Workforce Planning
Management & Mindset

Workforce Planning Still Matters in 2021, But You Need to Change Your Strategy—Here’s How

Just when you thought your organization had adjusted to the “new normal,” it’s time to pivot to the “next normal.” As the pandemic continues to evolve, HR departments are less concerned about shifting to working from home and more concerned with a new challenge: workers leaving their jobs at record-setting rates.

This mass exodus is being called “The Great Resignation.” According to one survey, 34% of employees are currently thinking about quitting their job. Workforce planning has always been a challenging task, and it’s even more complicated in today’s unpredictable post-pandemic world.

Traditionally, workplace planning involves setting aside time once a year to compile a comprehensive view of your workforce so you can determine future staffing needs. Your HR department evaluates and analyzes the state of your workforce, then provides recommendations on what actions to take based on that information. For example, they may recommend hiring more employees in certain departments over the next year to meet a specific business goal.

The point of workforce planning is to ensure your company has enough employees in the proper role with the right skills to reach your company’s overall goals both now and in the future, but the traditional approach can’t handle volatile environments.

When companies were being forced to downsize or send their employees home to work last year, existing workforce plans went straight into the garbage can. Companies pivoted to a day-by-day strategy to keep their heads above water.

While that abrupt change in course was necessary for short-term survival, it’s not a sustainable solution.

How to approach workforce planning in 2021

To successfully adapt, your workforce planning needs to become a continuous process. By constantly and collaboratively collecting data, monitoring, and making adjustments to your workforce, your organization becomes empowered to quickly respond to early signs of change and act on situations before they hit critical mass.

In contrast with creating a static workforce plan that becomes obsolete the moment something unexpected happens, continuous workforce planning lets you develop a living strategy that can evolve as your company's needs change.

Related: Your Complete Guide to Human Capital Management—How HCM Can Transform Your Workforce

How to jumpstart your continuous workforce planning strategy

To make the switch from annual workforce planning to a continuous model, you’ll need to gather several pieces of data to build a comprehensive view of the current state of your company. Completing the following tasks will give you a solid foundation for making the switch.

Identify your company’s current goals

It’s highly likely that your company’s goals and objectives have changed since last year. Find out where your company wants to be at the end of this year and a few years from now. This exercise will give you an objective view of how far you are from reaching your goals. Specifically, find out:

  • How many people do you want to employ by the end of this year and the next 2-3 years?
  • Are you planning on expanding departments or adding products?
  • What are your short- and long-term revenue goals?

Uncover your organization’s root issues

To make sure you’re solving the right problems instead of fixing symptoms, you need to identify the underlying causes of your organization’s workforce challenges. You also need to determine if internal or external factors are causing your issues before taking any action. Answer the following questions to find the true sources of your obstacles:

  • Are your organization’s goals realistic for your current team’s size and capabilities?
  • Is your company growing or shrinking? Do you need more or fewer employees?
  • Are new roles or functions being created without the proper training in place?
  • Do you need to improve diversity inside your organization?
  • Are there societal issues out of your control, like the pandemic or The Great Resignation?
  • Are there any legislative or regulatory issues that will impact your workforce planning?

Do a skills gap analysis

A skills gap analysis helps you stay ahead of the curve and ensures that your business has the right people in place by determining the gap between your people’s current skills and the skills they need to exceed in their role.

The old way of performing a skills gap analysis neglects a crucial piece of information that can significantly speed up your planning—prioritizing the skills your employees need to meet your current and future goals. By prioritizing the skills gaps you find while capturing the data, you gain a critical piece of information you can use to speed up your company’s upskilling efforts.

Perform a training needs analysis

Once you’ve completed a skills gap analysis, use that information to perform a training needs analysis. Look for the gaps between what your employees need to learn and your current course offerings. According to one study, hiring managers expect the skills gap to be their biggest obstacle to finding qualified candidates in 2021. You can clear that hurdle by knowing in advance what employees need to learn.

Traditionally, a training needs analysis is conducted by training departments who seek out managers to find course topics. Unfortunately, this model falls short because it’s often based on assumptions of what employees need to learn.

Instead, adopt a bottom-up approach by asking your employees what they want and need to learn. A collaborative approach to training needs analysis will encourage your entire company to work together to create relevant and effective training. Once you’ve identified your needs, you’ll be able to create an accurate action plan that includes training courses that will fill in your skill gaps.

Put real-time planning tools to work

The task of workforce planning involves capturing and analyzing massive amounts of data. Unfortunately, the traditional method of using static spreadsheets to plan and manage workforces is too time-consuming, and data quickly becomes outdated.

Workforce planning software makes a continuous strategy possible by centralizing your data and automating data collection and analysis to speed up the process. With this specialized software, you can track and measure a more extensive range of metrics, plan farther into the future, and better anticipate your company’s workforce needs.

With these tools, your organization can combine external data with your internal metrics to generate real-time insights and perform scenario modeling to forecast more accurately. Some tools can even identify trends automatically using AI.

Successful workforce planning is collaborative

Collaboration between everyone in your organization is essential to the success of your workforce plan. Most companies silo workforce planning by handing it off to their HR department, then walk away and don’t return until the job is complete. This method misses a great opportunity for collecting valuable information that lives in different areas of your organization.

You can start making workforce planning a collaborative effort by asking every department to pitch in by reporting their current and potential talent gaps. For example, your managers know their unique hiring needs and can help you identify existing skill gaps, and your Learning and Development Department will know which skill gaps they can fill through new course creation. And of course, individual contributors and learners at every level of your organization have the best insight into what their Learning Needs and skills gaps may be—and asking them is the best way to find out.