Who's Responsible for Strategic Workforce planning?

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As we’re all aware, the shape of the workforce is changing at a rapid rate. A ‘job for life ’ is a quaint idea these days, when switching jobs pays - in terms of wage and career progression.
"Before the 1980s, 90% of vacancies were filled internally and 10% were hired outside. Now, 65% of vacancies are filled from outside. ” Peter Cappelli, The Wharton School.

According to the CIPD, Workforce planning is “getting the right number of people with the right skills employed in the right place at the right time to deliver an organisation’s short- and long-term objectives. It covers a diverse range of activities, such as succession planning, flexible working, job design, and many more. Whatever its precise form, workforce planning should be linked to strategic business goals and viewed as an important part of the strategic business planning process. ”

What Is Strategic Workforce Planning?

A recent report by Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Perspectives ‘Strategic Drift: How HR Plans for Change’ asked this very question of 500 companies. Yet there is no agreement among survey respondents as to what SWP actually entails. In general, respondents are fairly evenly split between saying that SWP’s main objective is to avoid skilled people leaving; plan around future skills requirements; and find new people to plug skills gaps. Indeed, the definition of SWP seems to vary by company size, with respondents defining it squarely in terms of their immediate HR concerns. Workforce planning is key to forecasting future conditions and environments and helps managers to anticipate change that will affect the company.

Key Benefits of having a plan

  • Workforce planning can result in the following benefits
  • The identification of future staffing requirements and any possible skill shortages or over-supply
  • Staffing costs may be reduced through close analysis of staffing requirements and ensuring appropriate levels of staff
  • Staff development needs can be better identified
  • Employees whose skills are unlikely to meet future needs can be retrained
  • A planned recruitment strategy including appropriate time frames and costs
  • A plan to close skill gaps can be prepared
  • Specific recruitment or training initiatives can help plan for new jobs

Strategic objectives chart

Whose Responsibility Is It?

Generally, SWP is seen as the responsibility of senior management (according to 58% of respondents) with less than a third (28%) viewing it as an HR function. Another 16% determined that it belongs to a C-Level committee.

At first glance, the EIU survey results would seem to suggest that small companies are much less concerned with strategic workforce planning (SWP) than their larger counterparts: On average, more than three quarters of total respondents to the EIU survey (76%) said that SWP was the top strategic challenge they face. For companies with fewer than 20 employees, however, the figure was just 42%.

Donut chart of strategic workforce planning ownership


Whilst most respondents to this study decided that strategic workforce planning was vital to their company, it was hazy as to what they defined SWP as and whose ultimate responsibility it was. Long term strategies are no longer the norm, and instead more fluid strategic planning should be taking place on a regular basis. Responsibility lies with everyone ultimately, but senior leadership and HR should take the lead.