In an increasingly complex environment, there’s a need for talent to be mobile, agile, and able to move into a new role at a moment’s notice. However, there’s a great difficulty in defining exactly where, when and what is required. As such, organisations need to place a greater focus on strategically planning for an uncertain workforce. But do current approaches really work, and are HR professionals actually defining strategic workforce planning, or simply responding to short term requirements?

This topic was explored at a recent Ochre House network think-tank, hosted by the French owned multinational electrical systems provider, Thales Group. One of the key challenges discussed was that, by the time strategic workforce plans (SWPs) are written they’re often out of date, making it extremely difficult to build a business case for them. On top of this, there’s the difficulty of measuring the value and success of approaches, it can be hard to align them with a business strategy, and identifying future leadership capabilities can be problematic.

But what are the solutions? Well clearly it’s a complex issue, but there are a number of examples of organisations that have implemented a successful plan, and HR teams can learn a lot from such case studies.

Thales Group, for example, is in a sector which is facing potential future skills shortages and a possible retirement cliff, and so it has been fundamental for the company to think about its resourcing strategies. Consequently, in 2010, its HR team started a three year transformation project. This involved bringing resourcing in-house to reduce costs as well as developing a Resourcing Centre of Excellence (CoE), and the outcomes paint an extremely positive picture. Internal mobility, for instance, has increased from 18% to 43%. On top of this, over 90% of hires are now directly sourced by the CoE and all senior roles are filled by the CoE, reducing the reliance on executive search firms. Overall nearly 1,500 hires were delivered in 2012, and as a result, the company has saved several million pounds on its talent management budget.

So how do you go about ensuring your workforce plan is truly strategic? We believe there are several key questions, which need to be addressed to drive the strategy forward;

  1. Which are the critical roles and where are the potential skills gaps?
  2. What are the enablers and blockers of the current company culture? For instance, is it too focused towards current talent and lacking the appeal of the emerging talent market?
  3. At what level does this conversation need to happen? While it is not an HR process alone, it’s important to consider just who needs to be involved in this discussion.
  4. What are the opportunities and impacts on the business? For example, where can cost savings be made through a streamlined strategy and where are the key risk areas?
  5. How can we ensure inclusivity across different talent pipelines?
  6. What are the measures of success? It may sound simple, but agreeing exactly what you want to achieve up front will feed directly into the planning process.
  7. Where are the growth areas – both geographically and across markets?
  8. Do we build this talent internally or buy externally?

Of course, achieving a true SWP isn’t easy. But what is clear is that employees need to be agile, sustainable and connected to keep ahead of the curve.  It can be extremely useful to learn from those companies that are implementing a strategy in order to tackle the issues and, in my next blog, I’ll discuss a further case study – that of Rio Tinto – and outline its approach to SWP.