As technology replaces elements of work, employers must re-imagine how they recruit, re-organise and re-deploy for an augmented workforce.
Today, businesses are responding to shifts that would have seemed unimaginable a few years ago. To survive, leaders are having to meet the challenge of constant change by re-inventing their businesses and processes. Here, I cover the critical issues that are challenging traditional notions of workforce planning.
The process of setting an annual budget and asking divisional and team leaders to equate this to full time equivalents (FTEs) to plan the workforce is not only outdated, it’s ineffective. This approach assumes that there is a linear relationship between work to be done and people. In addition, this implies a further assumption that people can be assigned to work without first analysing the amount of work to be done or the capacity of the workforce to deliver.
In today’s workplace we not only have access to the traditional full-time workforce, but also contingent labour and a plethora of automation opportunities.
What constitutes the ‘workforce’ is therefore changing, and employers are looking at alternative ways to engage, deploy and supplement the permanent workforce with contingent labour, remote workers, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence.
The 2019 Talent Leaders Pulse Report, produced by EY and Sigmar Recruitment to explore the top HR priorities this year, found that the contingent workforce is set to increase.
The rate of change has accelerated considerably, even within the last 12 months, with respondents stating that just under 82% of the workforce is made up of permanent employees, compared to 86% in 2018. 67% expect this percentage to stay the same or to decrease in 2019.
Technology is now an indispensable part of our lives and is re-shaping the future of work through intelligent automation. The report also found that 21% of daily tasks have altered within the last 12 months due to automation, AI or robotics.
Fluid and agile process
In light of these changes, it is now necessary to think of workforce planning as a fluid and agile process of continuous feedback from the business to those tasked with improving organisational effectiveness. The starting point is to determine business needs based on the strategy of the business, which should include strategic transformation objectives such as becoming more customer oriented or digitally enabled. From this initial assessment, a workforce demand and supply analysis can be carried out, determining the resources required to meet business requirements.
This will highlight potential workforce gaps and surpluses, including capability requirements and automation opportunities. Tactical, operational and strategic workforce plans can then be developed to guide the business in fulfilling resource requirements, allocating employees to roles and tasks, and developing shift patterns and rosters.
This description may sound wholly logical and straightforward, and it is. However, the key to making strategic workforce planning a differentiator is the continuous data-enabled feedback loop which is established with the business.
Data-enabled workforce planning
Data from across the whole people lifecycle (i.e. identification and selection through to on-boarding and retention) must be fed as an input to update workforce plans and tweak the system to improve efficiency.
At the most basic level, this data will enable accurate enterprise-wide headcount reporting and forecasting, and at its most complex, data will allow the business to run scenarios on the potential workforce impacts of major geo-political events, such as Brexit.
Understanding where attrition rates are at their highest, or where there are long delays to access capability can provide valuable insights to adjust workforce plans. For example, if time-to-productivity (on-boarding) targets are set at four weeks and it takes eight weeks to complete, there may be the need to use contractors to bridge the gap, creating additional cost which can be driven out once identified.
If performance management data shows that an organisation is retaining underperformers and losing high performers, there may be a need to rethink how it moves people around the business to provide new opportunities for the best people.
If a business is consistently missing Diversity and Inclusion targets, there may be a need to rethink sourcing policies and recruitment processes to ensure equality and reduce gender bias.
Strategic workforce planning provides the bedrock to inform the shape, size, spend and blend of the workforce, but without data to make it a living process, it becomes another point in time exercise with limited value.