How Agile can transform workforce planning

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In a fast-moving world, relying on a traditional process is inadequate. But workforce planning retains value where people rather than the process are at its heart

As companies address their longer-term needs against the backdrop of labour market trends and increases in automation, the blend of workforce planning initiatives to be undertaken by organisations is becoming increasingly complex. The prediction that 800 million jobs could be lost to automation, coupled with rises in contingent labour, requires organisations to reassess whether their planning models are fit for purpose.

Against this backdrop, Agile business thinking brings back the relevance of workforce planning, and provides useful guidance for organisations and HR professionals trying to make this transition.

Fundamental to workforce planning is translating a strategy into an actionable set of people-focused initiatives to make the strategy live. First, you understand the current business talent breakdown, then estimate the number and blend of resources needed, identify the gaps, and manage a plan to close these down. Companies should consistently review the balance of the human ‘portfolio’ (full-/part-time employed staff, contract workers etc.) on a regular basis and make sure resources align with the needs of the business.

In a world where trends are shifting and updating more frequently, a traditional annual cycle will not work. The Agile portfolio management approach was created to ensure that business change strategy remains under continuous review and co-ordinates the changes needed to reflect shifts in the business environment. It ensures that strategic goals are clearly articulated to provide an essential focus for all business change and enable a foundation for approving, prioritising and governing such work within a broad portfolio of programmes, projects and continual improvement initiatives.

Rolling plans, forecasts and budgets reduce the overheads of the annual budgeting process, shorten the decision-making cycle and ensure the right decisions are made at the right time based on current information. Planning for the long term at a high level and only adding detail for the near term ensures plans are made to sensible horizons and decisions are based on an appropriate and realistic level of understanding.

Another key Agile principle is to focus on the customer and the individual. As part of workforce planning, it is essential to manage how the change will feel for people. Organisations may want to, on an ongoing basis:

  • Trial new practices on a small scale, dropping those that don’t work and scaling those that do across all aspects of HR, talent, and learning and development.
  • Create a people committee to provide a means of gathering cross-team feedback on initiatives.
  • Evolve the employee value proposition by involving people and segmenting and creating specific propositions for the need of each population.

To make this work in practice, companies need to ensure that decisions are able to be made at the right level, and escalated as needed.

Ensure value drives priority (do the right things)

  • Ensure all current and ready initiatives will add value and are in line with current strategy and the big picture.
  • Prioritise and plan portfolios for the near term to ensure that focus is on the most valuable things for the organisation.
  • Always think about return on investment and other strategic KPIs.
  • Think of the whole organisation and its customers, not just parochially.
  • Ensure resource is utilised efficiently and effectively to produce optimum value.

Never compromise quality (do things in the right way)

  • Ensure appropriate process and quality procedures are followed, and consequently statutory requirements are met.
  • Build governance in, don’t bolt it on.
  • Ensure the delivered changes are fit for purpose and add value.
  • By default, champion the right solutions over the 'quick and dirty' ones. The 'cleanest' solution today will be the easiest to maintain and to enhance tomorrow.

Decide with the initiatives, don’t manage them

  • Set the direction and let the professionals work the detail.
  • Trust their knowledge and experience and support their decisions.
  • Create an environment that allows teams to focus on delivering against their goals.
  • Only get involved if seniority and influence is really needed to facilitate the removal of blockers/inhibitors to progress.

Give clear considered direction

  • Always balance cost and risk against desired value.
  • Set realistic expectations.
  • Ensure significant changes in direction are properly considered and explained.
  • Pay due care to timescales, costs and value delivered without disempowering teams.

Stay informed

  • Keep formal reporting to a minimum – just enough to catch attention and encourage required interaction.
  • Encourage and exploit transparency of process and progress.
  • Expect and measure progress by observing demonstrable value delivered incrementally by every change initiative.
  • Ensure senior stakeholders understand the status and impact of the initiatives.

By working in this way you will be able to support your organisation to deliver on its workforce strategy, while keeping up to date with any changes inside and outside the organisation.

Philip Alexander is a director of the Agile Business Consortium

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