What Separates Great Workforce Planning From an Average Effort? Part 2 of 2

In Part 1 of this article, I outlined the first six of 13 key factors that differentiate great workforce planning efforts from mediocre workforce planning efforts. Here are the remaining seven points to note.

Factor #7


Demonstrate the likelihood that your recommended actions will actually work.

In addition to designating an action plan for each forecasted issue, workforce-planning efforts also need to assign a “probability of success” to any action plans or program recommend to mitigate the issue. For example, if you recommend a leadership-development program, tell managers upfront that leadership-development programs have a “56% chance of meeting their stated goals.” Unfortunately, most workforce planning efforts simply identify the issues and leave managers on their own in driving solution development. Program-success probabilities should not be complete guesstimates; base the figure on past experiences or sound benchmark data.

Factor #8

Demonstrate that forecasts and plans take into account the changing business environment.

Unfortunately, 95% of the workforce planning efforts that I’ve come across are “static” and internally focused. By static, I mean that these workforce plans fail to take into account likely changes in the business environment that will invariably impact both the accuracy of your forecasts and the likelihood of success for response plans. Senior managers know they live in a dynamic business environment; it is critical to state your assumptions upfront about likely changes in critical environmental factors (i.e., changing interest rates, unemployment rates, social trends, foreign-exchange rates).

For example, “if immigration restrictions were eased, 49% of our talent shortfall for software engineers could be filled by hiring from other countries.” You don’t have to be 100% accurate; simply demonstrate that you are taking into account that such environmental factors may change.

Factor #9

Demonstrate that forecasts and workforce plans take into account actions and responses by your competitors.

A related factor that keeps most workforce plans from becoming great is that most workforce plans assume that product and talent competitors won’t change. Senior executives already know that when they change prices, products, and locations, competitors will invariably react and respond to those changes. In the same light, if you want to demonstrate your business acumen, include forecasts of what your competitors are likely to do after you take action (i.e., increased college hiring, instituted an employment-branding program, moved operations to India).

Factor #10

Provide “real-time” alerts when immediate workforce problems occur.

Everyone knows that strategic workforce planning is a long-term effort. As a result, even the best workforce plans forecast general workforce problems. Unfortunately, at some point in time, “general” workforce problems become “actual” workforce problems or opportunities. Develop a short-term process to give individual managers a “heads-up” when they are facing an immediate problem or opportunity.

Factor #11

Integrate routine business processes.

An almost universal problem faced by workforce planners is that once they have completed their forecasts and presented to senior management, interest fades fast. For example, if you forecast at the beginning of the year “senior leadership retirement rates are likely to be 23%,” that number and the retirement issue are likely to be forgotten quickly.

However, if every major monthly, quarterly, and yearly business and financial report contained integrated workforce planning metrics and their dollar consequences, two things are likely to happen. First, managers will realize that workforce planning is not a separate issue to be addressed only once a year. Second, when they see the dollar impact alongside their other business results, they will learn to constantly monitor both workforce-planning problems and the dollar impact of their solutions.

Factor #12

Ensure that your workforce plan addresses each of the major talent-management problems that your firm is likely to face.

Almost all workforce plans are too narrow in scope. This means that they only attempt to forecast and propose solutions to a few of the many possible workforce problems that are likely facing their organization. In fact, most organizations I run across narrow their scope to the very minimum (succession planning for executives and headcount forecasts). In contrast, truly great workforce planning efforts attempt to forecast and resolve each of the nine major workforce planning problems including:

  1. Not enough workforce productivity. Dollar of output per dollar of employee costs.
  2. Surprise workforce issues. No forecasts, warning or alerts about upcoming talent problems and opportunities.
  3. Too few employees. Need to recruit and retain more employees.
  4. Too many employees. Need to release “surplus” employees.
  5. Wrong employees. Some individual employees are obsolete and can’t be fixed.
  6. Wrong skills. Employees have insufficient skills or the wrong skills and competencies.
  7. Wrong seat. Employees need to be moved internally to a more appropriate job, manager, or business unit.
  8. Not enough innovation. Insufficient quality or volume of innovation from our employees.
  9. Sudden vacancies and missed opportunities. Insufficient reaction to sudden turnover or external talent opportunities.

Factor #13

Integrate and coordinate HR functional efforts.

The final factor that separates world-class workforce planning from the “average” effort is that workforce planning is not an isolated element within HR. To maximize its impact, workforce planning must “influence” every other major talent function so that instead of being “silo’d,” they work together as an integrated unit. The best way to ensure an integrated effort is first to demonstrate to each HR function the consequences of a silo’d effort and then to integrate individual HR functional metrics and rewards so that each HR function realizes that it cannot succeed individually, unless the whole workforce planning effort succeeds.


In more than 30 years of practicing HR, I have seen workforce-planning efforts come and go, but I have never seen them rise to the level of popularity they now enjoy. When established with the right resources and the right authority, workforce-planning efforts become the glue that unites all of the silo’d HR functions to power a true talent-management approach.

I have seen workforce-planning efforts save organizations millions, but I have also seen them accomplish nothing. The 13 factors I’ve presented are critical success factors that have distinguished the efforts of companies that demonstrated an impact versus those that have not.

If you are lucky enough to work in an organization that is developing a workforce-planning capability, support it, contribute to it, and leverage it. It may just make you a corporate hero.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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