Do you have the right people and necessary competencies to achieve your strategic objectives for this year as well as the next several years? Although this seems like an intuitive business question, many executives are slow to ask it (if they ask it at all). Historically, companies do not give enough consideration to strategic workforce planning (SWP). A study by the Human Capital Institute found that only 56% of companies were taking some sort of action to determine their future workforce needs. Furthermore, 34% said that workforce planning is not considered a corporate priority.

Strategic workforce planning is a systematic approach used to assess the impact of internal and external trends on organizational talent requirements relative to strategic objectives. More specifically, SWP provides:

  • The capability for an organization to adapt to dynamic business conditions
  • A line of sight between a company’s business strategy and the talent needed to execute it

Once more companies ask and try to answer the SWP question, they should realize that SWP is not the just the responsibility of the talent acquisition team, the talent management department or even human resources. Strategic workforce planning is the responsibility of every leader whose aim is to sustain results in his or her organization. This includes the head of departments, divisions, functions and the entire company.

Comprehensive SWP involves the analysis of a variety of elements including but not limited to:

  • Economic/market conditions
  • Employment trends
  • Vision and mission documents
  • Strategic and operation plans
  • Company budgets
  • Future organizational design (including processes, tasks and roles)
  • Future workforce competencies and staffing requirements
  • Current organizational design, workforce competencies and staffing requirements
  • Current demand vs. current supply
  • Future demand vs. future supply
  • Methods for closing the gap between current and future needs
  • Implementation plans and effectiveness measures

As a part of the SWP process, consideration needs to be given to any unique competencies as well as explicit and tacit knowledge (not captured in a knowledge management system or passed on to remaining members of the labor force) that is needed in the future but will leave the organization via attrition. Clearly, gathering and analyzing all of this information requires input from multiple areas of the organization along with the participation of different stakeholders and subject matter experts. Although it may seem quite time-consuming, diligence should not be sacrificed for the sake of expediency, because short-cuts can lead to inaccuracies that are magnified once the workforce plan is implemented.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti