Strategic Workforce Planning: A Simple Overview (2021)


Workforce planning is an HR plan for the future capabilities of the human resources department. It is a strategic process enabling HR to get the right person at the right time for the specific job, thereby avoiding either under or overstaffing.

  1. What is Workforce Planning?
  2. Workforce planning and HR analytics
  3. An Example of Workforce Planning
  4. The Steps in Workforce Planning

1. What is Workforce Planning?

According to the 2014 definition of Evers, workforce planning is the strategic planning of the workforce important for the below reasons.

  • Changing workforce demographics since a workforce that is ageing results in mass retirements, deficits in in-demand skills and re-skilling needs.
  • Reduction in overheads and costs as aging workforces mean one works smarter to overcome global competition. Especially so as the workforce needs to be productive and aging workforce means more expenses incurred in re-skilling, retirements etc.
  • Talent management provides the company with a competitive advantage when the talent pipeline is full and can be used to replace the aging group of executives and senior management.
  • Flexibility in disruptive innovation is a must for being ahead in a competitive landscape requires that recent and more generative products are adapted and the workforce is matched to the requirements.

The 4 goals of workforce planning are to have the right agility, cost, shape and size required to meet future and present needs.

  • The shape depends on successive planning for workforce planning and required competencies, both present and future.
  • The size depends on the number of vacancies—too many vacancies slow processes and means understaffing.
  • The agility of the workforce means having flexible and lean staffing workforce planning models that can adapt to market demands and needs.
  • The optimum labour cost revolves around financial goals, not stressing the company or vacancies remaining unfilled and slowing the jobs done.

2. Workforce planning and HR analytics

Why is workforce planning analytics and people analytics important, and how is it different from workforce planning?  Because workforce planning is a method of people and workforce analysis, while people analytics is data-driven, workforce planning is more of an HR tool. Thus workforce planning and workforce analytics may sound alike but are entirely different. 

  • The workforce-planning process:

The 3 basic tenets of planning strategically are 

  1. Strategic workforce planning must be aligned with organizational strategy and necessitates a long-term plan for 5 to 10 years.
  2. It should follow the Pareto principle for mission-critical workers, where 80% of the value is generated by 20% of the workforce.
  3. It should have a long-term focus and strategic planning workforce planning tools that map the workforce’s present and future potentials to align the future developments and products.
  • The workforce-planning process:

Organizational strategy is definitely not the beginning point of workforce planning. However,, it is an integral part of the organization’s strategy,, which is largely determined by its capabilities and resources. Obviously, a company and its workforce are directed towards a particular segment and their abilities in that segment. A car paint company can obviously not turn into an IT company overnight. This means that the current workforce is a huge influencer of strategy and its future direction, competition, and products. Thus, the plan for the workforce begins with the organizational strategy and assessment of employee potential and then cascades downwards.  That is why the company’s resources and capabilities are decisive factors of the workforce planning process.

3. An Example of Workforce Planning

Suppose an organization has 3 product lines A, B, and C, with different revenue goals set by the board of directors. Imagine A is the growing line and C the flagship line that is now dwindling. A matrix of revenues over the past few years will help one create the estimated workforce plan for the next fiscal year. By looking closely at the matrix, one can see some lines being more profitable.

Hence one can calculate the growth percentage and staff required to man it. One can also be decisive about letting go of non-revenue earners like product-line C if the employees do not have the right experience and skills to re-training them. Thus future workforce challenges are laid bare and decision making so much easier based on workforce analytics and workforce planning. Decisions on when to hire are also predictable in this model. The more complicated the model becomes, the better it is for being useful in workforce planning.

4. The Steps in Workforce Planning

The entire process of workforce-planning revolves around these 3 steps.

1. Analysis of workforce current formation: This process starts with evaluating the formations of current employees and is the sum of skills and people the organization has in these two areas of quantity and quality of the workforce. 

  • Workforce Quality is all about how the current workforce performance and it’s potential in the future for those with high potential and high performance. It is an important factor in talent management that ensures each of its employees achieves their full potential, for effective talent management organizations spend a lot to help employees reach their full potential at work. Talent management means leveraging the employees’ full potential with help from the company spending time, resources, and money on them.
  • Workforce Quantity is drawn up using a matrix for personnel flow. The matrix includes employee turnover, new hires, internal promotions, etc. It can provide the risk factors, external and internal employee mobility, and the best solutions to organizational changes. This method and model is easy to read, though complicated to start with. Internal replacements, departmental categories etc. can also be matched with available employee’s skills and potential to filter out the undesirable and maintain focus on mission-critical employees responsible for 80% result generation. Ex: The 30,000 employees of Johnson & Johnson in examples of workforce planning found only 150 roles or 20% of employees responsible for 80% of the value generated!

2. Plot potential analysis for leveraging the future scenarios: The future cannot be predicted but can be planned for. According to Peter Schwartz, the pioneer of scenario planning with digital assistance, one can be prepared for a rainy day. Shell is a real-life example of leveraging the 2013 oil crisis since their staff were trained on future scenarios and leveraged the scenario during the crisis period predicted.

3. Future workforce analysis: This step is important as it reveals the gaps between desired formations and expected formations for the present and future. Expected future formation refers to the future 3 to 5 years and the desired formation for that period, measures are taken etc. and are typically found from the matrix for personnel flow allowing the demand to be extrapolated over larger periods of time and is a close match of the ‘Desired Future’ formation.


The workforce planning goals and purpose of workforce planning revolve around finding the right candidate fit for specific job needs at the proper time. The workforce planning cycle depends on planning for the future and knowing the workforce’s present capabilities when determining the right size and shape of recruitments and matching the desired workforce to future scenarios in a planned strategic manner.

Are you interested in learning more about Analytics in Workforce Management? Take a look at our People Analytics and Digital HR program, in collaboration with IIM Indore. This is a 3-month long program with instructor-led sessions by IIM-I faculty.


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