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Does workforce planning need to be transformed to transform?

Change isn’t unusual. It’s business as usual. So organisations need to be agile and build the capability to adapt, flex and learn as the environment around them changes. And that means HR needs to use a more nimble approach to workforce planning, adopting specific roles to help forecast future needs.

But can workforce planning even fit into the ever-transforming, and therefore unpredictable, world? In this environment, having the right skills for a specific transformation isn’t enough to sustain longer-term success.

That means workforce planning needs to be transformed itself. HR needs to really know the workforce and the plans for future organisational change, and be able to flex to unpredictable transformations.

This is much easier said than done. In fact, HR has five crucial roles to play:

1. The business partner

This is a traditional role for HR, but being a true partner of the business is still vital. Working closely with the business means understanding what’s impacting it, its challenges, its opportunities and what’s needed from the workforce.

2. The visionary

Gathering requirements from the business about known changes is a good start. But HR needs to predict the unknown. Scenario planning helps you imagine different possible futures, from the probable to the wildcards, so you can prepare.

3. The auditor

As well as identifying the short- and long-term needs, HR has to know what’s already in place by running a capability audit. This will identify gaps and help understand the capability at different levels of the organisation. You can then see what you can develop (build) and what you need to recruit (buy) or source through contingent labour or outsourcing (borrow).

4. The data scientist

Data can be hugely valuable to HR. Departments collect a lot of it, but it’s how it’s used that matters. Using data intelligently helps answer strategic questions – what will my workforce look like in five years’ time? Do we have the skills we need for the next three, five, 10 years? By combining data it’s possible to model the future workforce, test future scenarios and predict gaps and challenges that HR needs to plan for.

5. The champion

Workforce planning isn’t a one-time event, or even an annual one. To be truly responsive to constant change, conversations with the business need to happen continually. This last role is about championing change as business as usual, embedding workforce planning and helping the organisation to be flexible and adaptable.

Being prepared for a large transformation isn’t going to sustain success. It might get you through that transformation, but what happens afterwards and what happens if something changes along the way? Change isn’t predictable, but it is constant. Organisations need to be ready to respond in an agile manner, and HR has a big role to play... well, five big roles to play.

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