The Perfect Alignment: The Future of Work and Strategic Workforce Planning

The future of work has been one of the most controversial and disrupting trends impacting organizations for the past several years. Learn more below about workforce planning, related challenges, and potential solutions.

What Is Workforce Planning?

According to SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management), “simply put, the future of work is a projection of how work, workers and the workplace will evolve in the years ahead.”

We can divide future of work into five areas to align with current trends:

  • Why will employees work?
  • What will workers do?
  • Where will employees work?
  • When will employees work?
  • How will employees work?

Why Will Employees Work?

The motivations of employees to choose and stay at a company are changing drastically and will continue to change over time. Historically, employees made employment decisions based on brand, pay, and job title.

While these criteria remain important, employees have also started to prioritize new factors such as culture, inclusivity, flexibility, development, and mobility.

What Will Workers Do?

With the infusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics into the workforce, there are significant shifts with the definition of the future worker and the work they’ll do.

Absent technology, there’s an increased demand from organizations to increase manager and employee skill sets. Forbes outlines skills such as digital literacy, data literacy, critical thinking, creativity, empathy, and more as necessary for all employees.

Where Will Employees Work?

Recent human resources (HR) news outlines the disconnect between employees and their organizations as it relates to working from home, a hybrid work schedule, or returning to the office.

The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented opportunity for entire organizations of employees to work from home—or from anywhere. Although some organizations remain in this state to reduce costs associated with office space, many organizations are requiring employees to come to the office, even just one day a week.

Organization not embracing a hybrid culture are seeing an increase in frustration and disengagement from many employees. Today’s workforce is looking for flexibility in the way they work and where they work.

When Will Employees Work?

There’s tremendous traction with organizations creating much more flexible working arrangements. Many organizations have shifted to unlimited vacation, every other Friday off, four-day weeks, or other employee-focused perks. The goal of this is to increase work-life balance and reduce stress. The bigger shift, which can have major operational and cultural impacts, is organizations focusing more on performance and less on hours worked.

How Will Employees Work?

There have always been programs to create increased efficiency and performance of employees. We started to see an infusion of agile practices a few years ago, and in the future, many organizations will focus on:

  • Inclusivity and belonging
  • Collaboration and engagement
  • Internal crowdsourcing
  • Employee rotations or temporary assignments

Strategic Workforce Planning Challenges

Organizations have yet to define, create processes, and develop policies to address the future of work. This lack of structure creates uncertainty and lack of trust, resulting in challenges acquiring new talent as well as engaging and retaining existing talent.

Some of the critical challenges include:

  • Low employer ratings and feedback make it difficult to hire new talent
  • A lack of learning and development opportunities
  • Low engagement and trust caused by employee anxiety and burnout
  • High turnover due to employers unable or unwilling to meet employee needs

The Solution

Workforce planning can help mitigate many potential risks caused by the future of work. Workforce planning is not actually a plan at all, but a strategic talent program that allows you to look across and beyond the entire employee lifecycle to build strategies and plans to mitigate risks.

Workforce planning is a highly underutilized tool that HR can leverage to plan for potential pitfalls and forecast a range of workforce variables, including:

  • Recruiting
  • Economic downturns and layoffs
  • M&A
  • DE&I programs
  • Retirement gaps
  • Internal mobility
  • Low engagement
  • High turnover

Types of Strategic Workforce Planning:

  • Headcount Reporting. This most common type of workforce planning is focused on headcount and full-time employee (FTE) reporting. This can include full-time, part-time, contractors, alumni, and more. It provides a sense of current workforce demographics.
  • Workforce Analytics. Understanding the past and current trends of the workforce. This includes the number of hires, turnover rates, retirement rates, number of employees by role, and number of diverse employees.
  • Operational Planning. Understanding the past to forecast the future based on internal trends. This includes the number of hires, turnover rates, retirement rates, and number of vacancies, based on a two- to three-year trend.
  • Strategic Planning. Using the past to forecast talent supply and demand based on internal and external factors. Like operational planning, this incorporates external market, state, and federal job information, and more.

Scenario Planning

Each of these plans serves a specific purpose; however, the power of workforce planning goes well beyond forecasting. The true magic comes from the fifth type of workforce planning: scenario planning.

Most of the trends in the future of work have, in some shape or form, been in existence since before the pandemic. COVID-19 was simply the accelerator, and we can learn lessons from this experience—this is where scenario planning comes in.

The goal of scenario planning is to minimize organization disruption by solving a potential problem before it exists.

When building the proper scenarios, there are many variables to consider, including:

  • Economic Condition. Is there a change in the economic condition, such as a stock market downturn?
  • Politics. Is there a shift in leadership or government focus, such as new policies or an election?
  • Global Challenges. Is there a challenge the world is facing, like a pandemic?
  • Conflicts. Is there a region or part of the world that will impact my business?
  • Talent Demand. Do I know the skills and capabilities I need?
  • Talent Supply. Does the talent with those skills and capabilities exist?
  • Talent Needs. Does the organization align and meet future worker needs?

How to Start Strategic Workforce Planning

Scenario Planning is an amazing tool; however, it’s much more impactful when you leverage the minds of many. A team of five to seven people with various backgrounds and experiences is ideal when possible. When you bring together key leaders such as the CEO, CFO, CHRO, CIO, and COO it creates significant organizational alignment and accountability.

  • Listen. Know the current or potential challenges your organization could face.
  • Prioritize. Select the challenges that will be the most impactful to the organization.
  • Define. Describe in detail the current and future challenges.
  • Ideate. Formulate ideas on how to solve the problems. Don’t let internal policies, budget, resources, or other factors hold you back.
  • Scenario Plan. Develop multiple scenarios that incorporate your ideas. Solutions lie in combining several scenarios.
  • Test and Iterate. Test your ideas if they don’t work, try a new one or combine them.
  • Implement. Develop an action plan and launch your scenario.
  • Measure. Track progress along the way; course correct if needed.

Most organizations aren’t successful at scenario planning on the first attempt, but problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and thinking ahead will help mitigate challenges and better prepare your organization for the future of work.

We’re Here to Help

If you’re looking for more information about strategic workforce planning, explore some of our additional resources. If you’d like to start workforce planning, reach out to your Moss Adams professional.

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