The complete guide to strategic workforce planning

Why workforce agility should be the focus of every organization’s roadmap

Austen Gregerson

By Austen Gregerson, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

August 29, 2022

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As organizations feel the mounting pressures of uncertain markets, evolving business needs, and growing skill gaps, it’s more essential than ever to have a sound roadmap. Historically, companies could feel confident making assumptions about what their workforces would need—change came relatively slow, certainly compared to today, and could be prognosticated and planned out so as to not disrupt operations. 

But history is a poor indicator of today’s needs. Strategic workforce planning must evolve to match the speed of today’s reality. 

A growing number of organizations are adopting the tenets of skills-based organizations to evolve, breaking down organizational silos in favor of internal talent mobility and empowering employees to achieve their full potential. HR leaders play a key role in setting up a winning strategy for this new organizational principle. Though 76% of enterprises think talent mobility is important, only 6% believe their organization is “excellent” at enabling mobility. Since modern strategic workforce planning relies on more dynamic ways of working, mobility is a must for unlocking the level of agility that the future of work requires.

What is strategic workforce planning?

Before understanding the nuances and benefits of today’s best workforce planning strategies, it’s critical to understand how the practice has shifted in the last decade. According to Mercer, strategic workforce planning is a systematic, disciplined process for identifying and addressing gaps between current and projected future workforce requirements. In the past, companies were able to rely on relatively static market conditions to predict employee needs—where their customer base existed, what skills and jobs were needed to accomplish their objectives, and what kind of growth companies could expect to see. 

Those comforts simply don’t exist today. Modern strategic workforce planning must not only account for a myriad of additional factors—shifting demographics, global supply chain disruptions, and evolving skill needs to name a few—but the core skills required to accomplish business needs change with every technological advancement. Nearly 70% of employers report that it’s difficult to find the talent they need, and that share has steadily grown every quarter since 2021. 

Companies that rely on highly-skilled employees are particularly at risk since the talent they require is harder to find and more costly to replace in a competitive employee hiring landscape. To combat potential skills shortages while maintaining the execution of business objectives, more HR leaders are utilizing talent marketplaces. By not only helping workers gain greater control of their career progression—connecting them with relevant skills training and opportunities that align with their ambitions—but also aiding managers in finding talent within their organization to accomplish business-critical functions, talent marketplaces are becoming an inseparable part of modern strategic workforce plans.

The benefits of emphasizing agility in strategic workforce planning

Putting talent agility at the heart of strategic workforce planning means more than simply telling workers they can pursue other projects and opportunities within the company. To get the most out of it, companies must enable and promote this change through a combination of education, incentives, and commitment.

For business leaders, enabling greater workforce agility can have a cascading list of benefits; near the top is the improvement that it has on improving employee retention. More than 80% of talent leaders surveyed by Deloitte believe that internal mobility is key to retention, And as highly-engaged workforces prove to be valuable both intrinsically and statistically—studies show that while companies with high levels of engagement achieve 2.5-times more revenue growth and 40% less employee churn than low-engagement companies—finding ways to energize workers should be an absolute priority for HR leaders.

Though a stark departure from vertical hierarchies and rigid departmental silos, enabling agile organizational principles in workforce planning isn’t a radical idea—it simply matches the reality of the world we live in. At Fidelity International, Associate Director of Talent Development Hannah Smith says that enabling employees to seek training opportunities to advance their careers has put a new spin on how their workers view not just their company, but the industry as a whole.

“In financial services, there’s a lot of tradition. There’s a lot of doing things in a certain way,” Smith explains. “So something like the talent marketplace disrupts that because now we are saying, ‘take control of your own careers, find your own opportunities and go for them.’ So for us, employee satisfaction and employee engagement were some of the key drivers.”

4 steps to optimize your strategic workforce planning

As HR’s importance grows over time, nowhere is this more evident than in strategic workforce planning. At the center of every workforce strategy is the data that quantifies the skills within an enterprise, helping leadership make informed decisions on matters such as where to spend resources and how their company measures up to competitors. 

Workforce intelligence can be seen as the “why” behind a talent marketplace’s “how”: By streamlining multiple data sets into a central platform, leaders can better understand what they need to maximize the value of a talent marketplace and skills-based principles.

To make sure strategic workforce planning aligns with your company’s needs, here are four steps to ensure you’re on the right path:

#1. Understand your company’s needs

Good output requires good input. Surveys show that few organizations believe they’re adept at understanding the gap between their organization’s future workforce requirements and current workforce skills, with only 18% saying they were either “very highly effective” or highly effective” at doing so.

