Workforce planning can no longer be confined to the HR department. As I have learned more about strategic workforce planning (SWP), I am convinced that companies need a holistic yet heterogeneous approach to talent acquisition — one that truly aligns HR strategy to the company’s overall goals, objectives and future needs.

I first started hearing about SWP a few years ago — like many of you — and approached the subject with some scepticism. After all, how many times have we been told that a new HR concept would revolutionise our thinking, only to be let down? But SWP is the real deal, validated by both professionals and academics. It is already having a positive impact on the organisations that have embraced it.

SWP works because it aligns with your organisation’s strategic plan. In the past, we were mainly concerned with headcount, and looked at how many people we would need in the future to sustain growth. SWP needs to sit at the heart of any talent acquisition strategy because it goes beyond numbers to identify the specific needs to ensure organisational agility and sustainability. Just as important, it looks at the potential people and organisational capability risks that could compromise your sustainability.

I would like to draw upon an example to demonstrate the criticality of having a robust and well-thought-through SWP methodology. Consider the beauty and cosmetics industry, which traditionally relied on a specific talent profile. As consumer demands shift, we are increasingly seeing new technologies being applied to develop new products. This demand for new technology skills and capabilities have propelled this industry to look beyond the ‘traditional’ skills profile, and instead leverage on skills such as nanotechnology – which requires an entirely different ‘career sell’ in order to attract these skills into this industry. This demonstrates how important it is to know where your company and industry is headed.

Approaching SWP

SWP isn’t easy. To have an effective workforce strategy, you need to have a well-articulated business strategy. After all, if you don’t know where your company is going to be five years or more from now, how can you identify the skills you need to get you there?

You’ve heard the saying, ‘a prescription without diagnosis is a gross malpractice’. This is true when looking at SWP. A solid talent strategy needs to start with a deep diagnosis and respect for contextual differences of market trends when it comes to the talent supply chain. Understanding the macro and the micro economic environment, and factoring in trends, magnitudes, scenarios and ‘what ifs’ from the external world will give organisations a well-rounded view on the talent landscape.

In conducting a supply and demand analysis, it’s important to understand whether your existing capabilities align with the future aspiration of where your business wants to be. This needs to also be integrated with a deep understanding of skills and capabilities for the future, and organisations need to put in place interventions to bridge any gaps.

Preparing for three dimensions of the workforce

When it comes to identifying skills and people for the future, a key component to SWP is workforce segmentation methodology.

At WilsonHCG, we have developed a unique perspective for SWP based on an automobile analogy. We believe it’s necessary to break down your needed talent into three groups:

  • The GPS: These are the leaders with the skills and capabilities critical to the future sustainability of the organisation. These individuals may be hard to find and acquire, which requires a highly customised brand, employee value proposition and engagement strategy.
  • The engine: These professionals have the niche skills that the company needs to function. These might be highly technical and scarce skills.
  • The wheels: This group, the biggest, consists of the people who help the business achieve operational excellence. Their skills may be abundant in the market.

All three groups will respond to different talent acquisition initiatives. GPS employees are likely to be passive candidates and require a tailored approach, while wheel employees need a straightforward but structured process.

SWP is only possible today because we have access to the advanced data and analytics to support it. With the proper visualisation, you will gain a clearer understanding of your talent processes and needs. This insight is particularly crucial for companies that operate across different geographies.

Winning over the C-suite

How can you convince your company’s top leaders to invest in SWP? For starters, don’t talk about SWP in terms of performance and people and talent processes. Instead, promote SWP as a way to ensure the sustainability of your organisation while mitigating risk. Explain that without being able to align workforce planning to the business strategy, your organisation simply may not have the right talent it needs for the future.

Be sure to explain what’s at stake with SWP — that it’s not about headcount, but building organisational capabilities that align with your values and have the right skills to facilitate growth. That way, when it’s time to ramp up, you won’t have to scramble for talent.

A final thought

Before you embark on an SWP strategy, you must look at your current HR function. To prepare for SWP, you’ll need expertise to handle macro data and you’ll also need to become comfortable with analytics, trends and scenarios. I know many HR professionals are up to this challenge, and will do a great job of helping their organisations embrace SWP.


Prashanie Dharmadasa is WilsonHCG's Director of Strategic Insights. Prashanie has more than a decade of experience in talent acquisition, particularly within the RPO industry. She is responsible for developing the strategy for broadening WilsonHCG’s footprint in EMEA through building engagement programs. She develops solutions for WilsonHCG’s clients around employer branding, strategic workforce planning, succession planning and diversity and inclusion. Prashanie drives engagement initiatives through consultative, ‘high-touch’ partnerships and builds relationships with the global business community to expand awareness of the importance of strategic and proactive talent acquisition and the benefits of an RPO partner.