Workforce planning: the continuing story

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2012

HR Insight Issue 15

Peter Reilly, Director HR and Consultancy

Peter ReillyThough it has changed many times, from the old days of ‘manpower planning’ to today’s ‘strategic workforce planning’, the essence of the activity remains the same. The aim of workforce planning is to establish the labour demand/supply balance and point to actions that need to be taken to rectify any identified shortfall, oversupply or mismatch of labour.

What may be changing is the context within which workforce planning is being executed. Global companies are having to ensure that they have the right resources in the right place in an international context. This might mean having to cope with a switch of staff from west to east to follow business growth, whilst simultaneously dealing with an emerging demographic deficit in certain countries and real recruitment challenges in others.

Meeting this challenge demands good qualitydata on the supply position in each country of operation, together with information on workforce requirements. The complication here is that business planning might be done at global business unit level or on a geographical (regional or local) basis.

Achieving good quality data requires a standardised workforce planning process and, ideally, a common HR information system to allow standardised data manipulation. Some global companies have these assets, but many do not.

We are working with organisations where the imperative of cross-national workforce planning has been identified and where there is a desire to have the security of a common process. One of the challenges of building such an approach is deciding on how this standard workforce planning process is determined. Is it corporately set or settled through operating company involvement? How much scope is allowed for local differences – in data collection, meeting legal requirements, responding to specific business challenges, etc?

To execute workforce planning in this way requires a certain level of capability, but perhaps even more one of cooperation. Training of the participants in the format used by the process is essential and may be combined with a reinforcement of the objectives and benefits of workforce planning in general. What this training may reveal is that:

  • Some HR colleagues still do not really see the value of workforce planning.
  • Or, more commonly, they see the value but raise objections as to its effectiveness through lack of line management engagement, HR exclusion from business planning activities, uncertainty over future workforce demand, etc.
  • Certain HR managers resent corporate ‘interference’ in their local activities or claim that their circumstances are unique such that they cannot conform to corporate rules.

Meeting these objections/concerns may require patient restatement of the reasons for integrated, cross-national workforce planning; namely that in today’s and, even more, tomorrow’s business environment organisations need to understand their workforce pressure points, wherever they might apply across the world.

To find out more about any of IES's workforce planning projects, contact