Strategic workforce planning is a powerful yet little-used tool. Digital disruption and more fluid labour market will make its adoption all but mandatory in the coming years.

Strategic workforce planning is a hugely powerful tool that can help organizations survive and thrive in the midst of ongoing digital disruption. Effective use of it will become all but mandatory for success in the coming years. Many businesses are already aware of the benefits of strategic workforce planning, yet, as a recent report from Accenture Strategy reveals, its use tends to be sporadic and hamstrung when it is used at all.

This suggests that businesses have difficulty embracing strategic workforce planning. But there are many simple moves that leaders can make right now to start nudging their businesses towards better strategic workforce planning.

Here are five of the most important:

  • Abandon the idea of perfect data: Data-intensive initiatives like strategic workforce planning sometimes paralyze organizations. They fixate on finding perfect information to formulate a perfect plan—a classic example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The prescriptive analytics that power the best strategic workforce planning depend more on the right data than the perfect data. Besides, organizations usually have access to more data than they realize, and the ever-growing automation of data cleansing is continuously improving the quality of data available.
  • Focus less on ownership, more on action: One of the most common failings of today’s strategic workforce planning is that it is usually the exclusive purview of human resources. Since it requires data from across an organization and makes recommendations that can apply to any aspect of an organization, strategic workforce planning can only succeed with widespread buy-in. Avoid turf battles. As long as business and human resources are involved and prescriptive analysis has access to all the data it needs, strategic workforce planning can do great things.
  • Trade businesses cases for trial and error: The traditional model of decision making, built on formal business cases, will likely prove too cumbersome to be useful in the digital future. Embracing pilots as a method of testing new ideas will allow organizations to quickly act on the insights provided by prescriptive analytics and strategic workforce planning.
  • Master both art and science: Just as any analytics system still needs human judgement to guide it and interpret its results, any effective use of strategic workforce planning will require guidance from data scientists and business leaders. Data scientists create and manipulate the algorithms; business leaders make decisions based on the results and their knowledge of the broader business context. Both need to be adaptive and agile.
  • Buckle in for a long ride: There is no finish line for digital disruption and change in the world of business. That means there is no finish line for strategic workforce planning. Successful strategic workforce planning must be part of the ongoing business cycle, not a one-off exercise.

Despite its considerable advantages, strategic workforce planning has largely been a neglected tool to date. Changes in the labor force and ongoing digital disruption will soon create a strong incentive for businesses to change this. Digital trends will also make strategic workforce planning more powerful and accessible than ever before. Even so, there are advantages to moving on strategic workforce planning now. Smart firms will start planning today how they can get ahead tomorrow.

To read Accenture Strategy’s report on strategic workforce planning, head here

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