Strategic Workforce Planning: Future-proofing Your Organisation

Countless business experts agree that the number one determinant of whether a company will be successful is its people. Specifically: the ability to put the right people in the right place, with the right capabilities, at the right moment. This is otherwise known as workforce planning; a business function usually ‘owned’ by the HR department, finance and/or management tier of an organisation.

With the pandemic disruption that began in 2020, and that continues globally, the vast majority of businesses have been required to quickly shift both how their business functions and the way their employees deliver work.
The need for forward-thinking and workforce planning to deliver business outcomes is more important than ever to sustain business continuity.

Workforce planning is the process of analysing the current workforce, determining future workforce needs, identifying the gaps between the present and the future, and implementing solutions so that an organisation can accomplish its mission, goals, and strategic plan.

In other words, workforce planning isn’t only about the number of employees required at each post, but the capabilities/skillsets individuals will need in the long-term to execute your business strategy.

It’s about shifting mindsets from reactive to strategic.

By including workforce planning into strategic and operational planning you are ensuring your business can address: demographic changes – in skills, diversity and reskilling; reduce costs by refocusing effort where it is needed; manage talent by developing a talent pipeline and build capability in a market where talented employees form a competitive advantage for an organisation, and to maintain flexibility, in a landscape requiring adaptability to disruption and continuous innovation.

Colleagues standing in a small group discussing something. One of the women is holding documents and gesturing with her hands as the others watch and listen.
Where are you going and why?

It’s essential to analyse the current workforce against the future direction of the organisation and the landscape in which it operates. With strategic workforce planning, we’re not hiring and developing our people for the past, or even the present, but for where a larger organisational strategy is pointing us.

Future organisational strategy, therefore, includes an assessment of your current and predicted market, products, competition, external labour market, environmental factors such as trends, digital and other innovations, and from there, identifying future needs and anticipating the ‘gaps’. Maybe that will require building up your online sales experts or an internal eCommerce development team. It could mean retraining or redundancies in departments that are becoming obsolete or bringing in more diversity of thinking.

Being clear on your strategy is a big part of building a performance culture because where your business is going will inform who you hire, who you develop and the skills and capabilities you need to deliver that strategy. Continuous review of your workforce, as part of the planning process, and when impacted by unplanned internal or external factors will ensure your business is able to adapt to change, no matter where it comes from.

Using HR analytics in workplace planning

Without a process of tracking and analysing data on your workforce such as workforce productivity, workforce demographics, skills and capabilities and comparing to sales data, organisational performance and metrics on culture, you’ll be planning ‘blind’. By understanding the strengths of your workforce, where you have skills gaps, lack of demographic spread, you are the best place to identify future gaps and build intelligent data, metrics and measures over time. These can be used to compare with other business indicators, environmental factors, performance measures and ensure you are placed to develop robust workforce plans. Asking the right questions at the right times, and ensuring these are done without discrimination is a component of best-practice workforce planning, which is now expected to incorporates diversity data.

All too frequently, we see revolving door positions at a company. The title and responsibility remain the same, just the person changes. A more holistic look at the department structure, organisational aims and culture will indicate other moves, options and opportunities that could be made.

Strategic planning: who do you need now, and next?

To build a high-performance business tomorrow, you need to build a high-potential workforce today. Try the 9-box grid framework to manage talent and identify their career trajectory. Where each employee sits on the grid will determine what action needs to be taken to strengthen the workforce as a whole.

The future is unpredictable, but considering ‘knowns’ and exploring potential options can make a future more manageable. You may wish to create hypothetical scenarios of possible future outcomes (i.e., sales growth/decline, extended working from home scenarios,  prolonged recession, gaining venture capital for R&D investment), and map out the expected impact on departments.

Be prepared to re-engage those who sit at the bottom layer, as they could turn into stars.


What is needed for the work of the future?

The National Skills Commission recently compiled its list of 25 frequently advertised “emerging occupations”, which include the following:

Data Analytics

  • Data Analysts
  • Data Scientists
  • Data Engineers
  • Data Architects
  • Pricing Analysts


  • Agile Coaches
  • Develops Engineers
  • Logistics Analysts


  • Biostatisticians
  • Nurse Liaisons
  • Respiratory Therapists

The growing uptake of Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already affecting every industry. With remote work en-masse and resulting innovation in digital solutions, the depth of understanding of the changing technology landscape is a must. Strategic workforce planning isn’t about the ‘far future’ of work. Transformation is happening now at an accelerated pace.

Be aware of emerging workforce trends

Deloitte has prepared a report on the 5 workforce trends of 2021, which include:

  • Beyond Reskilling – unleashing workforce potential. During COVID-19, workers were required to expand their roles to whatever needed to be done, identifying critical needs and deploying capabilities from the bottom up. This will lead to organisations employing a workforce development approach that considers both the dynamic nature of jobs and the potential of workers to reinvent themselves.
  • New Directions in Governing Workforce Strategies – with a better understanding of their workforce, organisations can challenge approaches to planning by asking different questions to meet constant change by thinking and looking ahead. This is dependant on having data and analytics on demographics, skills, and relevant insights for analysis.
  • Deloitte’s Hypothesis – we are entering a world where it is becoming paramount that organisations shift from using workforce insights to improve old patterns of work to use it to set new directions.

In addition, the growing realisation that a diverse workforce leads to greater innovation, improved staff engagement and ability to deliver services as well as higher productivity, organisations can utilise their diverse workforce to promote

Steps for effective strategic workforce planning

Here, we’ve summarised the six key steps to implementing workforce planning:

  1. Seek to understand the organisation and its environment now and in the future.
  2. Capture data on your current workforce, and develop clear dashboards to inform decisions.
  3. Identify future organisational needs and possibilities.
  4. Identify skill/capability/demographic gaps in the context of future needs
  5. Take action to address shortages and mismatches
  6. Monitor and evaluate the outcomes of actions, repeat.

The key to the whole process is collecting and maintaining data on an ongoing basis to assist with setting future direction. Of value is to view org charts as they are, and how they’ve changed over time. This evolution alone can give insight into past performance in hiring and workforce/talent management.

Key Summary of Strategic Workforce Planning

The emerging trends for workforce planning in 2021 include embracing the external labour market, due in part to the largely positive experience in remote working through the 2020 pandemic. We’re also seeing a focus on tasks, rather than roles, and the potential of people. A deeper analysis of any role allows us to see its parts, where those parts overlap with others and which activities are future-critical.

If you’re considering approaching your 2021 business goals through workforce planning, consider the following:

  • Workforce planning starts with your organisational strategy and business plan.
  • Hiring and staff development should be based on the organisation’s desired future outcomes while staying true to organisational purpose.
  • Use data from past and current performance to help predict gaps in your workforce. Use this data to model potential ‘futures’ and identify priority areas of focus.
  • Your plan should be flexible enough to evolve as situations change.
  • Workforce planning isn’t just about numbers; it’s also about skills, potential, deployment and building organisation capability.
  • No single formula exists that will give a ‘correct’ workforce plan, or way to roll it out. No one is “Homo Economicus”; always keep in mind the human story, and celebrate the diverse experiences people bring to the table.

If you need assistance with workforce planning contact WCA Solutions today to arrange a meeting to discuss your needs on (08) 9383 3293 or



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