Defining Your Workforce Management Strategy

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Jumpstart Your Workforce Planning

At the beginning of every year, workforce planning starts at the top of the list. Within weeks, our high hopes for a new and effective plan fall apart. The demands of daily emergencies compete for our attention.

We can prevent most of those emergencies if we have a good plan in place.

Following is a brief overview of four primary areas on which to focus to kickstart your workforce planning process. Getting a grip on these four areas will get you started on the right foot:

  • Understand what workforce planning means
  • Become aware of the barriers that could block your success
  • Watch for opportunities in new trends
  • Learn the basic steps to building a workforce management plan

We’ll walk through each of these briefly, so you have a good starting point to begin the planning process. I’ll end with a helpful suggestion from industry experts to help you get your plan from startup mode to finished.

Let’s begin…

Workforce Planning Defined

The definition of workforce planning describes a continual business planning process. It’s a long-term, ongoing effort that expands as the organization grows. This isn’t a quick fix, so settle in and prepare for the long haul.

Workforce planning defines the needs and priorities of the organization and matches them with employee and outsourcing resources. The goal of workforce planning is to ensure the organization can meet its service and production requirements with scheduled and properly skilled human resources. These factors change as the business grows, so you’ll need to remain flexible and ready to pivot if necessary.

Workforce planning includes short-term preparedness for shift fulfillment, attrition recovery, and skill optimization. Workforce planning also includes forward-looking plans for organization growth, new talent acquisition, and management of outsourced third-party services.

The systems you have available to you should be designed to help you manage, collect, organize and analyze data. A good workforce management plan includes automated software and modern hardware to alleviate day-to-day busy work so you can concentrate on strategy.

Deeper dives into a workforce plan will include forecasting knowledge drain when employees leave with valuable skills and experience. Prepared managers seek qualified outsourcing resources to keep on hand for when new talent or skills are needed quickly.

Finally; no one can go it alone. Your systems need to be open and available to other managers and employees so everyone is engaged. Centralized collaboration and sharing workflow responsibility are essential to your success.

Traditional Barriers to Workforce Planning

There could be lots of reasons why your company hasn’t begun your workforce planning. There may be even more reasons why you haven’t implemented the planning you’ve done.

Let’s take a look at a few of the more traditional barriers to planning and implementing your workforce management strategy:

Too much focus on now

With deadlines looming and goals to achieve, managers rarely look past the end of the week. Workforce planning is a long-term game that requires patience and finesse. Without the freedom to focus six to twelve months ahead, managers have little ability to lead your company. They’ll always be putting out today’s fires instead of thinking about tomorrow.

Spaghetti bowl data

Small companies in industries such as retail, hospitality, and food and beverage rarely have the data-mining tools needed for productive data analysis. Without a good view of the data, it’s hard to forecast growth and impossible to accurately predict the need for resources. When data is inconsistently stored in disparate systems, your workforce planning will suffer. Like trying to organize a bowl of spaghetti, managers will twirl and twist, but make little progress.

Houston, we have a control problem

Letting go is an age-old problem for many managers. One of the reasons managers have a hard time letting go is the intimacy they have with the tools they are using. It’s hard to trust outsiders with complex systems that rely on complicated integrations. “I can do that myself faster than I can teach you” is a dangerous idea that really means that control is keeping you from liftoff. Make corrections now before you miss a shot at the moon.

The devil is in the details

Details are good unless they are holding you back. Many companies find themselves in detail hell, circling back again and again to make sure things are perfect. This can kill a productive plan and hold back progress. New thinking on detail planning is to work to 80 percent. Refine beyond 80 percent and you are broiling your time away on untested solutions. 80 percent is a good starting point and assures you have thought through the big problems. Take a chance on letting the little things go. If you later discover that they caused more problems than anticipated, you can go back and fix them.

Forecasting on a hunch

It’s hard to blame today’s manager for tomorrow’s shrinking workforce when they have so little to go on. Often a manager will plan on a hunch without considering less intuitive threats such as turnover and retirement. Like the weather, a good look at the impact of intertwined systems can help refine a forecast. It helps to have integrated systems that offer warnings and alerts to that storm on the horizon.

Complicated workforce planning models

On a final note, beware of complicated workforce planning models. There are plenty out there, and some are very confusing. If a five-step workforce planning model looks more like a 12-step research project, back up a bit and focus on the high points; the rest will come.

Two Trends Shaping the Landscape of Workforce Planning

There are two emerging trends shaping the world of workforce planning. These new trends are helping managers understand the important role of data. They are also providing tools to work with data in new and meaningful ways. Let’s take a look at these new trends…

Trend 1: Data

The first is a broader understanding and acceptance of data-driven decision making. Measuring data has become a mainstream business practice and well worth your attention.  Google and Facebook have taught us that there is data everywhere and that it can be mined for information. They’ve also shown us that data can help remove the risk from previously risky decisions.

Managers today understand that data is out there, it is collectible, and that it harbors valuable insight. Without data, we’re just “acting on a hunch.” With data, we’re making informed decisions that reduce risk.

More importantly, a manager who makes decisions based on data is betting with confidence on demonstrable outcomes. That’s good for business, and senior management is taking notice.

Trend 2: Automation

The second important trend is the emergence and maturing of technology that fills the need for integrated data analysis. After all; what good is data if you don’t have the tools to make sense of it?

Integrated workforce management solutions such as WorkforceHub are empowering managers. Workforce management systems allow managers to collect and compare a wide range of employee data. Employee data can give valuable insights into scheduling cycles, unplanned overtime burdens, and resource trends.

