You may be thinking, “strategic workforce what?!” Rest assured, you're not the only one perplexed by what some people refer to as headcount planning. But it's much more than that! Having taken this topic across the world and the seven seas, allow me to simplify this concept.
Essentially, workforce forecasting is looking at the long-term strategy of the business and aligning capabilities to ensure the company is geared up from a talent perspective to execute the plan. Most human resources and business leaders make the mistake of looking at strategic workforce planning as a methodology that would yield exact headcount predictions based on historical and financial data. Well, for me, after listening to some talks from academics and professors at the Henley Business School and the London Business School, the penny dropped.
A company’s strategic workforce planning strategy needs to be a ‘holistic’ methodology; therefore, if a strategic workforce plan is yielding a nice, neat set of numbers derived from a budget plan, it’s probably wrong! There is an element of projection, where you are providing insights to the business based on more than just its talent and capabilities - it must take into consideration internal and external drivers.
In order to exemplify this point, I would like to draw on a particular story that brought it all home to me. I was hosting an strategic workforce planning HR Director's think tank, and I recall an interesting and sobering tale from a senior HR Director of a global publishing firm. She started off by giving us a backdrop of the world of print publishing. A traditional, almost ‘old school’ environment, where most of the talent was blue collar print operators, clocking in at 9 a.m. and clocking off at 5 p.m. Finding three generations of grandfathers, fathers and sons all working together was the norm – they offered a job for life. Their view was that print could never go out of fashion as people would always read newspapers, magazines and book. But, they were wrong. One of the things this HR Director mentioned was that the business had a sense of naivety and didn’t look to the future to see the massive wave ahead of them – the digital revolution.
The fact that the business continued to attract and recruit the same skills profiles, ignoring the external macro trends, meant that by the time print went digital, its demise was inevitable. The business didn’t foresee the crippling impact this trend would have on their strategy, resulting in savvy competitor organisations capitalising on all the new skills and talent, enabling them to successfully embed a digital transformation strategy.
Strategic workforce planning is about understanding what is core and critical to the success of the business. In the above case, print operation was a declining skill; it had to give way to digital talent, which was an entirely new skills profile, requiring a different strategy in order to engage, attract, develop and retain talent. This example epitomises the criticality of having a well thought out strategic workforce plan. It needs to be one that combines a segmented approach, underpinned by a strong employee value proposition (EVP), an understanding of micro and macro trends and how to leverage data and analytics. Think of it as a way of future proofing the business by building in scenarios and enabling the business to rapidly respond to the ever-changing landscape.