How HR Can Strategically Plan for Workforce Change

How HR Can Strategically Plan for Workforce Change

This article was updated on July 25, 2018.

Businesses have always planned for their future, but today it's more complicated than ever. Technology and competition for talent are transforming today's business landscape, making workforce planning for HR an even bigger priority. But it requires HR leaders to work alongside C-suite leadership to make sure business goals sync up with the recruiting pipeline.

Businesses recognize the connection between talent and growth. According to Strategic Drift: How HR Plans for Change, a study conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and supported by the ADP Research Institute, 76 percent of businesses say strategic workforce planning will become their organization's top strategic challenge. This shoots to 91 percent in manufacturing and 87 percent in construction.

Keeping and developing talent, while making your organization a desirable destination, requires strategy.

What Is Strategic Workforce Planning?

There's no clear consensus on a strict definition, but strategic workforce planning should involve ensuring that you always have the right people with the right skills to meet your organization's goals.

According to study, strategic workforce planning aims to do the following:

  • Keep people from leaving
  • Plan for skills requirements
  • Bring in new people to close skills gaps
  • Identify and source critical talent skill sets
  • Create structure and processes
  • Ensure HR and overall strategy aligns

How HR Plays a Role

When it comes to who should be involved, the study shows that strategic workforce planning is usually seen as the responsibility of the C-suite. Just 28 percent view it as an HR function, according to the report. But to be effective, businesses need to narrow in on strategy and people. And HR is about people — recruiting, training and retention.


No skills gap can be resolved without HR leading the way. HR understands how hard it is to find skilled talent — especially in areas like IT and data science — and the cost to hire. They can encourage leaders to focus on developing and engaging current talent, which can be done by improving culture, training and benefits.


As short-term skills gaps arise, maybe because of a new project, HR leaders are critical in helping organizations tap into the economy of talent-on-demand, another emerging HR trend. PricewaterhouseCoopers is already on this. The business recently launched the PwC Talent Exchange to connect independent professionals with its project teams, giving the organization a global talent pool to tap into as needed.


Workforce analytics gives HR leaders important insight and is becoming a valuable retention tool. "The mass of data now available allows companies to analyze which employees are most likely to leave and the suitability of job candidates in a more scientific manner," the study reports. By using data analytics and benchmarking, HR leaders can engage and retain key talent before they leave a company.

Strategic workforce planning for HR will be critical to future growth in today's evolving business landscape. Talent is more important than ever, and HR leaders have both the data and capabilities to be partners in any strategic workforce planning process.