In a recent Compensation Today blog post, “Workforce Planning: Putting Forecasting in Focus with Workforce Forecasting Techniques,” I suggested some basic steps to forecasting your workforce supply and demand, and developing a workforce strategy that helps your company reach its goals.
As I mentioned in my last piece, workforce forecasting is an art, not a science. Once you’ve collected the needed data and created a plan, it’s inevitable that circumstances both inside and outside of your organization may change – from the availability of certain talent in the workforce to internal support for your workforce development plan from executive and non-executive levels.
With that in mind, in this post I would like to cover some of the potential difficulties you may run into as you take action on your forecast. I have put together a list of potential issues, as well as tips on effective responses to them.
The Art of Workforce Forecasting: Dealing with Surprises
Since you’re making a best guess on the staff that you’ll need to make the company tick, you run the risk of coming up light or heavy on your workforce load. Lacking workers begs an obvious effort to hire new employees. But, when you feel you have too many employees, some higher-level thinking about retaining top performers and reorganizing your workforce may be necessary before you let anyone go.
Dealing with a workforce surplus requires a look at your whole business – now and in the future.
Here are some tips for addressing a workforce surplus:
- Be an advisor. Use your HR knowledge to guide the organization towards the right decisions. Both from the perspective of keeping the company out of legal trouble to making decisions that will help the organization achieve its short-term and long-term objectives.
- Be prudent. A reduction in force (RIF) can be attractive from a short-term financial perspective but will it help the organization meet its long-term HR objectives? Always take into account the potential costs of firing, hiring and training.
- Deal with employee performance issues. Don’t wait too long to address employee problems and mediocre performance. Employees need to know what is expected of them and how they could improve. RIFs are not the time to get rid of performance issues that haven’t been addressed.
- Work with what you have. Your current employees could likely be accomplishing more if they were trained in new skills. Find opportunities for retraining and lateral growth.
- Wait to buy. Hire contractors. If you’re unsure if a position will really be needed, consider renting talent first versus buying it. You can hopefully find a great job candidate this way and feel more confident about your hiring decision.
- Make smart moves. Certain employees may have a great work ethic but not be using their natural talents enough in their current job position. Look at reorganizing or restructuring your talent. Executive coach and author Jim Collins says you have to have the right people on the bus and the right people in the right seats.
Take the Time to Get Your HR Process in Writing
Beyond fixing any unexpected problems, such as a workforce surplus, you have another important task to make time for after forecasting human resource supply and demand for your company. It’s a great time to refresh company HR policies.
Develop programs, policies and practices to support the workforce development plan, including employee specific programs, recruitment programs, retention policies and programs for training, mentoring and coaching. Keep your entire business and its goals in mind as you go through this important step. Also, include all key players who may have influence or helpful ideas to share. Their sense of ownership over the company HR policies will increase their respect for them.
Stay Calm and Go with the Forecasting Flow
It’s easy to worry that your efforts at workforce forecasting will be wasted as the economy changes or your company grows. To help keep you on track and in the moment, keep a few things in mind:
- Keep it simple. Don’t make workforce forecasting complicated or expensive. Conduct it in a way that does not require many extra resources except time.
- Make one choice at a time. Every vacancy is an opportunity so focus on that one. By working in small bits like this you can evaluate that position, see how it has changed and be prepared to hire smarter this time around.
- Stay current. Pay attention to your current employees and make changes to their job positions that increase their work satisfaction and grow their skills.
- Focus your efforts. Start with high-impact or mission critical areas, and build an HR process that can be taken further in the organization
Always Foster Company-Wide Support
As you continue forward with your workforce forecasting efforts and plan, some members of your company – both in the general workforce and on the executive level – may lose faith in the hiring and workforce development plans you’ve put together.
Here are some tips for keeping your workforce development plan dynamic and relevant, so that you get buy-in from the leadership and everyone at your company for the long haul:
- Be informed. Know your business so that your decisions stay relevant to the company’s goals.
- Include others. Sponsorship is critical so keep key people informed and a part of the decision-making process.
- Be consistent. Don’t create an HR plan just one time and then let it collect dust.
- Be flexible. Re-work your numbers as circumstances shift. A workforce development plan should be a living, breathing document.
- Relax. Remember, your forecast doesn’t have to be perfect.
In all of this effort, keep your eyes on the prize – to have the right number of human resources with the right capacities at the right time in the right places. Hopefully, the advice above will help you.
Additional human resources tools:
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Gain access to accurate compensation data: Download a Free Compensation Report
Additional human resources articles:
Learn the core principles of Strategic HR Planning
Motivate your employees with a Successful Employee Incentive Plan