Three Ways to Modernize Workforce Planning

October 8, 2019

Three Ways to Modernize Workforce Planning

The right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time—the core of strategic workforce planning (SWP) has not changed. Yet, with the pace of technology rising and workforce demographics shifting, workplace experts agree that SWP needs to evolve and grow to face modern challenges. 

Leaders are faced with updating their workforce planning to reflect trends such as gig work, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the skills gap. Seventy percent of HR executives recognize the need for workforce transformation, yet only 37 percent feel very confident about HR’s ability to transform and move forward, according to last year’s KMPG report The Future of HR 2019

Here are three ways you can modernize your workforce planning for the future of work:

1. Require participation and accountability from across the company. 

SWP is no longer just an annual HR exercise. Now senior leadership will set the strategic goals and directions for the organization while managers provide input on needed skills and gaps in talent. HR will be the hub for analytics and talent management. Future plans need to take into account inclusion, culture change and dynamic economic forces. Buy-in and follow-through is critical at every level. 

“Among best-in-class programs, the workforce planning team, HR business partners and business unit leaders and managers work together to create the workforce plan,” said Elissa Tucker, principal research lead for APQC, a Houston-based nonprofit specializing in benchmarking and best practices research. 

2. Look beyond roles and jobs to worktask planning. 

With artificial intelligence and gig workers becoming more common, managers can plan employee activities down to the task level—even more granular than skills or roles. This allows AI and robots to do more routine tasks and employees handle more strategic and creative tasks, maximizing the utility of both. 

“Workforce planning focuses on people; worktask planning focuses on the tasks that need to be done. Work can be partitioned into tasks with the realization that many of these tasks may be done through technology,” said Dave Ulrich, author and professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. 

3. Focus on agility as the future of SWP. 

Work is already shifting to gig workers and other labor sources outside of full-time employees. SWP practitioners need to take into account how this blend of workers will affect alignment, culture and brand reputation. SWP will occur more often to plan for a variety of scenarios and outcomes as the future becomes less predictable and certain. 

“The most effective workforce planning programs are agile, meaning frequent touchpoints, low burden and flexible with a rapid turnaround,” said Jesse Harriott, Executive Director for the Massachusetts-based Workhuman Analytics and Research Institute. 

Companies such as PepsiCo, Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM and many others have rebooted their SWP to reflect the future of work. Following their lead, every organization should craft the right blend of workforce choices to accomplish their goals and mission. 

For more on modern workforce planning, read the Fall 2019 issue of People + Strategy

The Authors: 

Deborah Stadtler is Managing Editor at HR People + Strategy, SHRM’s Executive Network.