The foundation for success in strategic workforce planning (SWFP) is alignment between key stakeholders. CHROs need to build a coalition of champions to drive processes and hold leaders accountable.

SWFP is the overarching process that enables an organization to identify and respond to internal and external talent and organizational constraints that may inhibit the successful execution of strategic priorities. Every CHRO with whom we have worked understands the why behind SWFP, and usually, most have the requisite experience and skillsets within their teams to have candid conversations around their level of maturity (see our previous article to baseline your own capability).

But when we dig deeper into how they might fully implement SWFP across their respective companies, time and again we hear two common themes from CHROs on the pitfalls and roadblocks they face:

1. BU Leader Disengagement

Too often, when we ask CHROs why SWFP is not prevalent in their organization, we get the response, "We know how important SWFP is, but our business unit (BU) leaders don't seem to share that sentiment." Frequently, BU leaders are consumed by their operational requirements and more immediate staffing challenges rather than taking a longer-term perspective. Because BU leaders are under tremendous pressure to hit short-term targets, the HR team must build buy-in through a clear illustration of how SWFP will help alleviate both near and long-term operational pressures while proactively mitigating talent risks and gaps.

The HRBP should take the lead in this conversation by working with the executive leader(s) they support and getting a detailed understanding of their business strategy and subsequent operational objectives for the next 12-36 months.  Part of this review should include identifying pivotal roles that the executive believes are critical to achieving his/her objectives.

Once that information is clear, the HRBP can then stratify and prioritize critical talent in the leader’s organization and cross-reference those talent pools with key internal and market data, such as:

  • Attrition data
  • Emerging/scarce critical skills
  • Talent mobility constraints
  • Talent pool market data

This cross-referencing exercise will reveal talent gaps and risks that the leader has likely never seen, altering the perceived value and level of support that the HR team is providing, such as:

  • Identifying talent needs proactively to avoid last-minute hires
  • Reducing recruiting costs by eliminating the use of expensive external agencies for non-forecasted hires
  • Proactively identifying catalog surplus, or soon-to-be irrelevant skills, for either reduction or re-training and re-distribution

2. Lack of Operating Team & Cadence

In addition to ensuring alignment and buy-in with their BU leaders, CHROs also need to ensure that a core operating team is established between HR, Finance, and representatives from all BUs/functions to hold the recurring talent reviews that power SWFP. The core team should be relatively small and nimble, with HRBPs, Finance Business Partners, and BU/function leads as required members. C-level sponsors (CHRO, CFO, CEO) can be notified of decisions made, and any impediments to action or diverging views.

This operating team is responsible for both the quantity and quality of the talent reviews. Some best practices include:

  • Clearly defining roles and expectations for BU leaders, answering the question, "Why are we taking your time?"
    • For example, expectations for BU leaders may include: Assessing and presenting an integrated view of critical talent areas in their respective BU, and proposing a follow-up talent action plan in coordination with HR and Finance stakeholders, etc.
  • Scheduling monthly or bi-monthly talent review sessions as the overall SWFP process matures, then gradually move to quarterly or bi-annually
    • Leverage standardized templates for preparation to better enable BU leaders/representatives in the talent review sessions
  • Kicking off the discussion with a singular focus on business challenges to be addressed
  • Focusing the talent review session on the required capabilities to meet the business objectives, not on individual people
  • Ensuring that financial rigor is integral to the conversation and process – alignment between labor spend vs. budget needs to be a foundational discussion topic
By acknowledging these common pitfalls and crafting responses to them, HR organizations can better position themselves and their stakeholders for success in SWFP. In our third and final installment, we will review some additional SWFP best practices we have observed and helped implement for clients.