People in charge of organisations, teams or projects have always needed to plan how activities will be accomplished. Such planning inevitably involves recruiting, training and deploying the people needed to get the work done. But if managers wait until the moment the work has to be done, the people and skills needed to do it will simply not be there.

Effective and timely workforce planning goes beyond forecasting headcount and can provide agile people solutions to complement the future direction of your business.

A strategic workforce plan informs good business decisions and yields important data such as hiring ease or difficulty, time to hire, time to productivity, attrition rates and so on, which can help identify risks and contingency actions.

Workforce Planning Practice is the CIPD members’ guide setting out the steps to workforce planning for HR professionals and line managers. Examples throughout will show that change and uncertainty make planning especially critical, and that through a structured planning process, organisations can position themselves not merely to survive but to thrive by mapping and securing the workforce resources they need now and for the future.

Top tips for workforce planning

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What can workforce planning achieve?

Workforce planning can provide insights for organisations to go beyond merely reacting to circumstantial market events. It can offer market and industry intelligence and help organisations to focus on:

  • reducing labour costs in favour of workforce deployment and flexibility
  • responding to the needs of their customer base
  • identifying skills gaps and areas of succession risk
  • relevant strategies for talent management and people development
  • targeting specific and identified inefficiencies
  • employee retention initiatives
  • improving the quality of outputs
  • improving work–life balance
  • recruitment and training responses to changes in the education system.

Workforce planning process

Workforce planning is a process of analysing the current workforce, determining future workforce needs, identifying the gap between the workforce you will have available and your future needs, and implementing solutions so that an organisation can accomplish its mission, goals, and strategic plan.

While it is convenient to describe workforce planning as a series of steps, it is equally important to understand that it is an iterative process, not rigidly a linear one.

The main steps in the workforce planning process are covered in the guide, but can be summarised by the following diagram.

Make workforce planning a priority

As with so many aspects of business management and HR activity, it is better to make a start than endlessly defer or become trapped in analysis paralysis. Begin simple workforce planning by talking to managers about where the organisation is going and their resourcing concerns. Help them investigate what is going on and what might work better. If things feel very uncertain, work with managers to develop some simple scenarios to find out where actions may need to be contingent on unfolding events.

Workforce planning is not a prescriptive process nor intended as an exact science. It’s about improving business performance and reducing organisational risk by narrowing the gap between a business having the people it really needs and who it actually has.

‘The right people, with the right skills, in the right roles, at the right time and the right cost’ is what will ultimately deliver the right results for an organisation. By taking a proactive, methodical approach to workforce planning, HR practitioners play a critical role in helping businesses understand where the risks and opportunities are going to come from and how they can ensure they have the resources they need to respond successfully to whatever future scenario unfolds.

Julia Howes

In many organisations the habitual approach to workforce planning is just a short-term budget and headcount exercise. Attempting to be this granular and precise is not useful when looking longer term, especially when the environment is uncertain.

Julia Howes

Principal, Mercer

Andrew Mayo

How do we deal with an uncertain future other than by hiding our heads in the sand or putting the future in the too difficult tray? We can use scenarios to avoid surprises and to get a handle of the implications of what we can’t be sure of.

Andrew Mayo

Professor of Human Capital Management, Middlesex University

Linda Holbeche

We need to develop the ability of the workforce to cope with change. It helps employees understand change if they can see first-hand what's happening in the business, have a wider range of work opportunities over time and be more involved in decision-making.

Linda Holbeche

Director, The Holbeche Partnership

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