Workforce Planning: You Can’t Be Neutral and Be Successful

“If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”~ Dick Vermeil

There.  I did it.  I started with a sports quote. To top that, I chose one from former St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil.  So now you know that I’m a football fan AND a Rams fan, for what that’s worth. I’ve either endeared you to me or now you’re thinking I’m crazy for my choice in teams.  I know you’ve heard more sports-to-business analogies than you care to remember.  The reason business writers and experts do this is because the lessons around sports planning and teams can be directly applied in the corporate world.  The complexity of designing a winning sports team with a winning season requires coordination of many moving parts, just like in the corporate world.

Workforce planning is becoming one of the most highly focused areas of human resources.  Also referred to as human capital planning, organizational design and even talent planning, this idea is actually quite simple in theory but complex in design and delivery.  My assertion is that regardless what your company calls this exercise, if it is even on leadership’s radar in a formal way, it is one in which you cannot be neutral.   You need to be willing to take a raw, hard look at the people strategy and practices of your organization and be able to recommend, then execute, change.  This means making tough recommendations, hard calls and possibly significant headcount changes.

What is workforce planning?   Definitions abound, but the nexus is one that combines these components:


Over the coming months, I will explore the components in greater detail.  For now, the point is that workforce planning is not just about filling requisitions.  It is about the part of the process often missed: the first step of asking how you and your fellow leaders will meet organizational goals.

  • How many people do you need and at what capacity do they need to work?
  • Are the skills that your organization have today the ones that will lead it to greater revenue?
  • How will you manage if any of your “mission critical” employees resign?

These are just a few examples of types of questions to ask and answer before hiring another employee.

Workforce planning, when done properly, will help your leaders determine if you are retaining the employees you really need. While most organizations now have retention strategies, they are not specific enough. The goal should not be to retain all employees. Why? Because all companies hire employees who are not a good fit.  They invest in the wrong people.  

They hire lazy employees, employees who do not have the skills they claimed in the interview process, employees who steal, and employees who undermine the organization’s goals. With HR and leaders spending so much time on that small percentage of the employee population, it’s no wonder that some of your strong employees leave. The ideal state is to turn that around with workforce planning.

Workforce planning is not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Quite the opposite. By focusing on the majority of employees who are doing the “right” thing, it will lead to longer-term retention of the employees who truly drive revenue and growth. By taking a stand and declaring what the business goal is and then hiring and promoting to that goal, holding leaders accountable, the company will be more successful.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be somewhat painful. You’ll lose some of your current team members. But, growth is painful and once you make that decision to start a workforce planning process, the rest will begin to fall into place.

Trish McFarlane, VP, Human Resource Practice, [email protected], @trishmcfarlane

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