How Integrated Workforce Planning and Analytics Improve Business Agility

Effective workforce planning unlocks ways to address emerging talent requirements, including smarter matching between talent supply and demand.

For enterprises around the world, the pace of change has accelerated in recent years as never before. The shifting mindset about work and life after the pandemic, increasing economic and political uncertainty, and the “Great Resignation” (especially of frontline workers) tested organizations’ ability to adapt to the new normal. The resulting impact has taken a human toll on every business as it profoundly influenced what most organizations view to be their most vital asset: the workforce. 

Meanwhile, the shortage of skilled workers has become a persistent obstacle: 75% of companies surveyed across multiple countries and regions reported talent shortages, saying this had profound implications for the retention and upskilling of workers. 

When people leaders in human resources (HR) and beyond think about how these inescapable challenges are impacting how they plan and cultivate their workforce, they find themselves thinking about their talent pool in entirely new ways. 

  • Do we have the right people where we need them most? 
  • Is our current mix of skills helping or hurting us? 
  • What skills does our workforce need today, and what skills should we be developing, so we can remain competitive in the future?

Answering these questions requires more data and insight than anything simple headcount planning has traditionally provided. Answering these questions requires strategic workforce planning.

People Are More Than Headcounts

People represent a dynamic resource brimming with potential, and woe be unto any organization that views them simply as a cost center—a collection of full-time equivalents (FTEs) burdening the balance sheet. The secret to unlocking that potential is to treat your workforce like the strategic asset it is. And the key to that is to plan your workforce strategically. 

The outcomes of strategic workforce planning and analytics are more than nice-to-have. They dictate whether your plans reflect market realities and incorporate the talent needed to drive business agility. Both of these capabilities are modern business imperatives.

For workforce planning to be strategic, the workforce plan must be integrated with the wider vision of finance and the executive team. No department understands a company’s future workforce requirements better than HR, but those requirements come with financial and operational implications. Framed by strategic objectives, growth projections, and new business opportunities, a partnership between HR and finance can shape a talent strategy to complement the broader goals of the business. 

Effective workforce planning makes it easier to estimate—and hit—accurate target hire rates. It simplifies the discovery and retention of talent for future needs and helps filter the explosion of HR data.

When people leaders in HR and beyond think about how these inescapable challenges are impacting how they plan and cultivate their workforce, they find themselves thinking about their talent pool in entirely new ways.

Workforce Planning in the Age of Uncertainty

Workforce planning encompasses far more than attracting talented employees. It’s about creating an intelligent feedback mechanism between your current and future business interests. And it’s about the acquisition, retention, and development of the people best able to drive those interests.

Headcount, capacity, talent mix, and distribution all have a material impact on how well you can execute today’s critical business operations. They also influence how quickly you can prepare for and adapt to tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.

When you build more sophisticated connections between your shifting talent requirements and available resources, you create enormous strategic freedom to solve business challenges in ways beyond simply “hire more people.”

Effective workforce planning unlocks ways to address emerging talent requirements, including smarter matching between talent supply and demand. Namely, workforce planning can give you insight on whether to build, buy, borrow, or bot (automate) talent.

  • Build. This is employee development, and it has become a key differentiator and a way to retain the best workers. Peer-based coaching—and quick access to skills development courses—makes it easier to offer career plans for your workforce and build succession plans for your future leadership requirements. It also reduces the need for expensive outsourcing.

  • Buy. From a hiring perspective, integrated planning ensures every action—from talent acquisition and onboarding to deployment and retention—mirrors wider strategic intentions. Sharing data on the current workforce drives better decisions about who you end up hiring. You can also account for the pace of hiring in line with short-term budget availability and identify roadblocks along the way.

  • Borrow. In modern, agile organizations, this amounts to cross-departmental “right-skilling.” And with an integrated workforce, it becomes easier to do. Take HR, for example. In recent years, HR leaders have hired more data scientists and analysts on their teams to better understand worker trends in areas such as engagement, productivity, mobility, and attrition. Some of these new positions come from within. Tapping into resource pools via internal transfers keeps teams well matched for new demands.

  • Bot. In today’s tech-infused environment, the use of bots for the automation of repetitive, mundane tasks can free up significant time. This allows your employees to do more value-added activities and act as the final decision-makers for complicated or sensitive issues. The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning simplifies and augments workforce planning processes.

How Integrated Workforce Planning Improves Agility

When HR becomes a strategic partner to the business, integrated workforce planning emerges as one of its most powerful tools for improving business agility. This occurs in four critical ways:

  1. The workforce remains resilient and future-ready. Integrated workforce planning rolls calculations about strategy and cost into the same system. Not only do both sides of the workforce discussion get more visibility into current and future hiring expenses, but the organization is better prepared to address skills shortages in the event of unforeseen needs. 

  2. Leaders can make better decisions, faster. Companies work more effectively and make better, faster decisions when HR, finance, and operations collaborate.

  3. The cause of staff and skills shortages is identified. From an operational perspective, managers can start baking in hiring strategies that support their plans earlier in the collaboration process.

  4. Different objectives among teams are easier to understand. On one hand, leaders can understand their own objectives through a workforce context and optimize their teams accordingly. On the other hand, it empowers them to see how other teams’ plans might affect their own workforce needs.

Tomorrow’s workplace will look very different from today’s. By planning for, training, and cross-skilling workforces via holistic and data-driven processes, agile organizations can protect themselves and their business against changing market conditions. 

But they can’t get there using the manual, episodic, and siloed processes that define traditional spreadsheet-based planning. Organizations can only achieve integrated planning by pulling the insights from HR systems out of silos and making them available for finance teams, ultimately connecting them to core business drivers for richer planning.

Integrated workforce planning puts the right people exactly where your business needs them. Now more than ever, this ability will determine how competitive you remain in an increasingly unpredictable world.

For a deeper dive into how integrated workforce planning enables business agility, read “Strategic Workforce Planning: What It Is and Why It Matters.”

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