Throughout this current series of articles, words such as “strategy”, “leadership”, “change”, and “organisational performance” have been used extensively. It is easy to understand why since the modern business or workplace constantly needs to adapt to its environment and ensure that it remains with, or even ahead of the times to ensure its success. In as much as change and strategy go hand in hand, a key factor that plays a pivotal role in ensuring that strategy is aligned and implemented is the workforce or the employees. In this regard, workforce planning, or more specifically, strategic workforce planning, has become an essential strategic tool for businesses looking to perform optimally in the modern working environment.

From the outset, organisational strategy is the starting point in determining any form of workforce planning. Without a strategy or at least a vision of where an organisation is heading or what it is looking to achieve, workforce planning would be ineffective. Once the strategy has been developed and an organisation has set a timeline to implement the strategy, the workforce required, or the skills of the workforce to implement the strategy, becomes an important driver in propelling and implementing the strategy.

Workforce planning is, therefore, a proactive step that looks to the future and involves evaluating the current workforce on various parameters such as age, skills or potential skills gaps, the potential growth of the business, budget constraints, etc., and then measures these against the organisational strategy to find any gaps that may exist.

Once this analysis is complete, the gaps identified, whether they be skills gaps, talent acquisition gaps or any other gaps, a strategic workforce plan can then be developed which, when implemented, will work in tandem with the strategy of the organisation which in turn then places the organisation in a better position to achieve its goals.

Some of the benefits of strategic workforce planning include:

  • Efficiency – when gaps are identified, it allows for any staffing, skills, or other gaps to be filled, leading to more efficient work practices. The more efficient the workforce is, the more productive the organisation can be.
  • Talent retention – when planning is done, organisations are able to look to the future and identify any needs that may arise in relation to skills or talent. When done effectively, organisations can upskill or bolster the talent within their workforce before the need arises, making them well-placed to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise.
  • Succession planning and skills retention – by planning ahead, organisations are better poised to identify when key skills and talents may need to be replaced. This then creates a platform for the effective and valuable transfer of knowledge and skills, making retaining skills and talent easier with fewer disruptions when succession occurs.

The above list of benefits is by no means exhaustive; the key insight, though, is that workforce planning is and has become a valuable tool for organisations when identifying and implementing their organisational strategy.

At the start of this series of articles, reference was made to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey that was conducted in 2023. The survey in question identified strategic workforce planning as one of the top future priorities for organisations. It is easy to understand why most organisations’ workforce or human capital is the key ingredient that leads to organisational success. Knowing how to effectively plan and strategically look at the workforce is a key ingredient that should, now more than ever, be at the top of every organisation’s priority list.

By Daniel van der Merwe

National Collective Bargaining Co-ordinator at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)