Strategic Workforce Planning Needs Some Love

Jan 24, 2019

By Erik Samdahl

Lack of senior leadership support is hampering workforce planning initiatives, according to more than one in four business leaders who participated in a recent i4cp survey on strategic workforce planning. Even among higher-performing organizations, the percentage isn't appreciably lower. Just over half of respondents—and six of 10 high-performers—reported the presence of a workforce planning champion in their firms, but that still leaves many without that valuable proponent. As with any business function, the visible support of top management is a vital component in success. Without support from top executives and a champion at the C-suite level, workforce planning initiatives are much less likely to gain traction.

Further down the organizational chain, lack of support by business units stymies workforce planning, according to a fourth of survey respondents. Absent their understanding of workforce planning and the anticipated benefits it offers their units specifically, business leaders may remain unlikely to help with such crucial factors as sharing metrics and other information. They also may be hesitant to free their personnel to participate on workforce planning teams or to contribute expertise that could enhance the value of the workforce planning output.

Survey results demonstrate that a significant proportion of organizational cultures don't support workforce planning initiatives. This was an issue for more than one in four respondents, and can add measurably to the change-management challenges that already are inherent aspects of establishing most workforce planning functions. As organizational leaders know, effecting successful culture changes requires concerted effort, often over a protracted period of time.

Any single issue of questionable or absent support for workforce planning can impair the function or cause it to fail entirely. When multiple support-related factors are at issue within an organization, workforce planners may be in for a difficult mission indeed.

Solution: Establish a business case for workforce planning and build support by leveraging the power of a team approach.
Because workforce planning initiatives may be affected by various support-related issues, multiple approaches may be required to address those deficits. Here are four options:

1. Recognize risk and take action
Establishing a burning platform for workforce planning is a fundamental element of program success. Some organizations make workforce planning a compelling concern by underscoring the risks associated with failing to plan. There is a fear factor inherent in the notion that an organization may lose vital talent (through retirement or attrition), along with the attendant institutional knowledge, management skills, technical know-how, professional networks and other valuable attributes those employees possess. Anticipated shortages of skilled workers, transitions in the types of jobs a company needs to fill, unforeseen shifts in economies and markets that impact labor issues, and many other factors can raise worries about an organization's ability to maintain the workforce it needs to remain competitive. Fear of losing the capability to execute, innovate and grow may prove a powerful motivator for undertaking workforce planning as a risk management measure.

2. Highlight the upside
Building the case for workforce planning requires determination and tenacity; an HR manager at a multinational business services firm reported that his team is "slowly chipping away [at resistance] by reiterating the advantages of good workforce planning." Emphasizing the anticipated benefits of workforce planning can help enhance understanding of the function, communicate positive and realistic expectations for planning outcomes, and aid in securing support for it.

3. Leverage skills and know-how
Assembling a multidisciplinary team to design and carry out workforce planning helps some companies secure support for the function. Recruiting members from multiple business units aids in achieving cross-organizational buy-in and in communicating the value of workforce planning by enlisting team members to act as liaisons to their business units. It also adds a wider range of professional knowledge and expertise that can help to strengthen planning outcomes. About four in 10 survey respondents reported having a workforce planning team in their organizations, and the percentage rose to half in higher-performing companies.

4. Speak to the wallet
The business case for workforce planning might include reports on estimates of cost savings associated with more effective staffing practices, refinements in recruitment, just-in-time delivery of training to correspond with evolving jobs, and similar statistics. A strong centerpiece of any argument for implementation of workforce planning should be the function's ties to strategic execution. The workforce planning team at Toyota Financial Services, a provider of finance and insurance products to Toyota and Lexus dealers and customers across, the U.S., established formal sources of data for people-related metrics and delivers regular reports to senior leaders, cementing its position as a trusted resource to aid in strategic decision making.

About the Author(s)

Erik Samdahl is director of marketing at i4cp.