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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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Responsive strategic workforce planning for future-fit organisations

How can organisations use responsive strategic workforce planning and development to overcome ‘permavucalution’? Here are some practical ideas.
person standing on top of rock formation symbolising overcoming challenges

In January 2024, the CEO of The Economist published a New Year message, in which he coined the term ‘permavucalution’. 

This word highlights three different factors that are impacting on all of our workplaces and organisations:

1. Permanent state of crisis

2. VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)

3. Revolution, predominantly caused by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)

Reflecting on these factors, I began to wonder how organisations might respond through strategic workforce planning and development. 

In my last article, I talked about talent, how we define talent and how we can make the most of the potential within our teams. Building on this, here are some practical ideas around workforce planning and development.

Idea 1: Workforce planning is not an annual activity

Because our world is in a constant state of flux, so are our organisations. 

We need to be able to respond to changes in a thoughtful, yet timely manner. We need to be strategic on a day-to-day basis.

With this in mind, it would be appropriate to have processes in place which enable us to understand our people and their capabilities in real-time.

This is not an activity that can be the purview of the people/HR function. Ongoing review of the workforce should happen at ground level and the data should be stored in such a way that it can be accessed as and when required. 

Which leads to…

Idea 2: Workforce planning requires accurate and up-to-date information

I have the privilege of talking to managers and people professionals from a range of different sectors. One of the issues that is often mentioned is the reliability and validity of the data that is used to support decision making.

As people professionals, we need to be able to influence colleagues across our organisations to use the systems that are provided for them and ensure that data is current. 

With this in mind, we should create systems that are easy to understand and, vitally, easy to use.

In so many organisations, multiple systems are used and often these systems don’t talk to each other so someone, somewhere creates a spreadsheet to capture the information that they need. 

And then someone somewhere else creates a different spreadsheet. And so it goes on! It would be lovely to go back to day zero and implement totally new systems, but this is rarely possible. We need to look at other possibilities. 

We should create systems that are easy to understand and, vitally, easy to use

Support from AI

AI provides many opportunities to support organisations who find themselves in the position of having multiple systems, for example:

1. Integrating and harmonising data

AI can be used to bring data together from multiple systems and then can clean and prepare the data for interpretation.

2. Predictive analytics and forecasting

AI could be used to search for trends within data and use these trends to provide insights into any potential challenges or issues.

3. Enhancing decision making

By creating various scenarios using the data provided, AI can support the process of scenario planning, which can then be used during decision-making processes. 

4. Automation of routine tasks

Using technology, including AI, can free up time and energy by automating regular and routine tasks. 

AI’s not the only thing that we should be looking at, but it seems to offer a range of tools that can enhance the validity and reliability of the data that is being used to inform decision making. 

Idea 3: Workforce planning should involve regular and ongoing individual conversations

I’m a massive advocate for regular 1-1s between individuals and their line managers at all levels of an organisation. This ongoing dialogue can make a massive contribution to effective workforce planning and development. 

By understanding our team members, how they are performing, how they are developing and how their wants and needs are changing on an ongoing basis, we are much more likely to be able to deploy their talents in ways which will be beneficial to both the individual and to the organisation.

Some questions that might be useful to add into the regular conversations (if they are not already being used) might be:

1. What has changed in your working world since our last 1-1? How have these changes impacted you?

2. What have you noticed about your contribution to the team since we last spoke?

3. Where have you excelled in recent days? What enabled you to achieve this level of excellence?

4. Where have you recently experienced challenges or issues? From your perspective, what contributed to these challenges / issues?

5. In what situations have you been able to use your strengths? What impact has this had?

6. Between now and our next one-to-one, what contributions do you see yourself making? How can these be supported?

These questions – and others inspired by them – can help to build a picture of who the individual team member is today and, by bringing information about all team members together, a manager can get a more accurate picture of a team's capabilities. 

If it is appropriately stored and shared, the information can then feed into a wider image of the organisation as a whole, which is much more current than the one that would have been created from the annual round of appraisals or performance reviews. 

Workforce planning is something that requires a contribution from every part of the organisation

Idea 4: Workforce planning is a whole-organisation activity

Workforce planning is something that requires a contribution from every part of the organisation and, therefore, it could be useful to create multidisciplinary workforce planning teams.

 These teams would come together on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to review the available workforce data and use it to inform decisions about amending existing workforce plans in relation to recruitment, retention and development. 

These teams should be given the authority to make and implement decisions so that workforce planning and development can become a truly agile and responsive process.

These are only a few ideas around workforce planning and development. We must continuously reflect on our people's capabilities so that we can respond confidently and judiciously not only to the challenges of today, but to those which are yet to come – as they surely will.

If you enjoyed this article, why not read: Do apprenticeships deliver ‘skills for life’ or are they just good government PR??

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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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