Strategic workforce planning relies on leadership understanding the current capabilities of their workforce. With a talent marketplace, HR leaders can get clearer insights into what goes into the daily operations of their organization and plan for the future with clear, actionable steps for company leadership to follow.

Gaston Carrion, Managing Director of Strategy and Consulting at Accenture, remarks that “…the traditional way of doing org design is shifting significantly to a new way of organizing work. The reality is that perhaps the org structures, as we know them, are going away. 

“As the jobs are moving to skills, org structures are starting to move to something a bit more agile and probably with better speed,” Carrion continues. “Now, the benefit for companies is that access to talent when they need it in the areas that are more important in a particular moment of the organization. And we have seen it over the last two years—how many times and how events are shifting the way that organization needs to think about the way that they react to the market.”

#2. Anticipate your industry’s needs

Speed and flexibility are at the center of successful workforce planning. As industries align to evolving paradigms—cryptocurrency in the financial market, growing consumer demand for electric vehicles in the automotive space, and automation in practically every industry—having the talent to enable new initiatives can help an enterprise stay competitive.

Companies don’t operate in a vacuum, and neither does talent. Workforce intelligence solutions reveal how an organization’s workforce stacks up against the competition through real-time benchmarking, helping leaders identify the skills that should be developed internally, and the additional resources needed to pivot ahead of the curve.

At Unilever, they sought to mobilize their talent through a talent marketplace. Paddy Hull, VP of the Future of Work, sees talent marketplaces as the enabler of a skills-based organization and key driver of the company’s upskilling initiatives.

“Skills are becoming far more the currency of I think how work will get done,” Paddy Hull says. “And so having great data on the skills that you have in the organization and the skills that you need and where the gaps are and how you might be able to fill those is going to be the critical data that we’re going to need to fuel our organizations going forward. And talent marketplaces with those repositories of skills and that ability to match effectively are going to be a critical part of the toolkit to make that happen and to ensure that organizations achieve that agility and flexibility we need to respond to quickly to opportunities.”

Growing skill gaps can surprise even the most informed organizations when their industry makes a sudden change. Without knowing where to locate the talent capable to enable a similar pivot, enterprises risk falling behind trends and operating from a position of weakness by playing catch-up. 

#3. Equip company leadership with the tools to enact change

Once knowledge is at your side, it’s time to put it to work. Talent marketplaces and workforce intelligence are the two solutions designed for the future of work. Leaders are equipped with insights into their company’s skills and automated strategy recommendations, and their people are enabled with a platform that connects them with growth opportunities that better reflect their interests and abilities. 

One of the surest ways to fall short of organizational transformation goals is to set ambitious goals without providing the platforms to reach them. But by enacting a talent marketplace and workforce intelligence in tandem, HR leaders can act with real-time data at their disposal to steer talent decisions toward more-informed outcomes. 

Jean Pelletier, VP of Digital Transformation at Schneider Electric, sees how his company is better using employee skill data to connect talent with opportunities and projects that match not only their capabilities, but their interests as well. But doing so wasn’t possible with a series of questionnaires and manual spreadsheets. With the power of an AI-backed talent marketplace, the company has been able to re-engage its employee base at scale, matching opportunities with more than 155,000 employees across the globe.

“We now have the best inventory we’ve ever had of the skills and capabilities within the company that goes beyond the current role that you possess today,” Pelletier says. “It’s really a game-changer”

#4. Empower your people to take ownership of their career development

Effective beyond any software, solution, or tool HR leaders can enact, a shift in mindset to enable workers to take ownership of their careers is critical to create a modern workforce. Skills have always evolved—the pace of evolution might be quickening, but saying that it’s a modern problem is ignoring boundless examples from history of changing needs and new capabilities increasing in demand.

Since hiring for in-demand skills isn’t always feasible, leaders should enable internal talent to develop capabilities that will bridge knowledge gaps while bolstering individual career progression. By connecting people with up-skilling opportunities and projects that help continue their career development, leaders can do right by both their organization and their people.

At Mastercard, AVP of Skills and Performance Keegan Bowman notes how the company looked to its employees’ career development as more than a ladder. “We’re giving people a view of the possibilities,” Bowman says. “To be able to say: ‘These are the skills I have, these are the skills I aspire to build, where in the organization can I go using my skills as fuel?’ That’s much more valuable than having a perfectly planned out linear career path.”

