Why Organizations Hesitate to Implement Strategic Workforce Planning
In case you missed it, in September, Chris Hare, joint CEO and co-founder of eQ8, was joined by Madeline Laurano, founder and chief analyst of Aptitude Research, to discuss the current state of HR and the rapid transformation it's currently experiencing.
In January and February of 2023, eQ8 partnered with Aptitude Research on an insights report bursting with qualitative data depicting the current transformation of HR. The methodology of this report includes the polling of 335 HR and workforce planning executives at the director level or above, all at companies with greater than 250 employees.
In our last blog, we discussed the trend of skills-based hiring. We continue the conversation in today's article, discussing why organizations may seem hesitant to lean into strategic workforce planning.
Hare and Laurano have discussed, at length, the importance of Strategic Workforce Planning and the impact that it can make on organizations. However, recent data showed nearly half of those surveyed reported receiving requests from senior leaders requesting workforce planning strategies more regularly.
What does that indicate regarding the need for SWP within organizations? And if there are so many compelling reasons for organizations to embrace SWP, why is it perhaps difficult to get started?
"I've dedicated well over a decade to this space; it has kind of become my life's work. But there has been some cognitive dissonance around the fact that this is a very powerful space- why aren't more organizations taking the leap, or why is it hard often for SWP functions to get traction early?
And I think it comes to the fact that we're taking a slightly different approach to an existing problem.
We're actually creating an entirely new mechanism to answer problems that we've had for a very long time but have been seen as disconnected. SWP is this mechanism that's bringing together a few different facets of org and business problems and trying to solve them in a way that most senior executives haven't seen before, and not only is the mechanism new, but we're trying to push a different type."
Hare believes this is best represented through the emerging conversation around what's called upstream thinking, which encourages organizations not to think from moment to moment but think about what’s prompting the current challenges they’re facing and what they can do this year to prevent the problems they may face next year or in years ahead.
For some, it’s a radical shift from where Hare and Laurano believe many naturally went after the pandemic- defaulting to a “knee-jerk reaction” to the most pressing issues right in front of them as opposed to viewing the bigger picture.
"We have to address the source and stop the problem there. That's proactive and planning. And often that doesn't happen. Everything is a response like “We have no idea what's going to happen, so we're just going see what happens and respond in the moment”
And, you know, budgets were huge during the pandemic. It was like endless spending on whatever knee-jerk reaction response we want to have, and that's no longer the case. We're seeing companies being more thoughtful about where they're spending their money. We're seeing them think more strategically about talent. And that means there needs to be a plan. And that's where a lot of companies are at: not understanding where to get started, but I think there's also trauma with strategic workforce planning. And this could stem back from 2008 when a lot of companies tried this."
Laurano references a past research study with an automotive group that, like many others, underwent massive changes in the 2008 recession. They made the decision to relocate their headquarters from Michigan, a location with a plethora of automotive talent, to Virginia, where they found less of the talent they sought. They had to consider what talent they could relocate, what talent they would need to replace, and this became a lesson in workforce planning.
"But it was still a reaction. It wasn't something that they built scenarios on about how to kind of address this ahead of time. It was still a reaction to what had already happened. And I haven't done a follow-up case study 15 years later, but if we did, I imagine that they would feel pretty traumatized by that experience. It was a lot of work and probably not a great employee experience. It probably didn't do great for the brand overall, and there's a lot of trauma with that.
As a society as a whole, I think many of us are carrying in a lot of similar trauma from attempts at workforce planning in the past that were either just layoff tools or restructuring, and it feels like something that just doesn't feel exciting right now for a lot of organizations. It's so misbranded."
Additionally, Hare and Laurano speak about how difficult it can be to focus on putting out theoretical fires instead of spending all resources focusing on the immediate problems. Strategic Workforce Planning does, fortunately or unfortunately, sit in that space of planning for theoretical fires. Although it works in a long-tail approach, it can prevent far more of the problems organizations are facing now compared to most other mechanisms in the industry.
"I believe we're in a real period of flux, and then we'll start to see some of the core definitions of Strategic Workforce Planning landing and solidifying more over the next few years, and that will help people."