Gordon Stoddart  Co Founder at TRN and TRNWorld asks what are you planning for your business.

Businesses and organisations are, or should be, dynamic, agile and able to move fast when required. Many years ago when I was HR Director for a FTSE business, I learnt the art of what was known then as manpower planning. This meant in simple terms that I was required to calculate the future headcount requirements of the business to deliver the agreed strategy of the business. With the plan in place I was then responsible for ensuring that the structure evolved, the roles within the structure were defined and clear and the right people were in the right roles.  We had multiple businesses and divisions across Europe and during my time we executed a number of acquisitions which needed to be merged into the group. Change was a constant and the resource planning activity was a continuous activity. It wasn’t just about finding the right pieces for the puzzle, it was out was working out what the puzzle should look like. It was one very, very big spreadsheet – we had 9,000 employees – mapping out who was needed where by when helped us plot when we needed to bring in talent and where we ideally needed to move people up (which in turn shaped the development priorities). Right people in the right jobs is an obvious concept – easy on paper, harder to make happen and so critical to the talent management strategy of the business.

I was recently when running a workshop of recruitment business leaders and it became clear that not that many were really familiar with the concept of resource or workforce planning as it is now known.  As talent acquisition experts, recruitment agencies and their consultants really need to understand the key principles and challenges that their clients are facing. If we want to be experts, specialists, true consultants and strategic partners to our clients, we need to think like internal Heads of Talent/People/HR are (or at least should be) thinking. Our confidence in these concepts and our ability to talk the talk and ask the right questions is what positions us as credible and potential strategic partners.  Putting myself in the clients shoes to help them solve their long-term challenges is what leads to a long term relationship. And if you have clients that don’t have these strategic experts within their organisation, understanding resource planning will educate them and shape their talent strategies.  If you want the most powerful way to create engagement and build relationships, help clients think differently and better.

So many TRN members have done some brilliant work developing solutions and are very much focused on selling solutions to clients (as opposed to filling jobs). Understanding workforce planning will help us to take a more consultative approach and develop fit for purpose solutions.

The current economic reality means that nearly every business of every shape and size is looking to  rightsize, downsize, upsize or reshape in some way and resource/workforce planning is more important than ever. Businesses and organisations need the right structure, talent and culture to succeed and remain lean and efficient. Change, change and more change is coming and businesses will need to be in a perpetual state of transformation. Workforce planning will be more important than ever.

So how does it work and how can we use it have different conversations?  The master of this, and most things to do with the workforce and talent is Dave Ulrich. If you want to share some thought leadership with your clients or ensure you have enough expertise to educate your clients, follow Dave. He’s the man.

In simple terms workforce planning requires an organisation to ask itself a series of questions. These same questions that can be used by recruitment consultants to really design and align solutions to client needs. Get it right and you’ll find out information that’ll help you understand the long, medium and short term resource requirements. This is consultancy, this is business coaching.  It involves a series of questions which begin with bigger picture strategic questions and end with shorter term tactical questions.

  1. It starts with strategy and understanding the strategic intent of the business. The questions we should be asking should be along the lines of …

Where and how do you successfully compete in the market? How will you win and outperform the competition? What makes you or will make you stand out?

  1. Understanding the strategy allows us to move onto the second question that’s critical to workforce planning and focus on organisational capability (as in what do we need to be damn good at). Relevant questions are therefore ones such as What organisational capabilities are critical to the success of the business? What competencies do we need to excel at to succeed? What capabilities to we need to excel at to compete? What are the key roles or positions in the company that will deliver value to customers in unique ways?
  2. The next area of questioning should be around what Ulrich calls strategic wins. These are the wins that the client needs to achieve and involves questions like What strategic wins do you want/need to see happen in the short/medium/long term? What would success look like against key strategies?
  3. Once a business knows the strategic wins, it can start identifying the critical tasks with questions like… To achieve those strategic wins, what needs to happen? What will the key plans and projects be? What needs to change to deliver those strategic wins?
  4. Reviewing the critical tasks enables a business to break down the tasks, plans and projects and understand the implications on resources. What does that look like? What are the impact of resources? What will you need more of, less of?
  5. Resource options – having broken down the tasks, we start getting into the specific resources that will best deliver those task. What resource is therefore needed? What roles are therefore needed? When are they needed? How could those roles be filled – full time employee, outsourced employee, interim employees, contractors, AI (are there technology enabled solutions that could carry out certain of the tasks)?

These are the questions that organisations of every size should be asking themselves and that as strategic partners and experts in all things talent we should be finding out.  I’ve worked with recruitment businesses leaders helping them to develop an equivalent of my ‘very very big spreadsheet’ to help support clients map out the future resource requirements to deliver the strategy. It works, it’s value, it’s consultation, it’s partnership.

I’ve long believed that the art of ‘business coaching’ and working out the right questions to ask our clients is an art and a craft that not enough people within recruitment excel at. We should be investing effort, energy and time to help our consultants excel at asking laser like questions which open up conversations. Workforce planning done right creates a simple structure to shape those questions and every ‘expert’ in talent should have it in their toolkit

For further information on TRN and the tools, development and support on offer, please don’t hesitate to contact us via


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