How 3 organizations shifted strategic workforce planning toward the future of work

As more organizations look for ways to modernize their organizational structures, here are a few examples of companies that are already reaping the benefits of aligning strategic workforce planning with talent mobility principles:

HSBC

When company leadership looked to develop a future-fit upskilling strategy for their global workforce of 220,000 employees, HSBC knew enabling mobility was a top priority. Departmental silos had stifled collaboration across the organization and slowed skills development; as the needs of the financial industry giant evolved, its work structures needed to adapt with it.

HSBC chose Gloat’s Workforce Agility Platform to power the transformation. Hamish Nisbet, Group Head of Resourcing, understood that making a structural change was the best way to adapt their talent strategy to the pace of modern life.

“If we carried on the way we were, we were probably going to lose,” Nisbet notes. “So we had to think about more impactful, more up-to-date, more contemporary ways that would encourage our employees to grow their skills and meet our future needs.”

As a result of enabling greater talent mobility, HSBC unlocked more than 65,000 hours of work. Nearly half of their projects were assigned to cross-functional teams, a much more common occurrence thanks to the platform’s ability to match the right talent from across an entire organization.

As Nisbet notes,“The idea that we now know with greater certainty, what skills sit where, and what aims people have gives us a much stronger platform to think about increasing our internal mobility, which in turn retains our global corporate knowledge and builds employee engagement as they start to understand that more and more of their goals and ambitions can be realized within HSBC.”

Schneider Electric

With a base of more than 150,000 highly-skilled employees, losing talent due to a lack of internal growth opportunities was draining resources and threatening Schneider Electric’s ability to continue innovating in the energy industry. Nearly 50% of employees who left the company cited it as their top reason for leaving the company; with something addressable through a talent marketplace, Schneider Electric decided to align its workforce planning with greater talent agility.

“We want employees to feel empowered that they’re the ones in the driver’s seat of their career,” Dean Summlar, VP of HR Pacific Zone, says. “For us, this ownership was really key so that employees can own and navigate their careers. More and more, we want to use technology to enable employees to go much faster through the journey of exploration than they would be able to otherwise.”

To improve its talent mobility and nurture internal skills development, Schneider Electric devised a three-part strategy: focus on improving employee retention, empower its people to take ownership of their personal career development, and encourage its people to participate in ad-hoc projects and professional development opportunities. 

A talent marketplace became the critical driver of its broader workforce strategy. After its rollout to the entire organization, Schneider Electric unlocked more than 360,000 hours of work and created $15 million in savings through productivity gains and reduced recruitment costs. 

“It has allowed us to achieve productivity,” Summlar says. “It has allowed us to have additional work done that we otherwise would have had to spend money to make happen.”

Seagate

With more than three billion terabytes of data capacity shipped over its 40-year history, quantifying success has never been a problem for the world’s leading data storage solutions provider. But to stay there, Seagate knew it had to revamp its strategic workforce planning to reflect a more connected world. 

The company wanted to redeploy talent resources to address shifting business needs, on-demand and at scale across the entire organization, while simultaneously bridging skill gaps through upskilling initiatives. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the want became a necessity.

“COVID has opened up a whole different way to look at our workforce, our workplace, how we engage, and how we collaborate,” notes Patricia Frost, Chief Human Resources Officer at Seagate. “COVID is telling us that there is a way to really exponentially change engagement.”

After implementing a talent marketplace to enable better internal mobility, the company saw massive results. Seagate created more than $1.4 million in savings within the first four months of launch, unlocking more than 50,000 hours of work within the same timeframe. Notably, the talent marketplace also increased the participation and assignment of women to roles by 58%, allowing their skills and capabilities to speak louder than any underlying biases could deny. 

“The talent marketplace has saved us millions in contractor spend and helped us provide the opportunity for our people to grow,” Frost says. “Gloat is changing the way we work.”

The benefits of workforce planning

Strategic workforce planning must reflect the reality of today’s economic landscape to remain relevant. Old strategies of vertical hierarchies, rigid career development, and siloed talent can’t match the speed and efficiency of modern skills-based organizations.

Today’s workforce planning must take agility into account since challenges arrive not over decades, but seemingly overnight. Luckily, the capability to succeed is already within most organizations. The key is unlocking talent mobility and enabling HR leaders to guide it toward an enterprise’s needs, planning for uncertainty while preparing to pivot at a moment’s notice.

To see how your organization’s workforce strategy can plan for the workforce of tomorrow, talk with one of our dedicated team members today.

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