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Five reasons many workforce planning efforts fail

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A comprehensive SACS Workforce Planning Model visualization, showcasing the key components and steps involved in delivering strategic workforce planning services.

In our consulting activities we are noticing a significant upturn in enquiries for workforce planning related projects. The world is being disrupted and people are responding by deciding to take the future of their workforces into their own hands.

Most organisations simply allow their workforces to evolve and workforce planning is a big improvement on this more passive approach. Sadly, many organisations get it wrong and here are some tips about the key things to avoid.

1. Seeing Workforce Planning as just a “plan”

The first mistake that many organisations make with workforce planning is to see it as a “plan”. Workforce planning is not a plan, it is a strategic organisational development activity.

Workforce planning is where strategy is brought to life so vividly that we can construct a workforce around it. Because of this workforce planning needs to be developed in a highly engaging fashion, including multiple people across your organisation.

For this major undertaking to work you need everybody inside the boat and rowing.

2. Focusing on analysis instead of the big picture

Another key mistake is to see it as an exercise in analysis. If you Google “workforce planning” what you will see is a bunch of systems which allow you to metricate your current workforce within an inch of its life.

These highly metricated workforce plans do not work because most forecasts are simply not accurate enough to make them useful. If you try to forecast accurately beyond a year or two you will simply get it wrong.

We recommend a two year forecast with rolling re-forecasts each year to get as close as possible to the truth and not waste undue amounts of time on fantasy scenarios.

Also, try to avoid getting down to micro detail. The effort involved in this almost never pays off. Stay at the job family level so you get the benefit of scale.

3. Ignoring the impact of enablers

Many workforce planning efforts ignore the impact of “enablers”. Enablers are the process and corporate culture components which underpin the effectiveness of your workforce.

You can get all of your structures and succession planning designs right, but if your leaders do not know how to lead all your efforts will come to naught.

This is why 360° feedback can often be a fantastic workforce planning tool. Strategic recruitment projects can be brought undone when your best people leave because they do not respect the way they are being led.

4. Lacking any real strategy

An absence of true strategy. Many organisations think they have strategy but what they have is often more vague – say a collection of aspirational statements.

True strategy says, “These are the businesses that we will be in in two years time, these are the businesses we are getting out of, so the implications for the staff we need will be…”.

When undertaking workforce planning projects we often find ourselves coaching our clients on the design of true strategy in order to develop a foundation which will allow us to execute the project.

5. Making workforce planning complex and confusing

It seems to be an almost universal characteristic of workforce planning models to be highly complex and confusing.

The graphic above is the SACS model of workforce planning which we designed as a simple project planning process in order for our clients to be able to see where they are at any stage of the process and to guide action at all stages.

The true value of workforce planning

Workforce planning can be incredibly valuable when it is understood to be a deep intervention into the way an organisation manages its workforce.

It is a conscious move away from an unplanned, evolutionary approach to a strategic, targeted approach and a good workforce plan is a storehouse of an organisation’s intellectual property on all matters related to how to build and buy the workforce of the future.

It is not a plan, it is a dynamic and actively evolving model encompassing all aspects of workforce acquisition and development.

Find out more about the SACS approach to workforce planning.

Andrew Marty

Managing Director

SACS Consulting

Originally posted: July 18, 2017

Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting

Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.

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