The Coming Years Will Be Tumultuous — Is Your Workforce Planning Agile Enough ?

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On a monthly basis, the biopharmaceutical company Celgene’s talent acquisition analytics team conducts a turnover and growth analysis that is compiled into a scorecard report. In parallel, a workforce plan is created along with predictive model overlays. The team pays special attention to anticipated headcount for the year, as well as month-over-month headcount changes.

This continuous process enables the firm to plan for talent shortages by allocating the proper resourcing to support the gaps in the model, manage and source talent more effectively, and have more insightful conversations with stakeholders.

Such agile workforce planning methodology may seem advanced for the majority of organizations but — in the coming years — HR organizations must position themselves for this kind of agility. And the process that supports it, workforce planning, will need to become more agile itself.

Agile workforce planning does not have to be a daunting task. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Start With the Business

HR teams need to incorporate the changing behaviors within their organizations into workforce planning and respond proactively. Don’t start by simply looking at the data, or you’ll be hard-pressed to find actionable answers in all the rows of numbers and figures.

Instead, start with the business: What are your organizational goals? What issues have been preventing those outcomes from being realized? Use analytics to find the areas where adapting your workforce plan will have the most bottom-line impact.

Additionally, create and compare different workforce planning scenarios (each with different workforce movement and cost assumptions) so you can choose the best option for your organization, as well as have contingency plans in place.

Furthermore, data-driven workforce planning must account for changes in the overall industry on a larger scale. For example:

• Do you know how customer demographics are changing?
• How are larger-scale cultural changes impacting your workforce?
• What is happening out in the world to influence people’s decisions on the jobs they take, when they take them, how long they work there, and why they decide to stay?

With an awareness of where deviations may be happening in the business, you will be able to optimize workforce planning to best support the organization’s goals.

2. Gather Stakeholder Requirements by Asking the Right Questions

It’s critical to gather input from all your stakeholders, across the entire organization, in order to prevent information gaps. Asking the right questions about your talent pools will surface insights that truly impact the business.

Modern people analytics platforms also enable HR business partners to help with information-gathering. Armed with analytics technology that doesn’t require a data science degree to operate, they can have smarter conversations around workforce planning and answer any questions they previously couldn’t without direct access to the data.

Once you’ve spoken to everyone involved in the workforce plan, utilize analytics to dig deeper into the data. This helps validate what you’ve already learned and uncover new insights and opportunities across the total employee life cycle that may not be readily apparent on a spreadsheet filled with metrics. The data you uncover on the business can both answer critical questions and motivate you to dig deeper.

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3. Use Analytics to Support Talent Management and Hiring

One of the biggest opportunities for HR and workforce planners is to leverage analytics that span the entire employee life cycle: from the moment you begin interacting with a candidate to the time they retire (hopefully after many years with your company).

This approach surfaces information about employee turnover, tenure, and hiring so you get a holistic understanding through your workforce plans. It also enables you to see when it might be time to course-correct in order to mitigate issues before they become bigger or take advantage of upcoming opportunities.

For example, if people are starting to leave the organization and you’re able to link turnover back to onboarding and training metrics, you can proactively adjust your onboarding process, development programs, and engagement efforts. By that same token, HR can build strategies to ensure there’s always a strong talent bench ready to take on key roles. Now you are better equipped to maintain succession through a solid plan of action.

Even if your organization is hitting it out of the park with regard to your overall business goals, this is only contingent on making sure you’re able to continuously retain and hire the right people. Remember: Data-driven workforce analytics not only helps you hire the right people, it also arms you with the knowledge needed to make sure they stay.

4. Build Contingencies With Scenario Modeling

Once you actually have your workforce plan in place, the next step is to figure out how you would adjust the plan in the event of a change and execute any necessary contingencies. Employers need to plan for multiple futures ahead of time, whether it’s a shift in the economy, in corporate culture, or within your potential talent pool.

Scenario modeling makes it possible to create several different talent arrays, each with different supply, cost, and business goal alignments. This means asking how changes will impact the organization’s talent needs, understanding who is going to be affected by each possible scenario, and knowing what the time frame for action should be. Having the answers to all these questions ahead of time prepares you to respond and readjust your plan as soon as actual changes start to develop.

If you wait for a possible future to present itself before adjusting your workforce plan, you’re already too late. If you plan continuously, you can adapt quickly when there’s a significant chance of a specific development occurring.

5. Continuously Monitor to Plan Proactively

Some HR teams conduct their strategic workforce planning one time each year — and it’s often a dreaded calendar date, due to how stressful the traditional process can be. But the key to success lies in your ability to plan several steps ahead of where your organization is currently. This means workforce planning can’t just be a yearly exercise.

Fortunately, agile workforce planning methods enable you to continually regulate the health of your company’s talent pool so you can stay on top of any changes before they happen.

When addressed head-on, uncertain futures provide HR leaders with the opportunity to shape the business alongside their functional peers. Agile workforce planning enables businesses to make better decisions every day, whether it’s hiring based on genuine need or responding more quickly to market shifts — all while forecasting more accurately.

When you adopt agile workforce planning, what may have once been a regular source of frustration can become a more fluid and rewarding process.

Ian Cook heads the workforce domain for Visier.

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Ian Cook heads the workforce domain for Visier, which develops cloud-based applications that enable HR professionals to answer workforce strategy questions. Ian has been involved in driving forward the datafication of HR and is a speaker and blogger on the subject. Prior to Visier, Ian built Canada's leading source of HR benchmark data. His expertise has also been developed through years of international experience solving strategic HR problems for brands in the Fortune 500 and FTSE 100.