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[shutterstock: 1416086459, Blue Planet Studio]
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Mastering Strategic Workforce Planning

Strategic workforce planning (SWP) is a planning effort in which companies assess the impact of their business strategy on their HR landscape and try to close the gap between the desired and the actual state of their human resources pool.

Most companies today have a capability approach, i.e. their SWP efforts are oriented towards a quantitative reflection on the allocation of resources to Position A or Position B (10 more electronics engineers, 5 fewer project managers, etc.). The merit of this approach is that it is based on a simple indicator that everyone can understand – the number of people occupying Position A, for example – and that the main uncertainty factor is clearly identified: the definition of a trade on a given time scale (i.e. what will become of a trade in two, three, or five years).

However, we think that such an approach is limited in its effectiveness, as the principle of SWP is to set up a direct decision-making channel between strategy, operations and HR. HR must therefore take the dominant role in SWP and strive to observe, understand and make the best use of its impact on the company’s operations.

Two things are obvious right away: This impact is best observed through the notion of skills, and the services and processes that HR offers to the company and its employees are the tools that enable it to address this impact.

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How HR departments can master strategic workforce planning can be split into three different steps:

  1. Mapping and identifying the company’s resources at T0 in order to be able to project them at T+X. Knowing one’s resources requires precise knowledge of skills at the individual level and therefore at the level of teams, business units, and the company as a whole.
  2. Determine the gap between the present and the future situation and be able to understand this gap from different perspectives (gap between two employees, between an employee and a position, between an existing team and a new type of job, etc.).
  3. Finally, determine the actions to be taken by HR departments (training, recruitment, internal mobility, etc.) to fill the gap or gaps observed. In our experience, it is the calculation of the skills gap between the present and future situation that should make it possible to determine the actions to be taken and to monitor the impact of these actions.

Below we offer our perspective on these three steps.

Knowing your resources in the present (and past) situation

Precise knowledge of a company’s resources is one of the most important issues to resolve: HR managers often complain that they find out more about their staff on LinkedIn than on their internal HRIS, so they have to reappropriate the data.

Whatever the upstream solutions are, it is essential to plan for the aggregation of all possible sources of existing and future data on employees in order to better objectify their skills. At the heart of objectification lies the need to have the most reliable, up-to-date information. Cross-referencing all information sources at a central point facilitates the objectification of information.

Another challenge emerges from the need to aggregate data: making the gathered information, often stored in different formats and with a taxonomy specific to a process or a part of the organization, consistent. In order to extract the maximum amount of information on a single skill from these sources, it is important to link them together using a common language.

The first task is therefore to identify all the sources of information on employees or their skills and to aggregate them into a single skills map on which employees, training, etc. can then be positioned.

Calculating the gap between present and future situations

Before calculating the gap between what a company wants or needs and where it is right now, it is necessary to be able to interpret the company’s strategy regarding skills and, more generally, its impact on human resources. However, this simulation is complex: How can we predict what skills might be needed tomorrow based on our strategic visions today?

The projection has to descend to the skill mesh. Once this has been done, the calculation of this gap takes place on several different levels, for example on the company level (to identify the major personnel movements that will come to pass) or on the individual level (to personalize the support of each employee in this strategic transformation).

All these calculations must be carried out at the skill level in order to get rid of the current definition of trades, which will become obsolete at T+X. Companies will therefore be able to support the development of each individual: training, internal mobility, career paths, etc. and decide, on a macroscopic scale, on the priority axes for training plans, personnel changes, and future recruitment.

Using HR processes to close the gap

Once the gap has been calculated, you must be able to transmit the reading grid to be followed to each of the company’s HR and business processes in order to be able to execute it properly. This gap must therefore be transmitted in a common communication language that all processes, ranging from training to internal mobility to recruitment, can understand.

To conclude, if we want to be able to calculate the impact of a strategy on our skills resources, we need to be able to create a common communication language that will enable us to identify the skills resources at T0, simulate the objective at T+X, calculate the gap and then transmit this gap to the processes. Without this common language at competence level, the strategy cannot be executed properly.

HR departments, which, for a long time, have been seen as cost centers, will have to transform into profit centers by enhancing all the employee data to simulate and support corporate strategies.

About the author

Olivier Rohou, eLamp

Olivier Rohou is CEO of eLamp. A former industrial engineer, he co-founded eLamp in 2015 with two of his former classmates, both computer engineers.

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