The most recent Ochre House HR Network meeting – a think tank of over 650 senior HR figures from employers including BT, Fujitsu and Vodafone – held in Munich in December, brought to light some very interesting issues. We discovered that while practically all large companies now believe that a strategic approach to workforce planning is essential, only around a fifth have successfully embraced the concept. And while the majority of the rest are intending to introduce strategic workforce planning over the coming year, what they really seem to be talking about is relatively unsophisticated resource planning. 

Too many organisations still think in terms of ‘how many of this type of individual will we need next year?’ and that is not what effective strategic workforce planning is about. Our members seem to agree that strategic workforce planning, or SWP, is a much bigger concept than this and is most certainly not just about numbers. On the contrary it is about immersing the planning of the people resource within the larger picture of strategic capability planning and is consequently becoming part of the organisational effectiveness area of businesses rather than just ‘classic’ HR.

At HR Network member, ArcelorMittal, SWP is seen as a process which enables the organisation to define its overall five year strategy into a year by year action plan. According to the company’s Global Head of Resourcing, Ali Gilani, effective SWP can deliver the following key benefits:

·         A plan which maintains focus on strategy

·         A year by year action plan that executes that strategy

·         Avoidance of bad tactical decisions which could result in long term problems

·         A degree of preparedness for unforeseen situations

·         The securing of core jobs and key skills

The introduction of SWP presents huge challenges, many of which can only be dealt with through a change of mindset from that of the traditional HR practitioner to something more akin to that of a commercial strategist. Whatever the difficulties involved, SWP is not just an option, it is an imperative. And its successful implementation may also have the side effect of giving HR what it has campaigned for, for so long. True and lasting credibility at the board or partnership table.

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