What Is workforce planning and why is it essential?

What Is workforce planning and why is it essential?

By on May 19, 2021 in Best Practices, Blog, Talent Acquisition |

By Ryan Sheehan

As Human Resources professionals, it is all too easy to get mired in our day-to-day work issues and duties. Most days there are multiple fires to put out, too many calls to make and “priority” emails to respond to, and other various, competing demands. During these times, I often pause and reflect on what one of my best managers taught me – organizations that do not make time to look forward and plan for future may not have future.

In our ever-changing economic climate, workforce planning is not only advisable but essential. Yet, when we conduct Human Resources audits for our clients, we discover than many do not have a strategic workforce plan in place.

What is workforce planning?

Workforce planning is simply the process by which an organization assesses its current and future workforce needs based on its business goals and objectives. It involves a system-wide review and analysis of its human capital and the development of an action plan that an organization will need to meet its targets. At a top level, this includes identifying both the quantity and the quality of the employees needed [in terms of their knowledge, skills, abilities, and cultural fit] but contains many other elements.

What is the purpose of workforce planning?

For most companies, their workforce is their single largest expense [accounting for 70% of operating expenses according to a recent EY study]. It only makes sense to analyze and optimize spending, usage, and maintaining these ‘resources’ like any other materials or operating costs. There are other indirect benefits to implementing a solid workforce plan as well.

What are the basic elements of workforce plans?

Although there are several approaches to strategic workforce planning, and the strategies and metrics included in workforce plans will vary [based on an organization’s structure, size, industry, and goals], all effective workforce plans should:

  • Align workforce requirements directly to the organization’s strategic and annual business plans.
  • Develop a comprehensive picture of where gaps exist between competencies the workforce currently possesses and future competency requirements.
  • Identify and implement gap reduction strategies.
  • Make decisions about how best to structure the organization and deploy the workforce.
  • Detect and overcome internal and external barriers to accomplishing strategic workforce goals.

Where do I start?

To have an effective workforce strategic plan, you need to have a formal, well-articulated business strategy. If you do not know where your organization is going, how can you identify the people with the knowledge, skills, and abilities [KSAs] you will need to get you there?

The next step is a conducting a comprehensive, rigorous workforce assessment. An impactful workforce planning assessment is not limited figuring out if you need to hire new employees or determining appropriate staffing levels. Understanding your current employees’ individual aptitudes and talents is key to developing effective strategies to get the best performance out of them and to help align them for individual and shared success.

Next steps

Once the assessment is complete, you will need to develop an action plan. This step involves the designing strategies to close gaps, plans to implement the strategies, and choosing measures for assessing strategic progress. These strategies could include such things as recruiting, training/retraining, restructuring departments, contracting out roles, succession planning, technological enhancements/automation, and other activities.

Then you will implement your action plan by making sure that human and fiscal resources are in place, assigning and explaining the roles to key participants in the plan’s programs, and ensuring the necessary internal  communication, marketing, and coordination is occurring to execute the plan.

Finally, you will need to monitor, evaluate, and revise your plan. This phase involves monitoring progress against milestones, adjusting the plan to make course corrections, and addressing newly occurring workforce issues on a regular cadence [annually or semi-annually is common].

Hopefully, we have given you some inspiration and insights on how to begin (or reboot your) strategic workforce planning. If once you start upon the path you find you need expert advice and support, we can help. Contact us today.


Ryan Sheehan is a colleague and friend of OA and has led a number of successful talent acquisition projects for non-profit and public-sector organizations with us. He is an accomplished Human Resources and talent management professional with a solid track record of aligning people and business strategies. Across his 18 years of career experience, he has developed, implemented, and improved Human Resources programs, processes, and tools/technologies. Also, Ryan is adept at directly matching top talent with esteemed employers and creating strong talent acquisition strategies, trainings, and teams.