Workforce planning is the process of figuring out what positions you will have to fill and how to fill them.

It sounds terribly simple.

But very few organizations truly take the time to analyze their needs and develop a game plan to meet those needs.

So, their workforce planning is nonexistent, or haphazard, and either way it hurts their business.

I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago, I got a call from a client who wanted to fill an office position. They already had a job description, and wanted some help getting applicants.

We ran a nice ad and got applicants in immediately. We screened them and forwarded the best to the client only to have her say, “This isn’t what I’m looking for.”

I said, “Well, all these people match the job description you’ve sent me perfectly.”

She said, “Oh. Okay. I think that’s not what I want, then.”

That’s fine. But that’s two weeks wasted. Two more weeks without a key position filled!

Clearly, there was no planning on their part. You probably take the time to put a sales and marketing plan together and plan your production processes, right? So why would you think you can just put an ad out and interview whoever comes in?

If you do workforce planning properly, you get improved profitability. You get the right people in, you don’t waste time starting and stopping, and you avoid the costly staffing mistakes of hiring the wrong person. You get better use out of your core workforce.


Because you’ve worked your workforce plan into your strategic plan. You can hire against the strategic plan in terms of the skillsets and attitudes you need. And that, my friend, is what gets you where you want to go.

So how do you actually do it?

1. Look at the organization’s history. Figure out when you’ve had periods of peak profitability. Many businesses aren’t seasonal but are cyclical in that they go through times when they have more money coming in than others just by the nature of the contracts they have in place.

I know that a lot of organizations will do whatever they can to not have to lay off good people during bad times. They do that because they plan for those down times and plan for getting projects done (perhaps internal projects) during those times so people aren’t sitting idle.

2. Look at the current state of the business. Once you know the history, look at the present. What is the current staffing like compared to revenue ratios? How does that compare to the history you just analyzed?

3. Compare the current state of the business to what your current business plan is calling for in terms of staffing needs. Going back to the company in the beginning of this article, the opening at the client’s organization was created by someone resigning. In her exit interview, she told the company that she believed the job could be done in 30 hours or less.

That’s a great insight. Unfortunately, this client isn’t listening and is hiring full-time. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if you’re not filling that job out. If the business plan says part-time, hiring full-time just eats into profitability.

4. Take a look at tasks. Look at all the tasks each of your departments is in charge of doing and look at how those tasks can be grouped together either by location or certain times of the day or month, etc. You’re attempting to put a number of hours needed against those tasks.

From that, you can start to figure out how many full-time equivalents you need.

Once you know that number, you can build out your organizational chart. Where are your gaps, either in terms of people or in terms of skills? Do you need to do some cross-training that may eliminate the need to hire additional people?

Once you know these things, you can build a pool of qualified candidates because you’ll have a clear perspective on the kinds of people you want in terms of skillset and the culture you’re trying to support. That includes internal candidates, too, that may be groomed for new positions or promotions!

What it really comes down to is looking at your staffing situation and the costs associated with it exactly like you would with any other investment you’re making in your business. In other words, what is turnover costing you? What is the cost to hire? What does it cost you to hire the wrong person?

You want to be able to put numbers to those questions, and I’m always surprised at the number of businesses I see that can’t do that. They have no sense for what a poor or delayed hire is costing them (and hint: it’s not cheap!).

Remember the client I mentioned above who failed to define the work they needed up front? Well, that particular business is now 5 weeks without someone in that role. When I look at the costs they’re continuing to accrue every day that position sits idle, I see the cost-benefit of doing some good planning up front. It takes some time to do it, but you’ll be armed with the right information when the time comes to execute that plan.

Think about the big picture. You can’t execute any part of your strategic HR plan if you don’t get the people side right. Handling your workforce plan should really be the first step you tackle in implementing your HR strategic planning.

Want to learn more about how workforce planning can help your organization? Contact me here and let’s talk.