Strategic workforce planning


Written by Teresa Fox, Consultant Manager, Shared Services Connected Ltd, Gavin Emberton, Head of Strategy & Customer Engagement, Sopra Steria

Feeling the pressure

With a turbulent economy expected to keep the UK in recession until 2024, the Government is expecting to bring in significant cost-cutting measures to weather the storm.

Many involved in the delivery of the business of government are still feeling the impact of Brexit, the pandemic and the enforced changes to the ways of working that Covid brought. They’re also now under pressure to reduce operating costs, whilst also seeing a huge, and in many areas, sustained increase in the demand for their services. With many government departments struggling to recruit to keep up with demand, precious few were considering the deconstruction of their workforces.


People’s security and wellbeing

If the demand for services is one element of the puzzle, and the size of the government’s financial purse and accompanying strategy is the second, then the third element is the people.

So, if you were sitting at the head of one of these departments, how would you go about balancing the public purse, the demand for services, all whilst reducing costs and headcount? Will you be lucky enough that natural attrition will ‘pick off’ those people in roles that you could manage without? Or will the gaps left leave you and your teams even more exposed and under pressure? Will the best people be in the right roles to deliver the right services? Will you even be able to keep your best people?

Answering these questions is what many leaders and those involved in strategy, operations, HR and resource planning need to do on an almost daily basis. Juggling seemingly conflicting pressures must feel almost impossible at the front-line.

Something often overlooked in these ‘strategic’ conversations is how individuals are considered. After all, they are the service. How they fit into the organisation is a discussion for management and HR, but for those individuals it’s so much more. It’s about their security and wellbeing. Their ambitions and hopes. Their future and their families’ dreams. It is not only about the numbers.


Understanding supply

How then can leaders square the triangle of strategic intent, operational delivery and people’s futures, whilst also balancing fiscal, capability and quality considerations?

This challenge is not unique to government. Although organisations have a good understanding of processes, the time and mixture of staff required, the current and future demand, as well as retention and recruitment plans, many organisations don’t manage to pull it all together.

First, it is important to hold on to a simple truth: ‘The people are the business.’

No matter who they are, what they do, how they do it or how frequently they do it. Even with all the efficiencies digitisation offers, it’s still people who are at the forefront of delivery. It’s people who are behind the scenes using their professional judgement to make decisions. Every one of them has skills, experiences, expectations, ambitions, hopes and potential. Every one of them performs a key role. Every one matters to the service.

Having a motivated, loyal, engaged, capable workforce able to consistently deliver high quality services is key. These people are the lifeblood of your organisation. So, let’s call them the ‘supply’.

Knowing what will make your supply great as individuals is not enough though. You also need to figure out what happens to them as a collective. There are some obvious things such as attrition, recruitment, onboarding and training. But there are also less obvious things like competition for scarce skills, the diversity and inclusion reality, as well as educational, economic, demographic, lifestyle and technological trends.


Understanding demand

Demand is simply what you need to deliver your organisation’s services or products. How many roles of each type do you need to meet the market demand on the organisation; what do you want your team to do in the next day or in the coming weeks? This is about task management, process mapping, activity-based costing, scheduling and workforce management.

If we ask this with a mid to long-term horizon, it moves into Strategic Workforce Management. The questions to ask and the source of your data should be the same. The people asking the questions, the people taking action, the processes and the governance will change depending on a short or long-term view.

Balancing supply and demand can seem a simple question but, in reality it often feels next to impossible to solve. Organisations run in circles trying to break it down. Starting with ‘how many people do we have doing this today and how much volume can they handle’ seems simple but can in itself create many rabbit holes.

Most of these rabbit holes seem to have ‘data’ at the bottom.


Data inconsistency

Often organisations experience a lack of consistency or confidence in the data they hold. Operational teams have one view, the HR system has another, and security has a third. The continuous improvement, recruitment, onboarding and training teams all have different operational numbers in mind and so can’t agree a course of action. The organisation structure simply doesn’t reflect what’s happening in reality – an all too familiar scenario.

Many organisations struggle today to confidently state the basics: how many people they have and what they are doing (or should be doing). Even fewer can confidently state how many they will need in 6-18 months’ time, let alone five years.

Despite an increased investment in HR systems of record, workload management tools or specialists in workforce planning and continuous improvement, many organisations simply don’t have the necessary insights. Those that do are often unable to provide actionable insights for their corporate decision makers.

Within these tools, the answer partly exists, but not fully.

Pulling insight together in a cohesive way that provides a single source of truth for those involved in tactical and strategic workforce management, will enable effective decision making through appropriate processes and governance. If organisations don’t have a golden thread of truth that captures all the appropriate elements there will always be a level of inconsistency in data that has the potential to stagnate the organisation. Leaders won’t give approval for action because they can’t agree on the numbers.


Aligning the organisation

So why don’t organisations invest the appropriate effort and resources to get this right? Arguably they do, but not necessarily with the right focus.

We often see organisations who take a tactical approach to workforce planning and management, dealing with specific challenges e.g. spreadsheet based planning, a scheduling tool, or a discrete skills assessment. Addressing these projects individually will only ever provide individual results and not contribute to achieving organisational goals.

Taking a more strategic approach to workforce planning can feel overwhelming as it will incorporate many different types of stakeholders. From individuals and operational managers to HR, Learning & Development and Recruitment teams to leadership and the CxO suite, workforce planning touches everyone and everyone is responsible for it.

Collaboration is essential, but without the right data, insights, tools, systems, roles, processes and governance, achieving success is challenging.


In summary

Without careful planning, leaders may well find themselves relying on luck alone, hoping that the right people leave the organisation by natural attrition, helping them to meet the new targets. But with proactive and strategic workforce planning taking its rightful place on the government’s agenda, there is no need to rely on chance, and no need to risk people’s wellbeing and service delivery to achieve cost-reduction targets.

In order to get started, we’d recommend four areas of focus:


  1. Map who needs to understand who is in the organisation: what their capability, capacity and ambitions are, and the organisation needs – whether that is tasking in the short-term or longer term planning.
  2. Understand your data: what data is currently available, how complete and accessible is it, and what additional data would you need and want to support decision making.
  3. Prioritise tooling that promotes collaboration: what tools are available that can be easily shared between all the dependent parties so that they are all working from the same real time and accurate data and analysis.
  4. Understand the intricacies of your organisation’s decisions: strategic workforce planning will cross a complex web of interdependent decisions, including approvals and actions from team managers in operation teams, department managers, as well as many areas of HR including workforce planning, recruitment, onboarding, contingent workforce management and strategic planning.

Originally posted here

More thought leadership

Comments are closed.