an easy task, but following a sequence of steps and understanding where ownership lies for each stage makes implementing an effective plan much simpler:

Step 1: Your executive leadership team must set the strategic direction of the business for the next five years.

Step 2: Senior managers must then forecast the implications for their business units with specific regard to the supply of and demand for talent. This considers location-specific, zero-based demand by location and job-function, rather than considering the people already in the business.

Step 3: It’s now your duty (HR) to analyse the resulting gaps between the forecasted demand and supply; taking into considerations some inevitable assumptions around attrition and retirements.

Step 4: From here you will provide stewardship, guidance, support and process-management in the development of the SWP and meeting the projections set by your leadership team. This process will likely involve enlisting a whole host of other HR-related strategies such as: staffing and recruitment, career development, succession planning, organisational alignment and job design, L&D and compensation.

When developing a SWP, Ali Gilani (head of resourcing at ArcelorMittal), always considers four possible scenarios across a five-year time horizon: organizational growth, no-growth, contraction and crisis. This time-horizon enables the business to look across the anticipated peaks and troughs in business activity and consider the forecast supply and demand for core- and non-core skills and for a variable workforce over the medium-term.

Hows it different from resource planning?

SWP is distinct from ‘resource planning’ in a number of ways; the time and forecast horizons are typically longer and involve the mitigation of risk rather than tactical plans for immediate execution, the focus is on critical roles and strategic capabilities rather than all roles and being an annual process, SWP results in a dynamic plan including assumptions and contingencies that consider external and environmental factors including: political, economic, social, technological, environmental and demographic issues.

Developing your strategic workforce plan

  1. Focus on the bigger picture: Failure to do so results in short-term budgeting, rather than on effective strategic planning to sustain the business’s future requirements
  2. Start small: Opt for a pilot site first rather than trying to ‘run before you can walk’, which becomes rapidly overwhelming. It can often take 3-4 cycles of SWP activity to learn how to do it well
  3. Talk the language of the board: SWP is a rare opportunity for HR leadership to partner with the business. Use it to build credibility and promote HR as a value-adding business function
  4. Skills identification: Recognise the blend of skills required to deliver a successful SWP process. For example, what analytic skills are you going to need to dissect your data and who within HR is equipped to help?
  5. Ownership: Be very clear that the process is owed by the executive leadership team and merely facilitated and supported by HR from a strategic standpoint.