Workforce Planning in a Fast-changing Economy: Common Pitfalls to Avoid
We plan, God laughs.
- -Yiddish Proverb
Change is so constant in the modern economy that it is often indistinguishable from straight up chaos. The minute you have the lay of the land, a new acquisition is announced, a fresh scandal bubbles over, or a new technology disrupts your industry. In this environment, all you humble HR professionals are expected to design and execute a workforce plan that accurately assesses your current and future talent needs and proposes fool-proof strategies to close any gaps between now and then.
I’ll give you a moment to breathe into a brown paper bag, curse the day you were born, or deploy the stress management strategy of your choice. Better? Good.
Despite the chaos around us, the U.S. economy is hovering at above six million unfilled positions – a record level. This apparent skills mismatch suggests that many organizations have failed to properly plan for their future talent needs. While this trend does suggest a positive economic outlook overall, it is extremely costly to the employers that make up that number.
How much revenue are you losing because of job openings that go unfilled? How many new products are delayed because you couldn’t get the talent you needed when you needed it? It doesn’t have to be like this. Efficient, agile operational workforce planning can alleviate many of these issues, but getting it right isn’t easy.
Here are a few common pitfalls to avoid at your organization:
Waiting till You Have All the Data
In a fluid environment like this, you can’t afford to wait for all your data wishes to come true. While an integrated data management strategy is important, it’s better to do what you can with the information you have than to do nothing and wait for data that may never come.
Poor Alignment with Business Needs
You can’t serve your business leaders if you don’t know the strategic direction of the organization and what keeps them up at night. Even if you’re only focused on workforce planning for six to twelve months into the future, you still need a sense of where the organization is going and which roles create the most value on the balance sheet.
Avoiding Uncomfortable Discussions on Role Prioritization
You can’t give every role the same level of attention in your workforce plan. There are a variety of methods to use when segmenting your workforce. Most force the user to consider criteria like importance to business strategy or difficulty to fill. These segmentation criteria will help you prioritize which roles are truly critical to your business’ continued success and may take some of the emotion out of the discussion. Remember, the jobs you identify as “critical” today might not be in 18 months.
Lack of focus on data integrity and integration.
Workforce planning runs on data. External labor markets, internal talent supply, workforce demographics, all these data sets are crucial for crafting your workforce plan. While you shouldn’t use it as an excuse for inaction, inaccurate or incomplete data will hurt the accuracy of your predictions. Siloed data will seriously impede your ability to analyze and respond to talent trends. Also, don’t limit yourself to people data. Financial and operational data metrics often hold the key to predicting future talent needs. Fail to invest in these areas and your workforce planning abilities will remain stunted.
You can’t plan for everything, but you can’t go without planning either. Rigorous talent segmentation and effective scenario planning can make your organization more focused and agile. Combined with a clean and holistic data management strategy, your organization will soon be able to predict and adapt to change ahead of the competition.
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