The importance of workforce planning

Updated: Mar 19 2006, 05:30am hrs
In its simplest terms workforce planning is getting the right number of people with the right skills, experiences, and competencies in the right jobs at the right time. This shorthand definition covers a comprehensive process that provides managers with a framework for making staffing decisions based on an organisation's mission, strategic plan, budgetary resources, and a set of desired workforce competencies.

Many organisations, both public and private, have developed models for workforce planning. Putting aside variations in terminology, the processes are all very much alike. All rely on an analysis of present workforce competencies; an identification of competencies needed in the future; a comparison of the present workforce to future needs to identify competency gaps and surpluses; the preparation of plans for building the workforce needed in the future; and an evaluation process to assure that the workforce competency model remains valid and that objectives are being met.

This process is simple in outline but depends on rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the organisations work, workforce, and strategic direction.

Workforce planning requires strong management leadership; clearly articulated vision, mission, and strategic objectives; and cooperative supportive efforts of staff in several functional areas. Strategic planning, budget, and human resources are key players in workforce planning. Organisation plans set organisational direction and articulate measurable programme goals and objectives. The budget process plans for the funding to achieve objectives. Human resources provides tools for identifying competencies needed in the workforce and for recruiting, developing, training, retraining, or placing employees to build the workforce of the future.

The why of workforce planning is grounded in the benefits to managers. Workforce planning provides managers with a strategic basis for making human resource decisions. It allows managers to anticipate change rather than being surprised by events, as well as providing strategic methods for addressing present and anticipated workforce issues.

Some components of workforce planning, such as workforce demographics, retirement projections, and succession planning, are familiar to managers. Workforce planning provides focus to these components, providing more refined information on changes to be anticipated, the competencies that retirements and other uncontrollable actions will take from the workforce, and key positions that may need to be filled. This, in turn, allows managers to plan replacements and changes in workforce competencies.

Organisational success depends on having the right employees with the right competencies at the right time. Workforce planning provides managers the means of identifying the competencies needed in the workforce not only in the present, but also in the future and then selecting and developing that workforce.

Finally, workforce planning allows organisations to address systematically issues that are driving workforce change. The overall benefits of workforce planning, then, are its ability to make managers and programmes more effective.

A workforce plan must document the workforce analysis, competency assessments, gap analysis, and workforce transition planning that makes up the planning process. These data provide the documentation of the inputs and comprise the basic output of the planning. This information establishes the validity of any workforce plan by demonstrating the links between workforce planning and programme management, budget justifications, Organisation goals, and human resources work planning.

Workforce planning provides managers with a strategic basis for human resource management decision-making that is based on achieving programme goals. Forecasting models based on analysis of the workforce allow managers to anticipate turnover and to plan recruiting and employee development to move toward the workforce needed in the future which form a radar for continual monitoring.

Plans for workforce transition are also input to workload planning for human resources offices, pointing toward activity levels for internal training, movement, reassignment, and recruiting. This allows human resources managers to plan work loads and activities and to provide better service to managers. Making this partnership work requires that human resources offices develop the full range of human resources competencies among their staff, including workforce analysis and strategic planning skills.

The model consists of four planning steps: supply analysis, demand analysis, gap analysis, and solution analysis, plus an ongoing evaluation step:

Supply analysis focuses on identifying organisational competencies, analyzing staff demographics, and identifying employment trends. Competency analysis provides baseline data on the existing organisation and present staff. Trend analysis provides both descriptive and forecasting models describing how turnover will affect the workforce in the absence of management action. Trend analysis is essential to the solution analysis phase.

Demand analysis deals with measures of future activities and workloads, and describing the competency set needed by the workforce of the future. Demand analysis must take into account not only workforce changes driven by changing work but also workforce changes driven by changing workload and changing work processes. Technology will continue to have an impact on how work is performed and must be considered in the demand analysis process.

Gap analysis is the process of comparing information from the supply analysis and demand analysis to identify the differences - the gaps - between the current organisational competencies and the competency set needed in the future workforce. The comparison requires the competency sets developed in the supply analysis and demand analysis phases to be comparable not independently developed. Gap analysis identifies situations in which the number of personnel or competencies in the current workforce will not meet future needs (demand exceeds supply) and situations in which current workforce personnel or competencies exceed the needs of the future (supply exceeds demand).

Solution analysis is the process of developing strategies for closing gaps in competencies and reducing surplus competencies. A variety of strategies are available in solution analysis including planned recruiting, training, retraining, and placing employees. Solution analysis must take into account employment trends which may work either in the favour of or counter to the direction of planned workforce change.

The two key elements in identifying competencies are workforce skills analysis and job analysis.

Workforce skills analysis is a process which describes the skills required to carry out a function. Conducting workforce skills analysis requires the leaders of an organisation to anticipate how the nature of the organisation's work will change, and then to identify future human resource requirements. (This process spans the supply analysis and demand analysis aspects of workforce planning.)

Job analysis collects information describing successful job performance. Job analysis focuses on tasks, responsibilities, knowledge and skill requirements as well as other criteria that contribute to successful job performance. Information obtained from employees in this process is used to identify competencies.

Functional considerations Management leadership and support

Workforce planning offers a means of systematically aligning organisational and programme priorities with the budgetary and human resources needed to accomplish them. By beginning the planning process with identified strategic objectives, managers and their organisations can develop workforce plans that will help them accomplish those objectives.

At the same time, these plans provide a sound basis for justifying budget and staffing requests, since there is a clear connection between objectives and the budget and human resources needed to accomplish them.

To be successful, workforce planning requires the commitment and leadership of top management. Senior-level managers must lead the planning process, must assure that workforce plans are aligned with strategic direction, and must hold subordinate managers accountable for carrying out workforce planning and for using its products.

Similarly, programme managers must take responsibility for leading the workforce planning process in their programme areas and offices. Programme managers will gain the most immediate benefits of workforce planning because the competencies of their own staffs will become better aligned with strategic goals and directions.

Evaluation / feedback / adjustments

We noted that evaluation and adjustments are implicit in workforce planning or any planning process. Managers and project leaders need to build an assessment process in to any workforce transition plan they develop. Managers need not only to consider whether planned workforce changes are taking place, but also to review the assumptions on which the transition plan is based. Strategic direction is influenced both by internal programme management and outside factors.

Planning timeframe

Organisations need to consider how far into the future to project when carrying out workforce planning. Managers need to balance the certainty of short-range planning against the need to plan for longer-range objectives.

The author is senior vice-president, people and processes, Kale Consultants