Managers who use automated systems can reduce workload requirements while increasing control over time and attendance, scheduling, and payroll. Pre-configured alerts and overtime alarms can provide early warnings to potential problems. Accumulated data can provide a foundation for future planning, resource allocation, and avoidance of pitfalls.


As it turns out, there are five basic steps to building an effective workforce management plan. The trick is not to get bogged down in the details. For your first run through, stay on the high road and work to get an outline established. Once you’re ready with the high-level milestones, you can dive in and tackle the details.

Step One: Establish a Strategic Direction

In this first step, you’ll need to coordinate with other managers and senior staff. Get the lay of the land and understand where the company is headed. Things to understand include:

  • Are you launching any new products this year?
  • What are your financial goals?
  • Are there seasonal peaks or valleys to consider?
  • What are the basic skill needs of the organization?
  • Will those skill needs change or expand?
  • What are your budget requirements and constraints?
  • Which software and hardware assets do you have to work with? Do they need improving?

Write these things down. This is the basis for your plan to which all things must point.

Step Two: Analyze Workforce Assets and Identify Gaps

Your next task is a lot like setting up a game of Risk. Divide your organization into departments and determine where your resources are. Your departments are countries, your employees are the groupings in each country, and each group has an objective.

The questions you will need to answer as you map out your plan include:

  • Do I have enough employees in each department to accomplish the goal?
  • Are the necessary skill sets adequately represented?
  • What is the plan for growth in each department?
  • Are there cross-departmental dependencies that require additional support?

As you organize your “board” in step two, gaps will become apparent. Gaps to watch for include:

Skill Gaps. You’ll need to determine if you have the right people in place to reach your goals. Job descriptions and job role identifiers will help in this step. Match the requirements to the existing workforce, and measure gaps against growth objectives and expansion plans.

Automated software solutions such as WorkforceHub Scheduling can make this process easier. It can help you establish job roles, match them with existing employees, and determine gaps automatically.

Personnel Gaps. WorkforceHub Scheduling can also help you determine if you have enough people for the job. Schedules, overtime, and redundancy will all have an effect on the gaps in your coverage.

Once you have your schedule and personnel plan worked out, you can look forward and make sure you have planned for growth, attrition, and retirement. Losing employees is a matter of course; make sure you have this important factor built into your plan from the start so you aren’t caught off guard.

This is also a good time to determine how you will fill gaps as they arise. Hiring plans, temp resources, and outsourcing are all possible solutions.

Step Three: The Action Plan

We’ve outlined needs, looked for gaps, and identified a handful of resources to reach for when problems occur. Now it’s time to outline how you’ll respond to requirements as they develop.

Automation is your friend in this step. Setting up automated time and attendance systems, scheduling, and payroll are huge time savers. Integration is key and your solution needs to be mobile.

With automated systems in place you are ready to identify processes and procedures for recruiting, hiring, and training. Once you have these basics out of the way, you can turn your attention to management structures and adding new technologies to handle growth and special circumstances.

Special circumstances can include mobile and remote time and attendance, self-help scheduling and shift-swapping, sick leave and succession. You may also want to dive deeper into technology planning to make sure you have considered additional hardware requirements such as finger or facial scanning time clocks, phone-based apps, and employee security.

Step Four: Implementation

Since you are already up and running as an organization, it is likely you’re already into your implementation plan whether you like it or not. Now is the time to shift into high gear and implement new features of your workforce management plan.

Work proactively to make sure all departments have the necessary personnel in place. You’ll also want to double back to make sure roles are understood, and that all your employee resources understand their respective goals. Communication is key, and feedback will help you identify more gaps. Again, circle back and add them to the plan.

In this step, you are getting the machine moving. Train employees on new software features, new punch-in procedures, and role-based goals. Get everyone on board with your new plan so that everyone is empowered to contribute their best work. Establish formal communication lines so that gaps are reported quickly. Empower employees with self-help scheduling and shift-swapping, and make sure managers understand requirements.

Step Five: Monitor, Analyze, and Evaluate

In our trends discussion above, we learned that data is an accepted factor in successful organizational management. In step five, you’ll begin to monitor and analyze the data coming into your automated systems. You’ll begin to see patterns of behavior related to peaks and lulls, and seasonal ebbs will reveal their impact.

This is a grand experiment, and you’ll want to constantly assess and evaluate, looking for ways to optimize and improve. At this point your role shifts in part to the scientist. You’ll observe data, and make educated decisions on how to respond.

Because you have the basics of your plan in place, you’ll know where to turn for additional resources when growth occurs. As you anticipate probabilities based on the data you review, the impact of attrition and retirement will be reduced.

The impact of scheduling, time and attendance measurements and even payroll can be automated to a minimum. Employees can take part in the process with self-service tools, further alleviating the burden on day-to-day management.

Your plan is in place. You are now in a cycle of measure-and-improve.

A Final Word of Advice

Workforce Management Planning can be a daunting task. The problem is compounded when we focus too much on perfection. Experts in our field and across all management roles are re-thinking the art of perfection. We recognize that perfection has a diminishing return, meaning the closer we get to it, the more costly it becomes.

Managers shoot for “good enough” so that they don’t get bogged down, or even stopped in their tracks, by a search for perfection. Data collection and analysis allows us to begin with a less-than-perfect plan and then make adjustments along the way. As we do this, we mitigate the cost of perfection and make better choices at a minimum risk.

We get moving quicker when we lower the bar for entry to something less than perfect. As we get moving, we realize feedback earlier and can make adjustments based on actual data instead of guesswork. In the long run, our outcomes will be better because our choices were based on solid footing.

Your bottom line will look better, your employees will be happier, and your job will be easier.

Happy Planning!

Written by Cary Snowden


Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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