The workforce landscape today looks quite different to what we saw back in March 2020. Since then, we have seen the unemployment rate fluctuate, predictions about the economy change like the weather, and a shift in the way we do business. Most organisations are battling an increasingly competitive marketplace, navigating disruptions in their supply chains, and adapting to changes in their customers’ habits and needs. Though the situation appears to be looking up, it is likely that businesses will be grappling with these challenges and impacts for many months to come.
As a result, most leaders recognise that there is an imperative to look at and think about ‘work’ differently, including what it really means, how it’s done, and where it is done. After operating in survival mode for the past year and considering these issues from a place of uncertainty and instability, many organisations will feel it is time to establish a more constant and stable foundation. The organisations that will come out on top are those who seize this moment to shape the future of work, developing new business models and ways of working that successfully encompass their purpose, goals, and vision while also improving the customer experience.
At the core of bringing these plans to life and enacting the vision day-to-day is the business’s people. People now need to be valued more highly than capital, or at least on par. Business leaders need to be thinking about the contributions their people can make, how their people need and want to work, and what their people need to do to help the business reach its objectives. This is where strategic ‘workforce planning’ can and should come into play because oftentimes, the most impactful change starts from within.
Strategic workforce planning involves pulling together a coherent and agile plan that blends business strategy, people, data, and technology in order to make workforce composition and capability decisions that meet the organisation’s financial, productivity and customer targets.
During the planning process you may uncover a need to make some restructuring decisions, but there is far more to strategic workforce planning than hiring new talent or making redundancies that, if not thought through, can also create the risk of losing existing talent. These plans need to encompass how you intend to meet current demands in a sustainable, timely, and cost-effective way and they will likely require you to take an honest look at your existing workforce to spot risks and opportunities. If meeting the demands of the business means growing a specific area of it, do you intend to bring in new talent or invest in what you already have? Do you have the right skills in the right roles? Are there internal promotions you could make, or talent that would be better utilised in a different area of the business? Do you have the right expertise on your side in the necessary areas?
Putting people at the heart of any restructure is what will separate a successful attempt from a high risk one. The people in question will include both your internal and external stakeholders, such as your staff and your customers. All stakeholder groups have specific needs and roles to play in the function of your business, and the complex and wide-ranging needs of these varying audience groups may require deeper expertise in topics such as employment law, social planning, engagement, psychology, or consumer behaviour. Identifying the areas that need strengthening and working that into your plans by allocating the appropriate workforce resources will go a long way in helping restructuring efforts or transformation projects to succeed. Putting the building blocks together now ensures that HR teams, line managers, and business leaders have the opportunity to implement a smooth with mitigated risk.
People are one of the biggest if not the biggest expenditure of most organisations. Maximising the potential in this area is crucial, not just for the sake of your investment but also for the sake of your organisation. While strategising and planning happens at the top, your staff are the ‘boots on the ground’ actually bringing these plans to life. The C-Suite may determine what customer targets need to be met, but it’s the organisation’s employees who interact with those customers on a regular basis and have a direct responsibility for accomplishing the goals set by the higher ups. The people you choose to put in those roles matter.
Each member of the C-suite normally represents a different specific function of the business, whether it be Marketing and Sales, Operations, Technology, Diversity, Innovation, or even People, but they cannot properly fulfil their roles without all of the individuals representing different roles, specialisations, and functions throughout the organisation. Managing a dynamic workforce and supporting capability development that spans the entire business is a central challenge for leadership to overcome and relies heavily on successful communication.
In an ideal world, every business experiment, innovation, restructure, or project would run smoothly, effortlessly. Unfortunately, organisations don’t always have all the answers needed in order to make that happen and today’s environment is too dynamic to enable such change. As a result, successful firms are relying on their workforce to be part of the journey and play an active role in developing solutions to the problems that arise.
A key component of keeping a people-centric approach is not just assuming what’s best for your staff or customers, but actually communicating with them and shaping a fully inclusive culture. Don’t assume that your staff automatically have the skills you need, and attempt to identify which areas seem to be lacking. Don’t deliver your plans as edicts and expect buy-in, either. Allow your workforce to be architects of the organisation’s future structure and culture. Clarify and communicate an inspiring vision of what success looks like and how it will be measured, solicit employees’ opinions, listen to their contributions, take feedback on board and allow it to inform the strategy, and share impact measurements as they’re achieved. Ensure individuals know what is expected of them in terms of action and behaviour, and the role that they play in the bigger picture.
It would be remiss of the leadership team to not include elements of organisational culture in their strategic workforce planning. Focus on employee satisfaction in order to dam the flood of staff dissatisfaction or turnover and to build brand goodwill. If the last year has taught us one major HR lesson it is that one uniform way of working may not be the most effective approach for all staff. It’s worth rethinking ways of working to be more stimulating or providing staff with an environment that supports them in how they want or need to work, whether that environment be a designated office or a remote location. If skills gaps have been identified, encourage continuous learning or support upskilling initiatives. By investing in your people, you can broaden your horizons rather than narrowing them and build an environment that engenders a sense of purpose.
The most progressive employers will give their people a choice to join them on this new journey, or to bow out. Those employees who are not committed to the vision should be allowed to go with grace and without spectacle. After all, once they are no longer your employee, they could very well become your customer or a key thought leader in your industry.
While the brunt of strategic workforce planning will fall on the leadership team, there are a number of actions staff can do in order to support these efforts and ultimately shape their own career paths and future contributions.
The first and most imperative is to keep up with trends and identify future-focused skills that may be of long-term value to the organisation or may become a requirement for their role down the line. This provides a bit of leverage for the individual during organisational cutbacks and having these skills already on the payroll may help minimise leadership’s need to recruit new talent in order to meet their goals.
Once the new business models or plans have been introduced and the expectations have been clearly outlined, staff should take stock of their own behaviours to identify what needs to change in order to support a potential culture shift. It might involve becoming more open-minded to change, collaborative, communicative, innovative, or curious.
Finally, the people-first focus should not only be a leadership priority. As mentioned, it’s the staff who work most closely with the customers and who have the most first-hand knowledge of what their needs, priorities, habits, attitudes, or behaviours might be. It’s important to understand how these influences might impact the business on a large scale in terms of its products, services, profits, messaging, and so on. However, it’s also valuable to be able to maximise this knowledge on an internal basis in order to further your own career and help inform wider strategy.
In order to create impactful and widespread change for the business, the process often needs to start at its core with its people. From top to bottom, an organisation’s people play a crucial role in driving success, and therefore need to be one of the first areas considered when developing plans and solutions. But in order for a business to get the most out of this resource, it’s crucial to invest the time into proper planning, the resources for proper skills development, and the effort of cultivating a culture worth buying into. This may be a challenge for some Leaders, but it can make all the difference.