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Matthew Dickason

HAYS Talent Solutions

Global Managing Director

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Workforce planning in a crisis: why HR needs to prioritise planning ahead

Stop ‘fire fighting’ and start planning for the future.

For business leaders, decision-making during this time feels like a roll of the dice and the idea of workforce planning is seen as an impossible dream. It is something that businesses need to start doing now, however, if they want to emerge healthier and more balanced into the future.

According to LinkedIn’s latest UK workforce index, UK professionals across the board feel less confident in their industry two years from now, with those belonging in the media and communications sector feeling the least confident.  

Workforce planning is a process, not an annual ‘to-do’ item. At its heart, workforce planning is aligning the organisational needs and people strategy. 

Plenty has been written about the importance of engaging with your workforce during this crisis and how to maintain productivity. As some countries start to relax their lockdown measures and return to work, however, we need to move beyond tips about the effective management of remote working.

To handle the tough decision-making that comes with the economic chaos we’re witnessing, business leaders have been working to ensure their organisations are agile enough to meet the demands of today, with the ability to pivot rapidly against a clear purpose to make the right decisions for tomorrow.

Getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time and cost will be central to success, and effective workforce planning will be critical to this. Without it how can you be sure you are making the right resourcing decisions for your business and your employees?

Moving workforce planning from the ‘too hard’ pile

Workforce planning and strategy seems to feature on every boardroom agenda, but in most organisations it is not effectively executed against at a strategic level. It seems to become very responsive, or fall into the ‘too hard’ basket – but it doesn’t have to.

One of the biggest mistakes we see is people confusing workforce planning with a plan. We have all heard the old cliché, ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’ – but how often have things ever gone to plan? Workforce planning is a process, not an annual ‘to-do’ item. At its heart, workforce planning is aligning the organisational needs and people strategy. It does not need to be complex, and can be adjusted to suit the size and maturity of your workforce programme.

Getting started in workforce planning during a crisis

A simple way to get started is to have a documented ‘check-in’ session with your business unit leaders every other week. Most businesses have already done this as a response to Covid-19. Going forward then, it’s about maintaining this discipline and identifying the workforce priorities, their anticipated resourcing needs and critical dependencies on an ongoing basis.

The answers do not need to be perfect, and nor should the questions be cumbersome. The process can be as simple as a live document update every other week. The point is to get a concrete picture of what you are dealing with, so you can make the right talent supply chain decisions for the here and now.  

Workforce planning for different scenarios

Once you have the above in place to deal with the right now you’ll need to develop a workforce planning group to identify a range of realistic variables and resourcing options, accounting for fluctuations in demand, productivity, skills availability and the ever-evolving world of work.

Developing scenarios and stress-testing how your workforce programme will stand up to these variances allows you to identify triggers for action. This will mean that you are no longer reacting, but rather you’re being proactive, with clear, considered options to handle a range of possible outcomes quickly when the time comes. You will then need to be sure you are tracking the signals that different scenarios are becoming more likely, so you are primed to act.

Planning with purpose

Finally, you will need to establish what the next normal means for your business after the immediate crisis passes. What will have changed forever? Which new ways of working do you want to keep? What does this mean for your workforce? Then you’ll need to communicate it.

Workforce strategy should reflect the overall business strategy and your organisation’s purpose. Those who work with and for you want to know what the organisation stands for, and this is particularly true during a crisis. Whilst your workers may be physically separated, they are united by your purpose and values. This is critical to maintaining and potentially reforming your organisational culture, and it is the foundation for its future success.

Act for now and next

Whilst no one can accurately predict with any certainty what will come next. It is clear that responsive and responsible workforce planning will be required to navigate organisations through this crisis and into the ‘new normal’ – whatever that turns out to be. The skills you need today will not be the same as those you need tomorrow. This uncertainty will require you to cycle through your workforce planning process more often than ever. Scenarios will need to be refined and refreshed. Don’t worry about perfection – each iteration will improve over time.

The crucial thing is that you start today, so that when the next stage of the Covid-19 crisis hits, you are the first to know and fastest to act, because you’ll have done the thinking, identified the people you need, and created the plans to take you forward.

Interested in this topic? Read Leadership: how to prepare your workforce for the post-pandemic future.

Author Profile Picture
Matthew Dickason

Global Managing Director

Read more from Matthew Dickason

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