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Getting started in workforce planning for now and the next normal

By Matthew Dickason, Global Managing Director at HAYS Talent Solutions 

For business leaders, decision-making during this time feels like a roll of the dice and the idea of workforce planning is seen as an impossible dream. But, could it be part of the answer for businesses to emerge healthier and more balanced into the future right now?

With this question in mind, shares his thoughts and advice on how organisations can get started in workforce planning for now and the next normal post-lockdown.

Building an effective workforce, beyond remote working tips

According to Linkedin’s latest UK workforce index, UK professionals across the board felt less confident in their industry two years from now with those belonging in the media and communication sector feeling the least confident.

Plenty has been written about the importance of engaging with and maintaining a productive workforce during the crisis. But as some countries start to relax their lock down measures we need to move beyond tips on, and effective management of remote working.

To handle the tough decision making that comes with the economic chaos we’re witnessing, leaders have been working to ensure their organisation is agile enough to meet the demands of today, with the ability to pivot rapidly against a clear purpose to make the right decisions for tomorrow.

Getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time and cost will be central to success and effective workforce planning, will be critical to this. Without it how can you be sure you are making the right, responsive and responsible resourcing decisions for your business and your employees?

Moving workforce planning from the too hard pile

Workforce planning and strategy seems to feature on every board room agenda. Yet in most organisations is not effectively executed against at a strategic level. It seems to become very responsive or fall into the too hard basket. But it does not have to.

One of the biggest mistakes we see is people confusing workforce planning with a plan. We have all heard the old cliché, fail to plan, plan to fail. But, how often have things ever gone to plan?

Workforce planning is a process. Not an annual to-do. At its heart workforce planning is aligning the organisational needs and people strategy.

It does not need to be complex. And can be adjusted to suit the size and maturity of your workforce programme.

Getting started in workforce planning during a crisis

A simple way to get started is to have a documented check-in with your business unit leaders every other week. Most businesses have already done this on the downside as a response to COVID-19, its maintaining this discipline and identifying the workforce priorities, their anticipated resourcing needs and critical dependencies on an ongoing basis.

The answers do not need to be perfect, or questions cumbersome. The process can be as simple as a live document update every other week.

The point is to get a concrete picture of what you are dealing with, so you can make the right talent supply chain decisions for the here and now.

Workforce planning for different scenarios

Once you have the above in place to deal with the right now you’ll need to develop a workforce planning group, to identify a range of realistic variables and resourcing options, accounting for fluctuations in demand, productivity, skills availability and an ever-evolving world of work.

Developing scenarios and stress-testing how your workforce programme will stand up to these variances allows you to identify triggers for action. So, you are no longer reacting, but have clear well-thought out options to handle a range of possible outcomes quickly when the time comes.

You will then need to be sure you are tracking the signals that different scenarios are becoming more likely, so you are primed to act.

Planning with purpose

Finally, you will need to establish what the next normal means for your business after the immediate crisis passes. What will have changed forever, what new ways of working do you want to keep and what does this mean for your workforce and then communicate it.

Workforce strategy should reflect business strategy and your organisation’s purpose. Those who work with and for you want to know what an organisation stands for. And this stands true during this crisis more than ever. As whilst your workers may be physically separated, they are united by your purpose and values. This is critical to maintaining and potentially reforming your organisational culture which forms the foundation for future success.

Act for now and next

Whilst no-one can accurately predict with any certainty what will come next. It is clear responsive and responsible workforce planning will be required to navigate the now and the next normal. Because the skills you need today will not be the same as those you need tomorrow.

This uncertainty will require you to cycle through your workforce planning process more often than ever. Scenarios will need to be refined and refreshed. Don’t worry about perfection. Each iteration will improve over time.

But start today, so when the next stage of the COVID-19 crisis hits you are the first to know and fastest to act, because you’ll have done the thinking, identified the people and created the plans to do so.