How to Think “Strategically” about Workforce Planning

Jennifer Giannosa - Senior Consultant ·

Have you heard the phrase workforce planning? What about strategic workforce planning? This catchphrase is changing the HR game and offering a glimmer of hope in the war for top talent. It’s also creating some important and interesting dialogue within the C-Suite.

How is this possible, you ask? Strategic workforce planning (SWP) helps connect a company’s core business goals with its most important asset: people!

In its most basic form, workforce planning determines what an organization needs in terms of the size, type, experience, quality, skills and knowledge of its workforce in order to achieve primary business goals. The term strategic further defines the timeframe of the planning activities. Think system-wide organization and strategy vs. work-unit issues at a supervisor level.

SWP is critical because it helps maintain a focus on longer-term workforce development and business goals. We all know it’s easy to get caught in the weeds and tough to get out. SWP is the framework around which companies can build a longer-term plan to overcome fire-fighting tactics.

This powerful tool has the ability to cause significant change and, perhaps most intriguing, truly align workforce planning activities with business goals. This drives intention, focus and thoughtful strategy into HR planning activities. Business leaders get fired up over SWP because it brings everyone into alignment and builds focus around the same goals.

Sounds incredible, right? Maybe even a little impossible? A simplified outline of the framework and process steps are below. Read through and decide for yourself.

Step 1: Identify business objectives: The first step in the process is alignment with and understanding of a business’s main objectives. Surprisingly, this first step is often overlooked yet is key to successful workforce planning. This step brings intention and purpose into the entire workforce planning process.

Step 2: Segment workforce roles; identify ‘critical’ or ‘strategic’ role(s): Identify the critical role that will receive the focus of planning activities. This role is often represented by a specific group of people with a critical and well-defined skill set and strategic focus to the company’s success.

Step 3: Perform environmental scan; gather information on talent supply/demand: The environmental scan provides information on both internal and external talent supply and demand. This information is critical for both buy-in and in driving an accurate plan.

Step 4: Identify current state of business and talent: This step involves gathering internal data to create a clearer picture of the internal state of the current workforce.

Step 5: Develop a targeted future vision: Develop workforce goals in alignment with business goals by asking questions like “What kind of workforce do we need to achieve our business goals?” “What will happen to the workforce if we do nothing?” “What will happen if we do A or B?”

Step 6: Identify and prioritize gaps between current and future state: Remember, not all gaps are created equal. Some examples of gap dimensions include capabilities, skill level, alignment to strategy and workforce supply groups.

Step 7: Develop a plan to take your workforce to the future state: How do you plan on filling the gaps that you have identified? Have you heard the phrase “Build Borrow or Buy”? Other options include bounce, bind, balance and organizational design!

Step 8: Monitor and report: Many factors may adjust the plan’s trajectory over time. This step is required to keep things on track!

The steps involved in strategic workforce planning are very intentional and important, yet many companies fail to execute them successfully. Stay tuned for additional articles on SWP that will dive deeper into specific steps, highlighting benefits and potential pitfalls.

For questions or comments regarding this article please contact Jennifer Giannosa at